Technophobia or tech-rejection?

May 17 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

As you read this, I'm speaking at a conference for project managers in Madison, Wisconsin. (I'm not bragging - it's relevant). I was asked to speak about tech for virtual teams, which is common enough. What's interesting is when I asked the program chair what he wanted me to focus on, he said "well all the latest tools for collaboration. Not that anyone will use them".

This somewhat defeatist attitude (and the line between cynicism and observation is narrow and blurry, I grant you) is not unusual. It also prompted a much larger conversation with him. After all, most of the people at this conference are in IT so why wouldn't they use the tools at their disposal?

The usual reason given for not adopting software or anything else is "technophobia", but since they're in IT, they are not afraid of technology. In fact, they are the ones responsible for foisting it off on the rest of us and then blaming us for not using it.

The fact is, that true "technophobia" is pretty rare in a functional workplace. If someone is carrying a smart phone, owns a television without knobs on it, and can get money out of the bank without turning a blank deposit slip over to a teller and grunting, they aren't afraid of technology. They use it every day of their lives. They just pick and choose the tech they're going to use.

So why don't people just use what they're supposed to use when they're supposed to do it? There are a number of reasons.

In a perfect world, you'd think about these things before spending money on a solution that may or may not be successful. In the world in which we currently dwell, you might ask yourself if any of these is the barrier to getting your team to use a certain tool or solution.

Do they understand what it's supposed to do or the problem it should solve? A stunning percentage of people are asked to use tools without ever being told what it can do in a practical way. For example, most people using web presentation platforms use fewer than a quarter of the features available to them.

Sometimes that's because the features are unnecessary and added by the geeks who design it. More often, though, they've never seen the tool used in a way that makes sense to them, and therefore don't understand the big deal.

When we teach web presentation basics, the most common comment is, "I never knew it could do all those things, this is really cool". Change happens when people understand why what you're asking them to do is better than what they're doing now. A list of features on the FAQ page of your website is seldom sufficient.

Does it work? Most software and solutions work just fine. They do what they're designed to do. So whether something works or not isn't defined by whether it does all kinds of cool things when the sales person does the demo. It ought to be defined by the fact that people can use it while doing all the other stuff they have to do in the normal course of their work.

So if data entry needs to be done in a completely different way than they are used to doing it, for example, there will be plenty of mistakes, frustration and throwing up of hands.

Will it take a long time to learn? Learning a new way of working takes a lot longer than people think. Let's say you estimate an hour for training. Great, now add in the amount of time it takes them to do the task now, and double it. Now add extra time for mistakes and re-work. It takes weeks of doing something to become unconsciously competent. It takes much longer to be expert. If the returns and rewards aren't worth the aggravation, they will resist.

Will they get away with not using the new system? People will do what's easiest and offers the least amount of pain. Is it worth taking the time to learn or can you just ask someone else to do it when the time comes?

I mean, why learn to use Sharepoint if you can just ask your manager to re-send that document when you need it. If she sends it, she's in essence rewarding your current (non-compliant) behavior. Ask yourself how often you or your team get rewarded for avoiding changing behavior? It's actually pretty shocking.

Of course, the obvious thing would be to consult them before purchasing or implementing the solution to see what objections they might have and get some buy-in, but what madness is that? So if you can't make the presentation today, ask yourself: what tools are at your disposal that people aren't using and why the heck not?

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.