In order to understand how these two distinct concepts relate and influence each other, first let’s outline them.
Culture isn’t defined easily; however, as cited in Wikipedia the definition is used most commonly in three ways:
- Unified human behavior, knowledge and belief patterns, and symbolic codes (i.e.: in a context of family, groups/teams, companies, etc.)
- Beliefs, values, moral goals and customs shared by group of people (i.e.: inhabiting specific geographic areas in the world countries, sub-regions within countries, continents, etc.)
- Excellent taste in fine and/ or liberal arts (1)
The definition itself derives form the Greek word, techne: art, skill, cunning of hand and represents the collection of tools, including machinery, variations, alterations, arrangements, and procedures utilized by humans. (2)
For the purpose of this blog, let’s narrow down the culture to organizational, company culture - the sum total of values, virtues, accepted behaviors, and the political environment of an organization (3) - and how technology can influence it.
Based on the definition of technology given earlier, company cultures are affected by the benefits or faults of technology to the degree and the way people put it to use. Technology itself is free of any values. Technology is a means for change in the business environment in order to make it well-suited with necessary and inevitable business (human) needs; and the corporate culture is also the business entity’s and its employees’ compatibility with the milieu around it and the relation they establish with it. A direct relation exists between culture and technology and both of these affect the other in a resulting manner as they develop and change over time. As new technology is introduced into a corporate culture, the culture reacts in a positive or negative way and is thus changed forever. Consequently, as cultures change so does the technology they develop. (4)
While it isn’t simple to explain how technology can affect organizational culture and vice versa, let’s look at one specific area of culture – corporate communication, where technological development can change organizational culture positively and negatively.
In today’s technology driven world, employees expect to communicate internally with each other and externally with customers rapidly and around the clock. The ability to make business decisions and forge relationships via online became a business/social phenomenon especially with the introduction of computer, email, Internet, intranet, smartphones, and social media. While in the past the practiced way to conduct discussions, share thoughts/ideas and solve issues happened mostly in-person settings, today the communication and connection among employees and customers with the aid of technology shifted toward online platforms reducing geographical distances and having people rely on more and more information impacting their lives/businesses from online resources. Nowadays, how people interact with each other mostly characterized by online communications vs. meetings at work or interaction with the customers directly (especially true with e-commerce businesses).
Few beneficial aspects of technology in our corporate cultures are:
- Having access quickly to information that impacts the business; therefore businesses can quickly respond to changes and/or make changes
- Operational cost can be reduced (allowing higher profit margins) by having employees work from different geographical places
- Enhance and speed up the core work function of corporations
- Generating greater masses of information and data about the business itself
Few unbeneficial aspects of technology in our corporate cultures are:
- Online communication can be impersonal therefore we can loose the rewarding experience of in-person human connections
- The illusion of being in control and hiding behind online messages vs. discussing difficult issues in person
- Inability of truly conveying the intentions behind our online messages therefore lack of considering the potential consequences of how our words/messages will be received
- Illusion of relationships – connecting electronically can lead to more isolation (in and outside of workplace)
- Constant digital sensory stimulus will lessen our ability to discern and think for ourselves more effectively
- Privacy and security issues
As such, in life everything has two sides, the one that benefits and the one that doesn’t benefit our lives. Nevertheless, these seemingly opposing sides are responsible to keep everything in balance and encourage and move us forward to improve upon things that we can change and appreciate the things that serve us at those given moments.
In order to mitigate the pluses and minuses of technological effects in any corporate culture, businesses need to listen and involve its employees on a regular basis to decide on the ways they communicate internally and externally utilizing technology. This will ensure that segments of the existing corporate culture become a part of the new technological communication scheme and prevent the cultural resistance that is usually accompanies an introduction of any new technology.
In conclusion, the technology created to make life better often has undesirable effects on cultures even if it initially appears to provide benefits. The key here is not to have technology run over cultures or cultures oppose new technologies that can enhance them. Ultimately, advances in technology directly affect how cultures evolve; thus, when cultures evolve, they tend to create new technology.