Five ways IT can help employees use new technology

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Even as employees have more and more opportunity to use new technology -- from mobile devices to services - they tend to struggle putting it to use. But IT can help.

At least that's the conclusion of one researcher at Cisco. Last fall, Alison Ruge, lead user experience Researcher for the Collaboration Technology Group at Cisco, undertook a small but in-depth look at the impact of mobile devices and collaboration technology on sales-oriented companies with at least 1,250 employees. She spoke to just 19 people, some from IT and some from sales, but she sat with each one for three and a half hours. The users were highly mobile, with an average of one to two smartphones and a tablet.

She found that both types of employees were under pressure for a variety of reasons. 

While they were technologically savvy, they struggled with the best ways to take advantage of the technology they were using. While IT may be looking to move users to collaboration tools, employees cling to email as the form of communication they know and are comfortable with.

As for IT pros, some have a problem letting go of the command-and-control mentality of the past and finding ways to partner with business units in a more equal relationship. 

Based on her work, Ruge identified five ways IT can foster collaboration and sound BYOD policies at these companies:

1. Articulate clear polices

One big issue Ruge found was that companies tended to have obtuse BYOD policies written in heavy legalese that nobody bothered reading. She likened it to software users blindly clicking "OK" to the Terms of Use policies. Nobody bothers reading them.

Consequently, she found that most employees had no idea what the company's policies were or even if the company had a right to monitor or wipe their devices. Further, she said, the policies tended to be written in a way to protect the company, which she felt was the entirely wrong strategy. Instead, Ruge wants to see IT departments take a more tactical approach and recommend ways of working.

Instead of having lawyers write the policies, she suggested that people sit down and work together to adopt clear policies in plain language that are easy to understand. Rather than a set of directives, she recommended a set of best practices that make sense to employees. 

2. Simplify passwords

Passwords were another huge issue for end users. At many of the companies she surveyed, Ruge found that employees had different passwords across every system with different rules on each one. The sheer number was simply overwhelming users, and as a result two-thirds of the people she interviewed admitted to printing a list of passwords to carry with them. It's hard to imagine anything less secure than that.

Ruge recommends companies employ a single sign-on (SSO) system and distill the password systems to a single one. This takes pressure off your employees and should all but eliminate the piece of paper strategy for remembering the myriad of passwords. Companies like Okta and Ping provide systems that can unify sign-on for multiple cloud services with a company's local directory structure.

3.  Establish a liaison position between IT and business units

Ruge recognizes that both IT and business units have certain needs that may conflict, and she recommends establishing a liaison position to act as a buffer between the two. The ideal person would have process engineering background along with comfort with and joy for technology. He or she would be familiar with new ways of working and could articulate where breakdowns are happening and which tools are going to work best for the majority of people.

4. Reassess how you use office space

Ruge believes that new ways of working require that companies reassess their use of office space. The workers she spoke to spend the vast majority of their time out of the office, but when they are in the office, they need spaces that encourage collaborative work. She says people aren't sitting in a cubicle staring at a screen. The conventional thinking of people working in isolation and handing their work over a wall is not scalable will not work for today's workers. She recommends building spaces that enable collaboration, and she said the many of the major office equipment manufacturers are working on creating more collaborative environments. There are also companies experimenting with this already.

5. Treat employees like adults

Finally, Ruge suggests treating employees like adults and providing them with the tools they need to work flexibly. The employees she spoke to valued having flexibility to work when it was most convenient for them. She also questioned the backlash we've seen regarding work-life balance, where some companies are canceling flex work, while some European companies have shut down the email servers at the end of a shift as examples of command-and-control mentality and "master knows best." 

She added that command-and-control assumed employees would do the wrong the thing. In her experience, employees rise to the occasions, and she said the tools, policies, and processes you put in place correlate directly to how much you believe in your employees' ability to make sound decisions.

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