Thursday, June 13, 2024

Technology in workspace’s changing face

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

Technology has become a great enabler of several positive things in our lives, especially in the way we conduct business and work. All not necessarily for the good though.

Today, I do quite a bit of work using the mobile phone. These short pieces are almost entirely penned down on the phone, sometimes not even once using the laptop.  

I find the mobile easier and faster to get things done, provided of course I get the inspiration. 

At the end of it all I have to confess that I still miss my old blue Olivetti and the black Remington. 

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Tech upheaval

A former boss once said to me how things had changed since the advent of fax machines. He lamented “deadlines have become yesterday!” Everyone expects the other to respond to issues instantaneously. All this in the mid-nineties when we’d not yet fully entered the era of emails. Neither had the information highway proliferated as it did in the mid-2000s. The Internet had been born but evolving, if not in the drawing board stages. 

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World Wide Web

On a consultation visit to Gland, Switzerland, and later to Frankfurt, I remember being drawn into the various facets of the World Wide Web and how it could change the way organizations work and do business, and what it would eventually become for the rest of us. 

Frankly, things were still in rudimentary stages then and did make much sense or leave lasting impressions. In the next three years, everyone everywhere was talking of the Internet. Businesses and consultants were making a quick buck setting up websites and related stuff such as b2b and b2c work. That is how fast things changed.

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Mobile phones

Mobile phones were inching their way forward. Not only were they big and chunky but calls were frightfully expensive too.

Before even we could blink came the big technology leap. Nokia and Samsung brought in smaller handsets and with the proliferation of service providers – albeit several of them for shorter races – came competition. Soon economies of scale brought tariffs down and mass production of handsets ushered in the telecom revolution. 

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Newspaper printing 

Newspaper production and printing too were changing. The switch from hot-metal to computer processed bromides had been made in the mid-eighties, the baby steps before the big leap forward. For many diehard news desk types, there was nothing more exciting than holding the hot-metal headline from the Ludlow machine in their cupped hands at the stone. The smaller composed lines by the Linotype machine were easier to handle and not as piping hot as the headline-making Ludlow process. 

The bromide technology brought ease of work and comfort. Work switched to air-conditioned cabins. The giant rotary presses had also undergone a metamorphosis.

I once made an exciting foray down to the press of a newspaper in Guindy, Chennai. It was the first such visit in many years and I can’t tell you how excited I was, only to see how small had printing presses become. Now being no expert in printing presses, I could be wrong here.

What exactly triggered the exodus of printing presses from below the editorial offices mid-town to far-off urban suburbs, I cannot tell. Just the opposite of the editor of a regional newspaper in Varanasi shouting out in the din of the press to the works manager sitting in his cabin.

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Land area networks

The early eighties had mainframe computers processing information. Individual computer desktops linked internally in the office came next.

If it stopped with this intra-office connectivity, no it didn’t. Then came PCs that could be wired internally offering a land area network (LAN).

Email communication

Large offices, including international organisations and governments, switched to the much smaller and more efficient servers occupying only a third of the office space that mainframe computers took. These provided secure communication with office branches and agencies worldwide literally in a jiffy as they would say.

By 2005, facsimile machines had all but become obsolete. Invitations and press communications were being sent via email. The dispatch man had become a thing of the past.

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Business centres

Somewhere down the line came business centres to provide space for those on the move or didn’t want, or couldn’t afford, the expensive rented office workplaces.

In the last decade or so, we have seen co-working spaces emerge where the business premises is shared by several offices; usually the owner providing basic amenities and facilities. Co-working spaces come way less expensive than hiring business centres or an office for you to work from. There could be multiple companies, individuals and agencies operating from such spaces.

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Data is king 

The past years have really seen the consolidation of mobile technology especially IOS and Android platforms. 

Virtually there’s nothing that you cannot do on mobile phones. 

What’s more, data comes as a package for calling, Web surfing and games. Data is everything. Data is king.

Whether it’s Voice over Data or use of Mobile Data for surfing, it has been the biggest game changer. For one, Data has rationalised mobile call charges. People no longer hesitate to make long-distance calls. And WhatsApp calls have made it possible to make international calls at zero cost. 

From workplace shifts to technological changes and the mobile phone revolution has taken a mere 15-year plus. 

Surely, if there’s been any period where technology has made so rapid a stride, it has to be the past couple of decades.

Here’s wishing there is more technology in the offing and help our children and their children work easier and comfortable.

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Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"


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