Opinion

Put people first to accelerate digital adoption

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Digital adoption is not about technology and new skills: key to it is people skills, argues Emily Hopson-Hill.

Digital adoption is a term that has gained great traction in the construction industry over the last few years. A sector not traditionally known for its tech-savviness has started to become a champion of innovation, committed to increasing productivity and efficiency across the board.

Although a lot of media space is given over to the latest devices, as well as the direct impact of these gadgets on day-to-day business operations, less is devoted to the human aspect of integrating new technology within the workforce.

In my experience, implementation of new software and hardware is only as good as the buy-in from the people who use it. Throughout my career, I have seen cutting-edge systems, tools and platforms that could have revolutionised a particular company’s working practices, fail to deliver because the implementation did not take existing company attitudes into account when the new technology was introduced.

It’s a particularly common challenge to those industries, like construction, that haven’t traditionally sought tech skills in their staff. Further, it often occurs when the technology is brought on in a top-down fashion, dropped from above without a clear explanation of the new enhancement’s purpose or intention.

Here, it’s important to remember new technology is often seen as change, and not always a positive one. Lack of clear communication around such change often has the negative effect of fostering fear and uncertainty in the workforce, making people question their role in the organisation, and worse, their job security.

If left unaddressed, this can gather momentum and lead to an atmosphere of distrust, disengagement and, in the worst scenarios, a mass exodus of talent from the business.

“It’s important to remember new technology is often seen as change, and not always a positive one. Lack of clear communication around such change often has the negative effect of fostering fear and uncertainty in the workforce.”

Importantly, the introduction of new technology needs to be handled empathetically and inclusively. If you’re a business owner, you want this investment to be seen as something that is going to improve your staff’s working lives and ultimately make them happier in their jobs. It should not be regarded as a gratuitous spend.

Start by relating with the concerns of the workforce and showing them how the technology being integrated into their daily operations will have a positive effect. Link it to their pain points and demonstrate how this innovation is going to remove them. It’s all about clearly communicating the motivation behind the investment, following by the journey to meet the objective.

Then it’s about bringing your team on that journey, training staff up, usually in tandem with the tech provider, to get them comfortable with using the tool. Once empowered to use the technology, employees will soon see the benefits, as they work more efficiently and achieve better results.

It’s an inclusive exercise, and everyone in the company needs to be engaged with it across all levels of the business; technology needs to please the boots on the ground as much as the ‘c-suite’. Further, it’s also an ongoing process, requiring continual review and reiteration as no path to holistic digital adoption is a linear one: there will always be opportunities to improve. Harnessing this flexible approach will help to drive more value.

Effective introduction of technology is very much a people game. Ultimately, if you can get everyone on board and understanding the tools being brought in are going to help them do their job better, then you’ve already won half the battle, making it more likely of successful implementation a deployment across the business.

Emily Hopson-Hill is chief operating officer at construction management software provider Zutec.

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