Thoughts On Facilitating Tech Adoption In The Workplace

(Credit: Microsoft Clip Art Gallery)
Organizations tend to throw tech at problems and assume that, because the staff have been asking for better machines, the presence of the hardware alone will lead to widespread adoption. This is flawed thinking; introducing tech that changes how people work needs to be treated as a cultural change in an organization.

I've been participating in a tablet trial at work this month: basically, you give up your laptop in exchange for a Windows-based tablet. It docks and connects to a mouse, keyboard and monitor, and also comes with a keyboard carrying case. As a business analyst, I use some pretty heavy apps all the time. I was not initially convinced that a tablet was going to be able to meet my needs, especially for multitasking.

Over the past two years, I have tried to fully substitute my personal laptop with my Asus Transformer Prime and found it particularly challenging in some respects (multi-tasking, lag). After 2 years, I am actually more of a tablet user than a laptop user, having finally reconciled my expectations for immediate response time by having a little bit of patience and convincing myself that a few moments of waiting does not a crisis make. The tablet is my number one device for home and personal projects now, including blogging.

But I was skeptical: how would a tablet meet my multi-tasking, app-heavy needs at work?
Turns out: incredibly well.

It seems though that my positive experience with the device is not universal throughout the trial. In fact, most of the posts in the discussion group for tablet testers are negative: people are giving up on the tech after only 2 weeks in the 6 week trial. And there are 3 themes emerging which, if addressed properly and early enough in the trial, might help with overall adoption across the organization:
  1. Hardware - Users are commenting about issues with the case, the touch-sensitivity of the screen, the navigation tiles, etc. None of these is a ground-breaking issue that should cause them to reject the tech outright (which some are doing). In fact, if these are quickly addressed by swapping the hardware or changing the configuration settings, there is a good chance they can be overcome quickly.
  2. Network - It is what it is: for now, we don't have Wifi. But we will when we move to a new building. That means we have to work offline if we leave our desks to work elsewhere in the building, or we have to VPN if we pick up Wifi at a coffee shop. Same deal if we were still using our laptops.
  3. People - There has been much discussion internally about the need for more modern, mobile tech in order to better do our jobs. The tablets meet most of the needs that have been brought up in these discussions, however there is still a significant level of dissatisfaction with the trial. Why? I think it comes down to two problems: expectation-setting and training/support. 
When the tablets were handed out, I think people assumed they would be better than the laptops; that is, faster and portable. But in fact the portability comes with a trade-off: processing power. There is a lag to be experienced with smaller devices (at least for now), so users have to weigh the benefits of size and performance. Sure, this might be seamless in the future. But this is our reality right now.

However, I don't think that they were properly briefed that this would be the case. So people expected that the devices would be faster and smaller. If the trial had kicked off with a one-on-one discussion where users' needs could have been evaluated and these expectations could have been set, there might be less "disappointment" with the hardware overall. As well, people need to stop and evaluate: if I have lag time that accumulates to 5 or even 10 minutes a day (which would be extreme), but I can work wherever and however I want, is this a substantial improvement and does it sufficiently address my concerns for wanting a portable system in the first place? Personally, yes. But, again, that's a personal preference. And in the overall assessment of the trial, should this question skew the nature and flavour of all the feedback?

Secondly, there is the issue of training. The trial was not setup for pro-active ongoing support and check-ins. People were given their tech and unless they reached out and asked for assistance, they were largely left alone. Some might not request help because they might be too busy or even embarrassed to admit they just "aren't getting the hang of it". Especially when there are countless items in the press about toddlers using tablets with ease (although they aren't trying to set up tables or formulas in spreadsheets, let alone sync their email). If the trial was setup for continuous pro-active requests for feedback, as well as pre-scheduled one-on-one discussions and support sessions, this could increase the quality of the feedback to the trial organizers and also help users course-correct during the trial itself.

The reality is that staff, especially early adopters, need support to figure out how best to integrate new tech into their work styles (and more importantly, how to adapt their work styles to the tech). Constant feedback loops with these early adopters will help identify hardware or network shortcomings, configuration requirements and training needs very early on, helping to develop standards and models for the organization-wide roll-out.

Organizational change does not result from making technology available. It is the outcome of identifying end goals and working with staff on the adoption of each incremental change. This is as true for tech adoption as process renewal. But more often than not, organizations focus on bringing in the solution, instead of rolling it out carefully. By closely supporting staff through the change, there is a great likelihood of success for everyone involved. The question is, is your organization willing to invest the time to ensure success?