Dealing with 'app fatigue'

2015

By my (admittedly non-scientific) count, I just received my 1,034th invitation to try a new app. This recent gizmo is “guaranteed to increase team collaboration and improve communication”. Part of this is my own fault for visiting so many blogs and websites doing research for this blog (it’s all you people’s fault. I hope you appreciate it - and yes that sounded just like my mother). But I’m feeling overwhelmed and burned out on technology, and I suspect many of you are as well. So it’s time to talk about App Fatigue.

Let’s start by acknowledging the essential paradox of working remotely:

Communication and relationship building is essential to a successful remote team, and it can be accomplished best through the purposeful choice and effective use of good technology. Hence the onslaught of tools designed to solve communication challenges.

All the technology in the world won’t help your team if you and your team aren’t psychologically and socially prepared to communicate and take advantage of the tools at hand. Thus, most technology (either full blown software or productivity apps) doesn’t accomplish its appointed tasks and gets labeled a waste of time and/or money.

The problem with most of these apps (and technology in general) isn’t whether or not they “work”. Most do more or less exactly what they promise, assuming one uses them correctly and can get the entire team on board. The problem seems to be getting people to adopt them and build them into the way they work every day.

Why don’t people adopt new technology more quickly? As you look at this list, ask yourself what filters you personally use to determine whether to use something or not:

Can I state in one sentence how this tool will make my job easier/faster/better? Put simply, we are really good at adopting tools that solve obvious problems, and even better at ignoring technology for its own sake. If we have a defined problem, and this is a clearly defined solution, we tend to look at it more closely with an eye to meeting our challenges.

Does it look or feel like something we’re already using? Very few people look forward to learning a new process or working differently than they do now. We gravitate towards those things we’re familiar with, assuming there will be less of a learning curve. This is why your team will is more likely to take a chance on something built into Outlook or Salesforce than use something stand-alone. It’s also why truly revolutionary tech has a hard time breaking in, even though it’s “better” than what’s out there.

Is anyone else using it? Very few people are comfortable being “first adopters”. Even if something looks like it will fix our problem, we want to know who else has used it, and what their experience has been. If it’s someone we know or trust that evidence gets greater weight than all the white papers and case studies sales folks throw at us.

How will we learn it, and can we get help? While there are more and more young people entering the workforce, and their comfort with technology is usually higher than that of their managers and older peers, the fact remains that tech support, training, and just the ability to get answers when we need them remains a major factor when you try to roll out a tool to your team.

If people think they’ll be left to figure it out on their own, there will be little enthusiasm for adoption. This applies double to the “hours of video tutorials” available on the tool’s website. People want to ask a question, get answers, and get back to work. Spending a lot of valuable worktime learning a “shortcut” doesn’t feel like a good investment.

So before either cursing your people as Luddites, or chasing every shiny new app that claims it will solve your problem, you need to take a deep breath and conduct a simple assessment. Here’s what you need to ask yourself and your team:

  • What is working - and not working - currently? Is communication flowing clearly?
  • Once you identify the challenges, ask yourself and your team: is this a problem technology can solve, or do we have to change our mental thought processes or behavior?
  • What existing technology do we have now? Will it solve our problem if we use it better (or at all) or do we really need an entirely new solution?

Only when you are satisfied you and your team are doing all you can, as well as you can, and that your current technology isn’t sufficient, is it time to actively seek other solutions.

I’m not saying these tools don’t work, but if we’re too burnt out to evaluate them properly we’ll never really know for sure.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.