For insights into how the digital workplace is evolving, it would be hard to find better, or more informed insights than those offered by Scott Brinker. If his marketing technology landscape graphic, which is published every year, is largely targeted at the marketing departments, it also provides a good snapshot of what technology is being used for what and where in the digital workplace.

His blog is also a good reference point when it comes to tech. In one installment earlier this year, he touched on a problem that many enterprise technology leaders are still wrestling with and are likely to continue to struggle with for the foreseeable future, notably the problem of technology and its transformational impact on the workplace.

The biggest problem with using technology to drive organizational change in the workplace is that the technology can change a lot faster than the people do, he wrote. “Technology advances exponentially, he wrote, citing Moore’s Law, the observation that we can expect the speed and capability of computers to increase every couple of years, and we will pay less for them, enabling more enterprises to buy more increasingly sophisticated technology.

In contrast, organizations absorb change logarithmically—that is, even more slowly than linear, and certainly much more slowly than technology, he writes. So what role does technology play in the digital workplace and how should it be managed?

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Focusing On Tech Is A Mistake

Tod Nielsen is CEO of San Francisco-based FinancialForce.  He points out that change and complexity are increasing in every part of our lives, especially with regards to technology. With enterprise solutions, for example, there are so many different cloud applications available today that many business teams are going rogue and implementing these apps without involving IT, which only leads to more headaches.

But with any new implementations or new technology strategy, focusing exclusively on the technology aspect without considering the people involved and the work change that comes with it are common mistakes. “When faced with the kind of rapid change that comes with digital transformation, organizations must realize there are two main constituents involved: upper management and end-user employees,” he said. “While senior managers need to understand how the proposed change will directly affect their specific business challenges, end users must also feel included in the overall change process.”

Often, organizations will introduce new technology without first consulting with the end-users, which can leave them feeling excluded and overwhelmed at the prospect of having to learn a new tool while also keeping up with their day job.

Use of different technologies in their introductory phases has always seemed like a troublesome task. Two most important factors contributing to this perception are reluctance at a human level and primitive nature of the technology. So is seen when it comes to collaborative technologies. Humans tend to work in comfort zones and this propensity causes lack of cooperation towards coping with new technology and instills dislike towards a disruption of existing harmony. Introduction of new technology and working with it may require a particular skill-set or at times requires mere patience to get along with the new ways. A little cooperation can go a long way in achieving synergy between humans and technology involved.

Despite the amount of media coverage, collaborative technologies still in their primitive stages and at times there is a need to use multiple tools to achieve completion of multiple tasks. However, as human needs will increase, so will the need of development in these tools which makes it an ever-evolving process. “At the end of the day, collaborative technology helps get a lot done than not and a little forbearance can facilitate more inclusion,” he added.

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Too Many Tools Is A Hindrance

That said, pushing too many collaborative technologies into the mix can create obstacles that shouldn't really shouldn't exist. Steve Kurniawan of Nine Peaks media in Toronto, said that their experiment with a number of different tools came to a halt after they realized that it was creating a hindrance and reducing productivity. The main reasons for this were:

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  1. The learning curve, which is different for each team member, to understand the new tool
  2. A feature which you get comfortable in one particular tool, but is missing in the other or is difficult to access — and hence causes a negative reaction

“We ultimately ended up experimenting, and settled on one tool — irrespective of the new features/promises shown by other tools,” he said, "Technology is a hindrance if you keep jumping on things rather than settling one. It is like, getting excited by any new shiny toy, and thus leaving the current one behind, but later on feeling unsatisfied with the new toy also.

"Too much technology and tools, force the players to keep up the game and try to improve. They thus continually offer new features and better support. “I think, sticking with one, and building your team's ecosystem around it — even if it lags a behind others in the long run, is the right approach where you maximize the benefits of technology, without getting hindered by it." 

There are three main roles, then, for technology:

1. Disruptor

A case we often see nowadays in this age of disruption, the technology act as a disruption to the existing business process, forcing a change. Companies that can evolve change, according to this demand of disruption, they can stay competitive, while those that can’t adapt will fail. A good example is how the internet as a disruptor has forced the change in the media industry, newspapers and magazines.

2. Accelerator

The role here is quite similar — at first glance — to that of disruptor, but there’s a significant difference: here, technology won’t force the change, but can make the change happen faster than before. A good example here is the advent of apps like Slack, where companies can now “change” to a faster, more digital communication approach. This change can bring benefits to the company, but is not forced.

3. Enabler

Technology enables change. For example, for countless years companies have sought ways to engage their customers faster and more efficient. The email technology, and later, social media, enabled this change to happen.

Businesses invest a lot of money in collaborative technology so that employees can make the most out of it, Karthik Subramanian, of Camden, Wyo.-based Paperflite said. Most often, businesses do not need a lot of technological solutions to solve their collaborative challenges. For example, investing in a collaborative technology could help sales reps close deals faster or help marketers launch campaigns. “I think what users lack is proper training. A lot of times, businesses pour money into a collaborative technology and leave users to figure out how to use it. This is despite most technology vendors offer customer support, specialized training, and demos,” he said. “Instead, users lack the knowledge and ability to use it and as a result, become frustrated.”

He added that there is also an increased fear of content leaking outside their business and falling into unauthorized hands. Users do not entirely trust software such as Google Docs/Google Sheets, because they do not know how to secure their documents.

Moreover, if you were to look at the collaborative technology stack, many companies are jostling for space in a highly competitive environment. Businesses buy small, pointed software that solves minimalist needs instead of catering to the entire suite of B2B needs/requirements.