Updating Work is So Much More Than Updating Technology
by MK Ward
A common misconception is that “technological perfection” and magical algorithms are what it takes to transform work. This myth disregards how technology needs to be accepted by workers and embedded into work routines, for it to be useful.
Stuart and his team from Telstra have witnessed the importance of this statement many times. Over several years of a partnership with the Department of Education, the team has worked hard to support virtual learning in the Pilbara. Stuart has worked with Chloe, and with worked with others in Telstra, to improve network connectivity in the Pilbara and in other remote regions to supply the technology for video conferencing.
One might expect that - as a telecommunications company responsible for cell phone service – the team’s focus is entirely technical. Technical expertise is important, but achieving an impact through new technology requires much more than installing a connection or getting a new device. Successful impact requires bridging the gap between the work being done by real, live human beings, and the technology. As Stuart observed:
“(To make an actual difference)… I’m on the ground, talking with teachers in the classrooms. I need to learn about the scenarios that are important to them and that help student learning. From those scenarios, I then talk with [our expert on current and emerging technologies], who recommends technological solutions.”
Stuart also supports teachers to help them to see how technology can be useful:
“The biggest challenge is teachers’ mindset where they see (technology) as a burden and they can’t look past what they think they know… Once they see it happen and are supported in trying to implement it, then they get involved.”
From a work design perspective, new technology can – initially at least – be an additional job demand. So it is important that the end-users (in this case, the teachers) get the support they need to cope with the added challenge that comes with new technology. Support comes from help with troubleshooting, and equally valuable, as suggestions for better ways to leverage the technology to help teachers teach. Research shows that support can be an important buffer against excess job demands, which can otherwise lead to work stress.
Providing support is important not only for the recipient, but also the provider of the support, namely Stuart in this case. Stuart rates his job a 9 out of 10 “because of the impact you can have.” He values the opportunity to change the lives of students and teachers through the effective use of technology.
Incidentally, just like Chloe teaching in the Pilbara , Stuart also appreciates the autonomy is his job because it allows him to craft his work. “[I value] the flexibility of being able to pursue interests, and to turn the job into what I want it to be.”
It seems that the good work design in Stuart’s job enables him to support work design improvements for his clients, thereby making good work design contagious.