By: Chris Calamos, CEO Retriever Communications

Change. It may be as good as a rest, but for many people it can also bring uncertainty, confusion and apprehension. And this year has seen seismic change on a global scale – from the way we go about our everyday lives to the very fabric of the way organisations conduct their business. Is it any wonder people in their hundreds of thousands have been happy to hunker down at home, working remotely and barely sticking their heads above their metaphorical parapets to see if and when it’s safe to come out again?

But even without the rigours of 2020 to contend with, when changes are made to our work routines it can lead to significant upheaval. ‘Will I be able to understand the new system?’ ‘Will I get it right?’ ‘How long will it take me to become confident in using it?’

And when the change comes in the form of technological progress, this unease can be even more pronounced. As Margot Hoekstra, our Senior Business Analyst, explains, “People don’t like change in general. The longer they have been doing the same process, which could be 10 to 20 years, the harder it can be for them to change.” There are understandable reasons for this, she says.

When field staff or contractors are required to adopt new technology as a part of their workflow and process, they may often feel that their autonomy is being threatened, with their long-held practice of self-scheduling being taken over by office staff. Basic issues like literacy and technological skill can have a marked influence. Staff may also see the requested new process as extra work with no discernible benefit to them, particularly if it seems to take longer to manage – the difference between filling in paperwork by hand and entering details digitally, for example. If they’re not genuinely engaged in developing new ways of doing things, staff may actually actively resist and offer up excuses for not getting on board.

Reluctance or, worse, downright refusal to engage with new technological processes can cause serious challenges for organisations, says Hoekstra. “It can make or break a project,” she explains. “The new technology may be important with respect to safety and duty of care. But word of mouth cannot be ignored, as early negative feedback can circulate and sully the project.”

Smooth operations
The good news is that there are a number of steps you can take to make the transition to a different process and the uptake of new technology much less of a challenge…

Getting buy-in
It’s vital that senior management and tech staff are not only across the new technology but are groomed to become its champions. Importantly, this includes training the trainers, so that those teaching the technology to field workers and contractors are enthusiastic and so well briefed that it’s easy for them to explain the reasons for its implementation and the advantages it offers over previous systems. Training is always a necessary component of change management and, if done correctly, can make a huge difference in early acceptance levels.

What’s in it for me?
It almost goes without saying how much easier it is to persuade someone to try something different if they immediately understand how it will improve their lives or make their jobs easier. If a field worker is clearly informed how a new system will offer benefits that work for them, such as timesheets or purchase orders that are more intuitive and easier to complete, adoption will naturally be much smoother and, indeed, embraced.

“We recently automated the entry of timesheets into a payroll system,” says Nicolas Grange, our chief technology officer. “A bonus for the workers was that as soon as they submitted their weekly timesheet, including allowances etc, a PDF timesheet was immediately sent to their email – giving them confidence that their next pay packet would be correct.”

The advantages could also be more tangible. A rollout of new smartphones, tablets or laptops would be doubly welcomed by staff who were aware they would then be able to use the devices in their personal lives too.

Get it right first time
New technological processes can come with teething issues and early speed bumps, leading to disgruntled users and frustration. Ensure that the tech you are implementing has all the bugs fully ironed out and, most importantly, is easy to use, even for the least tech savvy field worker or contractor. What you don’t want to find is that workers are recording any necessary information on paper and then re-entering the details later when they are no longer on-site, as this could mean that many of the safety and productivity benefits of the new technology are immediately lost.

In a similar fashion, always keep in mind that no technology is an improvement if it doesn’t streamline processes and actually make them simpler for the end user. So, consider the field worker’s workflow when the tech is being designed. Rather than fitting them in after the fact, tailor the process to accommodate the actual workflow in the app.

Multiple device support
Above all, remember that all field workers are individuals and will respond more positively if their specific needs and requirements are taken into consideration. Perhaps you have technical workers with eyesight constraints who will appreciate the choice between a smartphone or a tablet to accommodate their abilities?

“An example of this was an oil and gas company in Queensland,” says Grange. “The previous application didn’t consider the environment of the worker, which was in bright sunlight, so large buttons and text and intuitive navigation were needed.

“One of the most important things in managing this is responding to feedback early and quickly so that the workers feel that they are being listened to,” he adds.

As author C S Lewis once said, “There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” By carefully laying the groundwork and taking the above steps to help your field workers and contractors with their adoption of new technologies, those better things can be enjoyed by the entire organisation.