The Human Experience: Technology, Change and Risk

The Human Experience is an emerging model in workplace design. It’s equal parts sociology, psychology, organizational behavior and architecture - the intersection of workstyle and lifestyle. Organizations focusing on The Human Experience seek to attract and retain top talent by creating workplace environments that make employees want to come to work, be active participants and perform at an optimal level.

NKF is a leading advocate of this approach. As part of our efforts to promote it we’re offering a series of four blogs highlighting fundamental concepts that shape the human experience.

This second installment in the series addresses organizations’ ability to manage change and mitigate risk as they adopt new workplace technologies.

In the first human experience blog, I introduced the concept of social cohesion within the workplace and the importance of building a culture of diversity and inclusion. I discussed how shifting demographics, the #MeToo movement, expanding LGBTQ+ awareness and other factors are rapidly (re)shaping our larger culture and, by extension, the expectations of today’s workforce.

This second installment addresses another factor driving rapid change in the workplace – technology. Increasingly, competitive pressures compel organizations to evaluate and (potentially) adopt an ever-expanding assortment of new technologies designed to support new ways of working, ranging from collaboration tools to smart office and IoT building management systems.

Risk goes hand-in-hand with change
Organizations are like people. Some are more risk-averse than others. The amount of risk an organization is willing (or able) to tolerate is typically a function of both size and industry – older, established companies in the financial services sector are likely to be more averse to it than a tech startup, for instance.

The degree to which an organization embraces risk impacts how quickly it will pivot or respond to changes in customer expectations, technology innovation, competition or regulatory requirements. In these instances, leadership’s attitude permeates an organization’s culture, carrying with it bottom-line implications and a likelihood that an aversion to or acceptance of risk will trickle down to its individual employees, either stifling or encouraging innovative thinking. This is the difference between being a task-driven organization, where employees know their roles and work within the strict limits of their daily tasks, or a knowledge-centric organization, which encourages collaboration and teamwork.

There is no right or wrong approach, necessarily. A task-driven orientation may be more appropriate to highly regulated industries like healthcare, government and finance; whereas, tech firms benefit more from a collaborative environment. But, every organization must be willing to undertake a rigorous internal analysis. This includes a hard look at where its processes and people are, where they need to be and how to bridge those gaps. No organization is immune – even the staid financial institution. Every company will evolve. The question lies in how well they manage it.

Managing change in an ever-evolving technology landscape
We’ve arrived at a potentially perilous place. The rate of technological change is exceeding our ability to adapt to it. This exacerbates the challenge for companies deciding what technology they need to implement and how. With any change comes risk. In the case of new technology, those risks are magnified by the potential to negatively impact productivity, the employee experience and disrupt processes. This makes a sophisticated change management approach more important than ever.

Companies looking at new technology must first understand their workstyle (e.g. remote vs. in-office workforce), processes (e.g. paper-driven vs. digital) and culture and then decide to either adapt to the new technology or align that technology with their current environment. Ultimately, it’s an exercise in matching needs with out-of-the-box tools. This exercise accesses where the organization is now, how far it’s willing to change and setts expectations by developing a set of formal and informal policies. In the case of an instant messaging/collaboration tool like Slack, those policies may take the form of “I should respond to a message within 5-minutes” or “My co-workers should always be able to see that I’m online from 8-5”.

Poorly managed change creates a downward spiral. If leadership has poorly executed a new technology roll-out once, they should expect passive resistance from the workforce in the future. In these instances, organizations can be rendered paralyzed and change-averse. Leadership may cite the intimidating range of solutions to choose from, the failure of a solution to deliver its promised value, the cost of implementing tech and training staff – but that attitude carries with it long-term negative consequences.

There’s a stronger case to be made that the introduction of new technology – if managed properly – can instantly boost staff motivation and increase the company’s appeal to prospective employees. The key is commitment at the highest levels of the organization.

To embrace the change and mitigate the risks that come with adopting new technologies, I encourage organizations to adopt a change management philosophy based on at least four guidelines:

  1. Review how risk policies are affecting operations, processes and overall employee experience.
  2. Reassess the organization’s tolerance related to risk and consider whether that needs to change for the organization to remain relevant and respond quickly to shifting economic dynamics.
  3. Keep in mind that technology will always continue to move forward. Make the decision to evolve your technology at the pace the organization can stand.
  4. When times call for bigger change, get additional support. New technology is not purely about onboarding, especially if it changes the wayteams work together. Sometimes technologyrequires process and operations changes, training for managers to manage differently, etc.
In summary, whether you’re considering how to manage change and risk generally or you’re introducing new technology into your organization, leadership must be able to assume the perspective of individual employees and be aware of the impact each decision has on them.  Success in managing change, mitigating risk and launching new technology is a cross-organizational achievement involving virtually every role and department from HR, Communications and IT to executive leadership and the general workforce.
EvelynLee_017.jpgEvelyn Lee
Regional Workplace Manager, West Coast Lead  

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