|5 Minutes

Greater Expectations: How the Smartphone Put Employees in Charge

Greater Expectations: How the Smartphone Put Employees in Charge

The first time I was introduced to a real, proper PC was in the early 90’s: my uncle’s work PC, which I used instead to play games.

In fact, my first experience with any kind of tech support service was when I phoned the Codemasters help line after getting stuck on a particularly knotty puzzle in the game ‘Dizzy’. No matter how loudly I shouted into the phone, the machine continued to route me back to the beginning of its automated script. I gave up, after having spent well over £10 in premium rate phone charges.

Why am I giving you this irrelevant insight into my childhood?

I’m trying to illustrate what a monumental transformation we’ve experienced since 2007. Though we may not realize it, the way technology is presented to us, the way we consume it and – perhaps most importantly – our expectations of the technology we use have changed beyond recognition.

Let me explain:

Most computing tech started life in a business environment. Slowly, this technology filtered into the public consciousness. The idea of having these machines at home for basic productivity tasks took hold, and we started to see them in the home offices of those who could afford them.

They were still business machines though. Adapted to home use, yes, but still adherent to the function-over-form and cost-over-useability format of typical business environments.

The iPhone and the era of consumerization

When Steve Jobs got up on stage and announced the iPhone in 2007, he wasn’t just unveiling Apple’s latest gadget. He released a set of technologies that changed our expectations of technology forever.

These new technologies – the phone, a touch-screen iPod, and a new internet communication device, all wrapped up into one device called an iPhone – weren’t aimed at a business audience, but targeted to consumers.

For the first time, a tech company had released a set of technologies that surpassed anything we’d seen in the office. Overnight, the iPhone made all of the innovations of the past 30 years seem outdated and clunky.

With this ground-breaking innovation, Apple had started an unprecedented era of consumerization.

What was this new trend?

Very soon after the iPhone was released, it was adopted widely by consumers globally. It was the device to have and be seen with. The business impact was immediate: IT departments all over the world started getting requests from users wanting to use these devices for email and work communication.

This was new for IT and flipped the previous paradigm of business devices filtering into consumer life on its head. Suddenly, consumer technology was driving business practices.

This change wasn’t just about using new technology in the workplace. It also marked a change in users’ expectations when it came to technology. 

A new way of doing business

Some of the innovations introduced to the public by the iPhone were ground-breaking:

  • Always on and didn’t require a boot up.
  • Designed to be constantly and wirelessly connected to the internet.
  • Had an ‘App Store’ with thousands of curated applications that didn’t require checking compatibility or complex interactions for installation.
  • Total portability.

Before the iPhone, most people interacted with the internet via a monolithic PC in the office or the hallway. After the iPhone, the internet was where ever you needed it to be.

Imagine then going from this new, innovative way of interacting with tech to then entering the office and working with equipment designed in the 1980s. There was no way that the office technology of the past could meet the new expectations of modern users.

And so the expectations of IT departments changed forever as well. It was relatively straightforward to support users in the office when working with standard technology kits. But what about these new expectations?

The iPhone and its many competitors were disrupting IT like never before. Now users had a new set of requirements:

  • They wanted to work in more places, both inside and outside of the office.
  • They wanted easy access to company information on their devices.
  • They wanted a choice of devices that worked well for them, and in many scenarios, multiple devices.
  • More than anything though, they wanted IT to give them that same level of delight that they got from their personal consumer devices.

IT departments had to adapt, and quickly. Rather than focusing solely on technology, they had to cater to the expectations of their users. Could they enable their users to work more effectively outside the office? Could they provide access to company information in a secure way?

And most importantly, how could they ensure users had a great experience in this new user-driven world?

A trend towards experience

In the early 2010s, several industry observers saw this change in expectations and the work revolution it was generating. And so the concept of the digital workplace was born.

This new workspace was conceived of as a way to bind together a range of different topics in the EUC space into one true purpose: To provide access to the applications and services a user needed, wherever they needed them, on whatever device they needed them on.

The new expectations of the employee were beginning to be met. Users had more choice over their devices and how they functioned. From personalized devices to mobile applications, choice and flexibility became the new, consumer-like paradigm for the modern workforce.

Though we could’ve never known it at the time, this steady evolution prepared us for the moment the digital workplace truly came home – when the pandemic hit in early 2020. And with it came a host of new challenges to the digital workplace dynamic. Namely: how to manage employee experience across a workplace that is fully digital.

We’re continuing to navigate these uncharted waters – with the help of everything we’ve learned since the birth of the digital workplace. Once again, there’s a time of innovation and growth on the horizon.