Technology Change and the Future of Work

Work is changing. Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and will only continue to do so. New technologies are making distance irrelevant. Cloud-based software, combined with mobile devices and wireless connections are allowing work to become more dispersed.

Physical space is expensive and space standards are squeezed, but the irony is that most desk space is underutilised on average nearly half of the time. In the past, office designs have provided one to one desk ratios, with departments adjacent to each other on a floor, providing order but lacking flexibility.  When headcount increases, it becomes a complex puzzle to try and re-accommodate departments.

The convergence of people, place and technology

The future of work can be articulated by three converged functions – people, place and technology, that together define the behavioural, physical and virtual realms. It is in the overlaps of these functions where significant innovation can appear: clusters between people as buildings house communities; new work processes as technology changes workflow, introducing collaboration; and, vanishing infrastructure as the cloud takes servers and data out of buildings.

We are seeing technology now underpinning the fundamental property strategy. In the past an organisation would choose a building then consider the fit out and furniture and technology was almost just a sprinkling on the top. Organisations are now thinking far in advance about the technology going into a space as they start to recognise the impact it has on futureproofing the infrastructure, how people will work in the space and potentially how much space is taken.

Work is primarily about people and it is how we attract and retain the best talent and provide a workplace that lets them do great work – with space and technology being key enablers.

Technology trends driving change

Some of the technology trends that we are seeing in the market place include:

  • More mobile devices, whether ‘Bring Your Own Device’ or organisations offering a greater selection of ‘Choose Your Own Device’. It is also important to remember that suitable bandwidth support is required for people with multiple devices that are always connected.
  • We have aspired for a long time to achieve a paperless office, although for most organisations this still seems somewhat unattainable. We are however moving towards a reduction in paper as document management and print strategies are considered, whether these include: ‘follow-me’ printing; mobile print and scan solutions; or simply having the ability to read and mark up documents on mobile devices (negating the need to print hard copies).
  • Video conferencing is quickly becoming the most used collaboration tool. Better quality and easier to use collaboration solutions are making it feel as natural as being there, so users have a common experience regardless of their location or device.
  • A key ingredient of any collaboration space is the ability for people to use ‘augmented technology’ so that collaboration feels like an extension of the natural use of pen and paper.Smartboards or Surface Hubs provide ‘Haptic touch’ technology which allows interaction and manipulation of data to become more intuitive.
  • More organisations are rolling out Unified Communications (UC) changing the landscape in how people connect.There are so many forms of communication within organisations today that it can become inefficient and fail if the methods do not interrelate with each other. UC aims to overcome this by unifying communication tools, including Instant Messenger, Corporate Presence, Audio or Video conferencing, into a simple common interface. When implemented successfully, UC goes beyond the amalgamation of various communication channels. It becomes integrated with (and starts to optimise) business processes, in turn reducing response times and enhancing work flows. This is referred to as ‘Communications Enhanced Business Process’.

User adoption is the key to successful change

It is important to highlight however that we can put as much new technology into a workplace as we want, but unless we get the user adoption piece right and see technology used to its full functionality, organisations are not going to see the increase in productivity, collaboration and ultimately ROI that they are hoping for when purchasing the technology.

This emphasises the importance of having a robust change strategy in place when introducing new technology or new ways of working.

We are all individuals and will react to change differently. As humans we have an aversion to loss and will focus first on the things we are losing before we see the benefits of the new technology being implemented. A comprehensive change programme should always aim at guiding people through that threat response as quickly as possible. They then have the clarity to see the vision of the future that their organisation is moving towards and feel more inspired to jump on board and embrace the new technologies.

Technology should not be considered in isolation

It is important that organisations consider the three spheres discussed earlier (physical, virtual and behavioural) when choosing any new technology and do not view it in isolation; technology for technology’s sake. They need to consider what they are hoping to get from the technology and how it will integrate with current work processes or business applications to provide enhancement to those and in turn this will help to drive user adoption.

When considering technology training, we have to remember the different skills and competency levels of employees. There are nearly five generations in the workplace with Gen Z’s moving up in the next few years. The younger generations are considered digital natives who have grown up with and been taught on technology that is far in advance of most corporate solutions today. Blended learning solutions using multiple channels of training should be developed, this also takes into account people’s learning preferences whether Visual, Auditory or Kinaesthetic. Some prefer to participate in live training or watch video demonstrations, others are happy to read a how to guide from cover to cover.

Leading from the top and providing ongoing support

Any change should be lead from the top, often it can be a challenge to get managers to technology training sessions due to their busy schedules.  It is essential however that the managers have an understanding of the functionality of technology being implemented so they can lead and support their teams through the change.  As advocates, it is essential they are seen using the technology themselves and ensure it is incorporated into current team processes to make it the ‘norm’ as quickly as possible.

Often organisations will focus wholly on the implementation phase with nominal post transition support. Ongoing training after technology has been rolled out is key in providing continued assistance to ensure employees are fully supported through the transition phase. The majority of people need to be hands on and using new technology before questions or issues arise. If any issues are not answered and resolved quickly, frustration kicks in and adoption starts to drop away.

Everett Rogers in his book ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ first published in 1962, highlighted the technology adoption curve which still stands true today. Incorporated in the curve are the innovators and early adopters proceeding majority adopters, followed by the late adopters or laggards. He identified four key elements that influence the spread of a new innovation – the innovation itself, communication, time and social system. This process relies heavily on human capital, the innovation must be widely adopted in order to self-sustain.

With the technology adoption curve in mind, I would recommend the importance of using proof of concept or pilots to get early adopters involved first to test the new technology, they can then assist in spreading the word across the organisation. Often people will look to the early adopters before jumping on board themselves. Peer group messaging is often the most powerful messaging that can be used to ignite buy in.

In order to continue promotion after the transition a rewards and recognition scheme should be set up, publicise the wins and the benefits that are being seen from the new technology, whether on an individual or organisational level, as this will continue to spur interest and encourage adoption.

Technology is changing the way we work and it’s only the beginning…

We are entering the age of super-mobility, people now have multiple devices with them that are always on and run heavy-bandwidth applications. The workplace has to provide for this new demand. Mobile devices are now providing all the tools and technology that employees need to be productive on the go, giving them the freedom to work from anywhere and this will only continue to increase over the next few years. This is the beginning of an evolution that will impact the workplace and the way real estate is developed. We need to accommodate a suitable infrastructure, along with robust change strategies in order to support that.

Tracy Badau
Vision, Strategy & Change Consultant, Cordless Consultants