The fax machine. It still squawks dustily in some African offices, sending messages using a technology almost as dated as the smoke signal. Employees still work with legacy technology, ageing systems, and outdated operating systems. Their relationship with technology is both flawed and frustrating – they’re intimidated, confused and distrustful. According to Mandla Mbonambi, founding CEO of Africonology Solutions, technology in the office isn’t just the fax machine, email and office products. It is a landscape populated by the complex, challenging and the new. For employees who aren’t tech savvy, technology can introduce a challenging dynamic that has to be addressed to ensure return on investment and employee engagement.
“The relationship between the employee and technology has become an anxious one,” he says. “Some may find the introduction of new services and solutions to be exciting, but most are worried about how it will impact on their roles, privacy, and productivity.”
The new breed of employee – the much-talked-about millennial, for example – is embracing technology-driven change. These so-called digital natives have grown up with mobile phones, tablets, and disruption. Many older employees are more comfortable with the old ways of doing things and the jarring interruption of technology into their tried and trusted lives isn’t a welcome one. Mbonambi believes that their relationship with technology requires a transition period and a measure of endorsement.
“It is also important to recognise the impact that security has had on this relationship,” he adds. “It has created hostilities and tensions. People aren’t confident in their technology and feel as if they no longer own their identities, confidential data, and privacy. Networks are perceived as the all-seeing, prying eyes.”
Cloud computing is a great example. Some employees feel it adds enormous value to their working lives and relationships. They can access their data on demand, files are convenient to use and share, devices connect to accounts and link to domains, and they feel it is an open landscape for career growth and productivity. But for others, Mbonambi warns, it creates a disconnect between employer and employee as they ask: ‘Who else has access to my data and files? Who is watching what I do?’
“This dynamic has come about thanks to the transformation around how business is conducted and how it executes on its mandate to customer and client,” he explains. “For an organisation to achieve a competitive edge in the current economic landscape, it has to be agile and adapt to new and evolving technologies and capabilities. They can’t afford to delay this transformation otherwise they run the risk of being disrupted, becoming irrelevant or losing market share.”
This is further affected by changes in what employees want, how they want it and what tools they use to consume it. Technology is changing so fast that its rapid revolution can be defined as consistent. This means that employees must be agile and adaptive alongside the organisation. Technology forces change onto employees and what they need, as well as what is needed from them. It’s a push and pull of need-demand that puts tension on the business and its people.
To resolve these issues, to help both enterprise and employee extricate themselves from the endless loop of technology adoption and adaptation, the organisation must ignite change management processes. These need to be ongoing, relevant and enduringly valuable. They must create a journey, one that the employee will take along with the company and the technology to ensure meaningful change and information exchange.
“Training and upskilling play a vital role in this process as they empower employees and give them the tools they need to take advantage of the technology and really eke out its true value,” concludes Mbonambi. “This also ensures that the organisation gets a return on investment – new technology may be essential, but plenty of investments have grown dusty and forgotten in the wake of poor employee adoption and lack of understanding. Employees must be engaged from the outset and understand the business processes and strategic imperatives that have driven the technology investment.”
There’s no need to hire fresh young digital talent to replace the retrenched entrenched older employees. Inspiration, training, and education empower everyone from the new digital natives to the nervous digital dodgers and create a business that benefits from the technology of the future, today.