The Human Side of Technology
By Kato Murray
In 1983, architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller famously said, “Humanity is acquiring all the right technology for all the wrong reasons.” It’s a bold statement from someone who lived just long enough to see the release of Apple’s innovative but expensive and poor-selling LISA, but not long enough to see the usefulness of Microsoft Word (though he may have been onto something with the Wacky WallWalker).
In contrast to Fuller’s concerns about technology 40 years ago, one of the challenges with modern technology is its tendency to keep moving forward without always considering the role of its human users, especially their level of comfort in adopting and utilizing the latest.
According to a recent study compiled by Hootsuite, as of January 2022, there are 4.95 billion global internet users spending an average of seven hours per day online, so it’s safe to say we live in a tech-heavy time. Unfortunately, not every member of your team will have the same experience engaging with new technology, and they may feel lost and anxious amidst rapid changes (whether it’s due to unfamiliarity, a lack of interest, or something else entirely). If utilized correctly, technology can create more accessible and efficient workplaces, but the first consideration is to ensure everyone on your team understands how to effectively use newly implemented tools before incorporating them into your daily operations.
Technology is supposed to be about convenience and streamlining tasks for its users, but introducing that which is new and unfamiliar is often a challenge because staff aren’t properly trained, don’t understand its benefits, or, in some cases, it’s actually not a great fit for your operation (it’s a good idea to get your team involved before migrating to a new system so you can understand their needs and wants prior to the change).
But outside of beta testing to ensure you are adopting and launching the appropriate technology, how do you engage reluctant or uninformed users to embrace your new purchase?
Most technology platforms will be able to provide you with the tools you need to help onboard your team. Make sure you are passing along vendor information such as FAQs, training materials, dictionaries, glossaries, cheat sheets, etc. Depending on how you’ll be using certain tools, you may need to develop your own supplementary materials to help provide additional context that is unique to your organization, but these vendor-provided manuals can serve as a solid starting point. Also, vendor modules are updated all the time, so you may need to update your supplementary guide and training accordingly.
Don’t Assume Technical Ability or Understanding
Before implementing a new technology solution, it’s important to ensure everyone is on the page with the tools they’ll be using. For example, if you are introducing a web-based tool, people need to understand the basics of using a web browser. This might not be as universal as you think, especially when you consider browser caching, connectivity, browser zoom levels, etc. Develop internal training processes and reference documents that your team can refer to as questions arise. Many resources are readily available online via YouTube, Khan Academy, or from the specific vendor.
Even if they are comfortable with the technology, you’d be surprised how many functions go unused simply because they (or you) don’t know they’re available. Having an actual demonstration will be incredibly helpful to many—but don’t assume it’s one and done. Allow time for playing around with the product, then follow up with additional sessions and answer more questions.
Finally, be careful to avoid falling into the trap that age implies ability. Be patient and know that everyone comes with a different base of knowledge. Some may need more time than others.
Demonstrate the Value of the Solution
Showing your team how a tech solution can help them in their jobs will allow people to see it as a benefit, rather than something that’s being strictly mandated or forced on them.
There are a number of different ways you can illustrate the value a specific technology will bring to your organization. For example, a system that automatically emails specific project reminders to help facilitate completion will free people up from relying on tedious manual follow-up. Some solutions help eliminate the need for people to perform redundant and repetitive tasks by introducing certain levels of automation. And some solutions produce a strong ROI, such as speeding up the process for time-tracking, lead follow-up, or customer communications when properly utilized by a team. And if you are really lucky, some programs look great or are actually enjoyable to use.
Use Accessible Language and Comparisons
Most technology solutions in the workplace exist to support or address real-world problems or challenges, but you might need to find simpler ways to describe how employees will be using a particular platform or tool. Further, employees may be frustrated because they also lack the language to communicate the problem they are having with the technology, which may lead to them not asking questions. Using analogies that compare familiar terms or situations can help minimize the learning curve often associated with new technology. For example, comparing the new system to the analog equivalent that the technology is intended to replace (e.g., whiteboard, time clock, Rolodex, etc.) may help your team more readily understand how to accomplish their end goal.
In 2009, Intel introduced the term BYOD (bring your own device) when they recognized the increasing trend for employees to prefer using their own smartphones, computer, tablets, etc. in the workplace. Over the last decade, more organizations have started embracing this approach, which may help foster comfort with new technologies. While the exact tool may be new, your employees can access it in an environment that they’re already familiar with. For example, a Mac user may find it easier to adopt new technologies if they’re not also adjusting to a new laptop or operating system.
Note that it may not be appropriate for all situations, and the standard checks and balances should apply (e.g., virus protection) to ensure you aren’t compromising your own network.
Emphasize Human Connection
Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress, once said, “Technology is best when it brings people together,” which is an axiom you can introduce to your workplace. Find ways to incorporate technologies that do more than accomplish required tasks. By adding certain tools to your workplace, you can help bring your team closer together and increase engagement in your organization. Video conferences allow for face-to-face conversations with remote employees and can foster relationships and other team interactions. While tools like Zoom, Teams, Slack, etc. might be new to an employee, associating positive interactions with these tools may help users feel more at ease as other technologies are implemented.
Additionally, don’t hesitate to include your team in new technology rollouts. For example, considering branding your new tool with a unique companywide name or invite your employees to share new ways that they’re using specific platforms. Encourage them to share tools or shortcuts that they’ve found with their coworkers.
While I might disagree with Buckminster Fuller on the utility of technology, there’s another quote of his that describes how its role in the workplace will continue to evolve: “You can’t change the way people think; all you can do is give them a tool, the use of which will change their thinking.” While you may have members of your team who may be less than tech-savvy, how you incorporate new technology into your organization may help improve how they relate to their tools. [CD0522]
Kato Murray is the operations associate for the LMC Groups. He can be reached at email@example.com.