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Technology makes life easier – that, at least, is the hope. Yet it is also driving the rhythm and pace of work in a way that was previously unheard of. That poses new challenges for ergonomics as well – if ergonomics are seen as a systemic approach.
According to a popular and widely accepted theory, work is increasingly being freed from its ties to any single location. If the trend experts are correct, this process is changing workplaces into virtual spaces in which it is no longer the desk and computer that define the daily routine, but rather a complex infrastructure. Flexible and open office layouts are serving as temporary homes for the new generation of knowledge and project workers. Laptops, tablets and smartphones are the ambassadors of this information technology revolution, and are responsible for freeing us from any direct ties to our physical surroundings. We are constantly online, checking our email even when we are done working for the day or on holiday and accessing data from the cloud for presentations and meetings whenever power and internet access are available – sometimes we even discuss our work on social media platforms. According to the findings of a study published by the German Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM) in early February this year, more and more working people are utilising their smartphones as mobile offices. Now that work is possible almost anywhere, be it in a home office, in transit or as ‘work to go’, what will be the consequences of this cultural transformation? Will this render the issue of occupational health and safety – core tasks of ergonomics – superfluous?