Ground floor shipping workers in warehouse

Research Reveals Businesses Can Struggle to Leverage Tech Benefiting Workers

A new Georgia Tech study reveals that excluding front-line workers from the design process can increase employee turnover rates, leading to higher costs and reduced efficiency for small businesses implementing new automated technologies.

Alyssa Sheehan has seen firsthand how companies can struggle to leverage new technologies meant to improve systems and benefit workers. She collaborated with dozens of companies as the director of the Georgia Center of Innovation's aerospace team from 2022 to 2023.

That experience inspired the Ph.D. candidate and 2022 Foley Scholar to explore the effects on workers when technology is implemented to automate traditional paper-based processes. Making Meaning from the Digitalization of Blue-Collar Work won a best paper award at the 2023 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW) this week in Minneapolis.

“I’m trying to cast meaningful work into a new light with automation and technology design,” Sheehan said. “The intention is so focused on delivering efficiency and optimizing the process. Companies and technologists forget about user input from workers using these systems.”

Microsoft and other major tech companies have announced commitments to use technology to foster a culture of meaningful work within the workplace. However, Sheehan said that small businesses often lack the resources and knowledge required to incorporate such beneficial technology. Others design the technology with only productivity in mind and without considering if it makes their employees’ jobs more meaningful.