“Don’t restart. Configuring Computer …”

How many times has your computer greeted you with this message as you booted it up to give to give an important presentation, look for your flight information, or do some other time-critical task? The frustration you felt may be causing more than just temporary heartburn.

Have you considered how many software updates you experience on any given day? For the most part, you don’t even notice these updates … until something goes wrong. And if you are responsible for an organizations using thousands of devices, apps and services, something will always go wrong. 

The most fearful aspect of these updates is that you often have little notice (or control) of when these updates occur. According to the Microsoft Fast Track website, the company has rolled out almost 150 new and updated Office 365 features to customers in the last 30 days. One hundred fifty! 

Many of these are ‘minor’ features that most end users would hardly notice. But some are not. Some new features that impact every end users’ daily experience, for example, a new ability to join Office Groups directly from Outlook.  

Technostress Takes a Toll

Microsoft is hardly alone. 

Cloud services like Google Apps, Dropbox, Box, Salesforce and others are continuously rolling out product enhancements and updates. Google Apps provides almost daily updates. Dropbox rolls out approximately one update per month. Box generates approximately 3-4 updates a month, and Salesforce provides weekly patches and ‘as needed’ emergency releases. 

Regardless of the computing devices, apps or services you use, the experience of turning on a computer and being greeted by new, unfamiliar features and screens is a well-known occurrence. While most updates go smoothly, it only takes one bad update to derail your work routine. 

Aside from the inability to keep up, innovation may be taking a toll on our health. Two Norwegian researchers identified "frequent software and hardware updates" as one source of "technostress" that leads to "job burnout, job dissatisfaction and even an intention to quit." Another study linked such worker stress to "Worker’s Compensation claims, litigation, grievances, accidents, errors of judgment and action, conflict and interpersonal problems, violence, customer service problems, resistance to change, no time to do it right, and loss of intellectual capital."

What Can You Do?

The question we need to ask is, "Has the pace of software updates outstripped our ability to absorb their benefits?" While the answer is assuredly not a simple one, here are five things you can do in the meantime to take advantage of new software innovations while mitigating their negative consequences:

  1. Assign someone in your company to monitor updates from your major software and cloud service suppliers. You won’t be able to stay on top of everything, so focus on the services that matter most to your users. Be aware of what’s coming down the pike before it hits your network. Set alerts on update links above to get notifications from companies like Microsoft, Google, Box, Dropbox, Evernote and Salesforce. As the old adage says, "forewarned is forearmed."
  2. Don’t enable early rollouts to your organization — wait for someone else to discover the bugs. For example, Microsoft offers a ‘deferred channel’ option to limit updates to several times a year. Instruct your users that if they want to be digital guinea pigs, they are on their own.
  3. Create a sandbox to test new updates before they get rolled out to users. Review the supplier’s release notes to gauge the impact on your users; make them aware of any important changes before the software gets rolled out.
  4. Don’t roll out every new release. Evaluate whether the new features or bug fixes are worth the update pain that your users will experience. Disable automatic updates whenever possible, except perhaps for security patches.
  5. Communicate update guidelines with your users and advise them to follow the suggestions listed here when using services provisioned via 'credit card IT’ (i.e. self-provisioned IT services). 

But Does it Help?

Truth be told, software is only one component of your daily technology diet. Myriad new mobile phones, tablets, computers and now wearables are coming down the pike. Almost every day we hear an announcement of some new technology that will revolutionize the way work gets done.  

If we have reached the point that we no longer can take advantage of the benefits that all of these new releases offer, the new innovations are actually counterproductive, impeding our ability to get work done rather than enhancing it. 

Perhaps author Douglas Adams was right when he said, ‘We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works."

Title image "Detours" (CC BY 2.0) by  K. Kendall