An unhappy man with an antiquated computer - digital workplace challenges
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There has been considerable debate over the past three years about what a digital workplace should look like and how to get workers engaged with the new realities of working. However, research that is starting to trickle out of the Commission on Workers and Technology indicates that despite all the discussion, workers are still being left out of the loop when it comes to choosing workplace technology.

Public Policy and Digital Workplace

This isn't vendor-driven research, it's a public policy initiative that aims to discover what is happening in the workplace in the face of technology-driven changes and to advise government policy on how to manage the workplace changes.

The Commission has spent the last years visiting workplaces and taking evidence from workers, academics and business leaders. In a presentation of early findings, British lawmaker Yvette Cooper said that for workers on the ground:

  1. Technology is changing most people’s jobs, but workers aren’t getting a say when this happens.
  2. Many workers are positive about technology change, but there is also bad practice with significant problems in many sectors.
  3. Technology change risks worsening inequality.
  4. Politicians, trade unions and business leaders must do more to prepare workers for change.

For context, keep in mind that the Commission on Workers and Technology, chaired by Yvette Cooper, is examining British workers' hopes and fears for automation over the next decade. As such it is a joint research initiative from the government and the Fabian Society, a political think tank that is now over 100 years-old, and aims to inform public policy on digital transformation over the coming years.

The initial findings show that six out of 10 employees (58%) said their employers don't give them the opportunity to influence how new technology is used in their workplace.

Related Article: Alerts, Notifications and Subscriptions, Oh My: Taming the Digital Workplace

Inflexible C-Suite

“I think what it comes down to is inflexible C-Suite executives and a lack of willingness to open up decision-making to all team members,” said Reuben Yonatan, founder and CEO of GetVOIP. “We see many organizations who are excited to share ownership of decision-making, and we know that it secures buy-in from team members when they feel they have a part in the organization's direction.

"But, we also understand that many old school leaders prefer a top-down executive leadership style. That kind of thinking is hardly innovative, and will leave the workplace either bereft of critical technology, or a workforce without the capabilities needed to keep up with their industry in 2020 and beyond."

Useless, Unused Technology

Beyond that, there has been ample evidence over the years that a lot of the technology purchased for the workplace is not being used. In fact, even as early as three years ago a presentation at Gilbane by Henry De Amm of Adenin indicated that as many two-thirds of the software purchased for the enterprise is left unused. He argued that employees have proven they will find ways not to use available software if the experience is difficult, frustrating, or complex and there are numerous reasons for this reality. The bottom line is that if you don’t bring workers into the technology buying process, a lot of software investments are pointless.

Not much has changed since then and, if anything, things are getting worse as more and more apps are introduced into the workplace. In March of this year, FileMaker, a subsidiary of Apple, published research that showed 95% of organizations struggle with technology designed to address their business problems.

The Workplace Innovation Report, based on a global survey, identified several trends that challenge both small and midsized businesses and enterprise teams, including scattered information, time-consuming manual processes that could be automated and existing technology solutions that fall short of operational needs. Key findings from that research include the fact that:

  • 96% of business users struggled with business processes.
  • 72% grappled with file sharing problems.
  • 94% had challenges with existing apps and software.
  • 85% reported that they wrestled with information living in disparate sources.

Related Article: 6 Tips for a Successful Digital Workplace Roadmap

One Size Is Not for All

Tim Christensen, CTO at Social Chorus, said IT has historically prized the reduction of technology solutions in the enterprise to ensure governance of technology, compliance and security are preserved.

Purchasing decisions tend to favor long lists of features or the one-size fits all approach to cover as much ground as possible. This has resulted in enterprise software that may appear to solve many problems but does so with complexity, friction and frustration. The traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to employee communications simply won’t cut it anymore.

As a result, line-of-business leaders and employees create shadow IT departments to select their own solutions and waste countless company dollars not using the solutions they’ve been given. “The ironic reality in this is that IT ends up supporting more software, not less. Selecting software that does not optimize for the best user experience has proven to create more problems for IT. While the features of a piece of software are one criteria in the selection process, ultimately the value is in its adoption and usage,” he said.

Evaluating software should start and end with the user experience. Do users want the software and will they actually use it? Today’s workforce is increasingly tech savvy with high expectations to what constitutes user-friendly software. In fact, many organizations are adding user experience roles to their digital workplace initiatives to address this reality. It is no longer reasonable to provide just any technology solution.

So why should employees have a say? By making technology decisions with all types of employees at the forefront of the decision, IT will then begin to shift the perception of IT as a technology-enabling organization to a business-enabling organization. “The employee experience drives productivity and with productivity, the organization will thrive. So, start every technology decision with the user experience in mind, and the rest of the organization will look to IT as a business driver,” he said. 

There are other problems too. According to Olga Mykhoparkina, CMO of Chanty, people in leadership roles think that regular workers just aren’t informed enough to make decisions about the tech being used in their workplace. While this is true to some extent, it shouldn’t prevent team leaders and managers for asking their employees about the tech they will use. “The best way to go about implementing new tech in the office is to educate the staff about their choices and have a democratic poll on which solution will be used. While they don’t have to have the final call, it’s great for them to have a say and be informed," she said.

Early Stage Involvement

As a final thought, James Turley, director at Turley Way Senior Technical Recruitment, a technology recruitment agency, said that there is often a misalignment in a company between what the leadership team wants and their expectations of impact of new technology in comparison to what employees/workers need on the shop floor. Companies do not deliberately set out to make their employees life harder, but often the decisions made in the boardroom, within the IT department and amongst consultants and technology vendors does not reflect or match the reality of day-to-day workers.

“It is essential that companies engage with their employees at a much earlier stage of technology change in a broader and more detailed approach in order to fully understand what they need from the ground up. This is required to ensure maximum engagement with the workforce, adoption of technology and ultimately a clear return-on-investment for everyone involved."