Technology – saviour or gaoler?

Technology – saviour or gaoler?

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Technology is one of the key triumvirate for a great workplace, the other two pillars being culture/HR policy and design. Technology can improve efficiency, mobility, flexibility, communication and collaboration – it can be an enabler for work in the 21st century when you get it right.

But is our technology at work living up to our expectations; is it even on a par with the technology we have in our home lives? We now use VC (Skype’s user numbers, traffic and market share continues to grow) more in our home lives than at work; formerly specialist software (such as sound, photo and video editing) is becoming standard on home devices, and file-sharing between families is becoming almost ubiquitous.

Yet, at work, many people are becoming frustrated with IT systems that fast become antiquated and outdated. To combat this, forward-thinking companies are constantly evolving their technology, with the mantra “release early, release often” – rolling out new social media systems, file-sharing tools and VC capabilities every 12 months.

However, this constant new technology can cause its own challenges, potentially leading to a confused workforce who don’t know which system to use, or just ignoring the latest innovation due to rollout fatigue until they absolutely have to use it, sometimes skipping a whole generation of tools (Windows Vista to Windows 10 upgrade anyone?) and needing to totally re-learn, rather than having moved smoothly through incremental changes.

This is not the shiny future with instant data and hover boards we were all promised!

So why is it that so many companies are either lagging behind, or confusing their workforce with new tools at every opportunity, whilst others are steaming ahead?

It all comes down to an old idiom from the electronics world, Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors in a circuit will double every 18-24 months, equating to a doubling of processing power every 2 years. Moore’s law has yet to be disproved and, with recent leaps from dual core to quad core and even octa core, faster-than-ever processing power is allowing more complex software to be developed and released faster than ever.

2014 was a landmark year for this, with the first 16-core processors hitting the market and the first biological transistors being created, and Moore’s Law dictates that the development of technology and processing power will only get faster.

So – the successful IT department must strike a balance between keeping up with new innovations and emerging technologies, whilst preventing confusion in the workplace, and managing their budget for hardware and software refresh, in order to support productivity. This is not an easy task, and even more complex in a world where Biocomputing is just around the corner and 3D printers can build you a house in a day.

Striking the balance between early adopter and laggard can be challenging but the methodology is pretty simple: involve HR, IT and Workplace Design to develop policies and tools that enable and empower staff to work flexibly. For the truly resilient company, HR, Workplace Design and IT should work in partnership to deliver and maintain a unified workplace strategy that evolves with the business needs.

This is all well and good, but what does this mean to you and I, sitting at our desks with laptops, phones and tablets all seemingly becoming the same tool with a difference screen size, and an increasingly confusing array of tools that we need to learn in order to do our jobs? Here are my survival tips:

  • Don’t Panic.
  • Think of IT as a partner to your daily life and not a service provider.
  • There is a balance between innovation and confusion; your voice is essential in maintaining that balance.
  • Take part in pilots when possible to start learning about a new tool early in the process and help integrate it successfully.
  • Never underestimate how difficult a job the IT department have in choosing the right tools for you to use!
  • Accept that change is a part of life and enjoy the journey of exploration.
  • Allow time in your working day to get used to new tools.
  • Take time to provide constructive feedback to your IT departments rather than firing off a rant.
  • Talk to your peers about their experience using new tools.
  • Keep in touch with IT about your experience – the more they know how you work the better they are able to support you.

 

Russell Bruce Unprocessed BWRussell Bruce is a senior consultant at AECOM’s Strategy Plus practice in London.

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