From Mobile Phones to Flexibility: How Work Has Transformed in the Past 25 Years

Posted in : Supplementary Articles ROI on 30 May 2023
Legal Island
Legal Island
Issues covered: Work Life Balance; AI; Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

Let's take a walk down memory lane and talk about how the nature of work has changed over the past 25 years.   Just to set the scene, grunge was the fashion movement; we had dial up internet and believe it or not we still rented videos from the video store! We saw the signing of the Good Friday Agreement; the release of the Titanic movie and the second Harry Potter book published….

In the world of HR in 1998, HR practitioners primarily advertised jobs in newspapers; employees received paper payslips; employee records were kept on a filing cabinet, and we socialised face-to-face! There was bustling office space with outdated computers, fax machines, and piles of paper and employees typing on loud keyboards discussing office gossip. What strides has the HR profession made since then, how has it changed and, in our efforts to keep up, have we retained the ‘human’ in Human Resources?

Here are some of the biggest differences... and some things that have always been and probably will always be...


Remember when mobile phones were the hottest new thing in the office? Now, we're living in a world where we communicate with colleagues all over the world in real-time. Words like ‘Zoom’, ‘Slack’ and ‘Teams’ have taken on new meaning, especially since the pandemic.

The use of video conferencing and collaboration tools made it easier for people to work together across different locations and time zones. It's become easier to stay connected and productive but at what price? 

There are protections for employees to get a break from digital communications outside of their working hours and we’ve seen case law developing recently in this area. The growth of remote working has led to concerns about isolation and mental health. The current big argument is over organisational culture and whether it is suffering as a result of staff not attending the workplace.

The Rise of Social Media

Social media has also led to an increased number of potential headaches for employers who not only have to monitor for inappropriate use of approved social media channels, but other groups and channels used by employees where they definitely aren’t following the social media policy.  Who shared that joke?!  Who ‘owns’ LinkedIn contacts? Sigh.

Work Life Balance

Remote work has become increasingly popular, with many companies allowing employees to work from home or other locations. This change has allowed for more flexibility and a better work-life balance for many employees and HR has acted as an employee advocate when some leaders resisted these changes and just wanted everything and everyone to go back to ‘normal’. But has the work v life balance tipped too much in one direction? Or are we just finding an equilibrium?

Automation and AI

Automation has also significantly impacted on the workforce in the last 25 years, and jobs once considered stable and secure have been replaced by machines. Some organisations used to have a tea lady (it was always a lady, never a tea gentleman) and she’d have had none of today’s options, like herbal teas or lactose-friendly options!

With the rise of AI, particularly the generative versions we now have, there will be opportunities and threats for HR to tackle. What will work look like in another 25 years? Who knows – but it will involve artificial intelligence, or you will be left behind. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg News he could "easily see" 30% of tasks done by human resources getting replaced by AI and automation over a five-year period. The speed of development can be frightening or exhilarating. You decide. But we advise all HR professionals to get to grips with generative AI and its uses in workplaces and you can find out more about our free webinars on the topic here.


Another significant change has been the increase in diversity and inclusivity in the workplace. Employers have recognised the economic and cultural importance of creating a workplace that is welcoming to all. There has been an increase of measures to improve transparency, such as pay gap reporting.  There is a greater emphasis on diversity training and the creation of employee support groups, which provide a space for employees to connect and share experiences. There is still work to be done, however, and issues such as bullying, harassment and discrimination remain a top concern and a reputational risk for employers.

Don’t Go Changing

We've talked about some of the things that have changed, but what about the things that will never change in this industry? A short list for your entertainment:

  • Holiday pay calculations – does anyone understand them?
  • Meticulously planned days are usually the most chaotic as unplanned HR emergencies abound;
  • There has been at least one occasion when you’ve said (or perhaps thought), “One day I’m going to write a book about all this.”

In saying that, in what other sector would you have the opportunity to meet with so many people from different backgrounds, problem-solve, tear your hair out, be creative, gnash your teeth and find solutions all in one day?   So, embrace the chaos, sharpen your skills and look forward to the future and more HR-volution!

Legal Island – how have we grown?

We have loved growing with our HR customers over the past 25 years. Our workforce has grown from one person (Barry Phillips) to over 20, our latest CRM cost more than the first (£250), we’ve run thousands of in-person and online events and webinars, have loads of e-Learning options, new websites, a massive database of case law and articles, podcasts and videos. We’ve won multiple prizes and awards including Investors in People (Platinum) putting us in the top 3% of employers in the UK. We’ve embraced technology and are currently in the middle of a trial run on a four-day week for staff.

Throughout our 25 years, Legal Island has sought to offer the best customer service for the best customers we can imagine. Some things never change.

Here’s to the next 25 years together!

Legal Island Training Resources for Your Staff

Diversity & Inclusion - The Importance of Conscious Inclusion | eLearning Course

Are you responsible for overseeing the implementation of training for all employees on diversity and inclusion policies in your organisation? Legal Island’s Diversity & Inclusion - The Importance of Conscious Inclusion eLearning course will help your staff understand the importance of inclusive behaviour in the workplace and the value it brings to both your staff and your organisation. This course is tailored specifically to your jurisdiction and provides comprehensive compliance training for all employees within your organisation.

Click here to view our course on Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace.

This article is correct at 30/05/2023

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Legal Island
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