Browse any tech news website, and you’ll see countless articles talking about the future of work. From automation and AI to IoT and chatbots, technology is changing the way we work. It’s making us more productive, more efficient, and even more accurate.
It can be easy, however, to write off a lot of these developments as fads or trends that will eventually fade. In order to better appreciate how technology is transforming work, let’s take a look back at what a typical workday looked like 20 years ago, in 1998.
1. You used a couple of big apps or databases.
Since the adoption of computers by businesses began almost fifty years ago, software companies have offered powerful application and database packages designed for the enterprise. SAP, for example, rolled out its first ERP in 1973.
By 1998, many companies used these powerful business suites, and there were a few more options—like Oracle EBS—on the market. But choice was still limited, and many of the apps you use today hadn’t even been invented yet. NetSuite debuted in 1998, for example, but Salesforce didn’t roll out until a year later, in 1999.
These were still workhorse-type programs designed to accomplish a variety of tasks within the business. Most of them were suites rather than stand-alone apps, and they were all still on-prem; cloud computing didn’t exist. The concept of best-of-breed apps wouldn’t emerge until the cloud was widely adopted.
2. You still executed many tasks manually and in-person.
Even with the growing popularity of business apps, many core business functions and processes remained analog. This is partially because big systems like ERPs have a steep learning curve, so adoption amongst ordinary employees could be quite low.
Work was also still very much an in-person experience. According to the US Census Bureau, only 42% of US households owned a computer in 1998, and only 36% owned cell phones—so naturally, few people worked from home.
Even in an office setting, however, you might not have used a computer in your day-to-day routine! From expense reports to filing, lots of business processes still happened by hand twenty years ago.
3. You asked IT to build integrations for you—and then you waited a long time.
Today, we take it for granted that if you want to move data between apps, you can do it quickly and easily—either with native connectors or DIY integration platforms.
According to the US Census Bureau, only 42% of US households owned a computer in 1998.
But if you were among those who worked with apps and databases back in the day, integrations were still a rarity. There were a few heavy-duty integration tools, but they were created to be used by tech wizards. So if you needed to create a new sales workflow or automatically populate invoices, you’d have to ask IT to build an integration for you. And these integrations were technically complex and built-to-last, so you might have to wait a few months before you could reap the benefits!
4. Communication and collaboration were fragmented.
In 2018, unified workstream collaboration tools are ubiquitous. Whether you want to share a file, find out what your colleagues want for lunch, or hop on a conference call with a client, you probably turn to an app like Slack or Microsoft Teams to do it.
But twenty years ago, communication was a lot more fractured. Your email and office phone were completely separate, not to mention file sharing and chat. This means it was much harder to collaborate, especially with colleagues who might not work out of the same office.
The Future of Work is Here
Looking back, it might seem surprising that anyone got any work done in 1998. And it is true that workers are far more productive today. We spend less time on repetitive manual tasks like data entry, can easily work from home or while on the road, and have important information at our fingertips 24/7 thanks to smartphones and the cloud.
It’s key to remember that while we’re beginning to experience the future of work, however, humans will always find a way to reinvent processes. It’s important to focus on future-proofing, rather than just adopting new technology for technology’s sake. If you adopt tools with an eye to what your employees might need in the future, you’re guaranteed to work smarter, not harder—today and tomorrow.