This post is in response to a post from Euan Semple - go check it out first! I don't disagree with his main point - there's no doubt that many organisations are hindering their peoples' performance with an outdated attitude to new technologies. However, what I don't think gets nearly enough recognition is that not all individuals want to use social software or new technology, or care about why they should.
That's a pretty controversial statement amongst web 2.0 and social media folks. Why would anyone not want to have more control, more responsibility? Why would anyone not want to choose the ideal tools to get their work done? Simply because we're all different.
It's all too easy to forget that many people just want to go to work and do their job. They don't want to waste a day comparing browsers, or installing different Twitter clients. They certainly don't want to be responsible for re-imaging their PC when it's corrupted and virus infected!
The cultural expectation of most employees is that their employer provides them with technology that enables them to do their job - and the employer bears the responsibility for it working properly. At the moment, this entails restrictions on what the employee can do - sure, this might hurt productivity, and it makes us early adopters furious. But I honestly believe that for a majority of workers, they'd prefer stable and supported technology over the latest innovative tools.
So when considering the use of IT at work, the main point I'm trying to make is that it's not about the individual versus some monolithic, faceless corporate entity. It's about the attitudes, expectations and culture of the organisation's people. If we want a change in the use of technology in the workplace, we need to convince a majority of our colleagues why this will be a good thing!
How might we do this? Trends over time will help - although I don't agree that technology use is driven by whether you're a baby boomer, Gen X or Gen Y, there's little doubt that the constant flow of younger people into the workplace will drive cultural changes. There will also be change over time through ambition. Once people realise that social software isn't just a toy but a tool that can transform their performance - and hence, their prospects of reward - they will be much more enthusiastic!
Technology developments may help too. Again looking at current trends, there's lots of room for improvements in technology stability. Why are computers still so prone to failure? Specifically for the workplace, I think virtual machines could be a way forward. If made easy enough to use, why not provide a personal VM environment within which people could use social or personal productivity tools, whilst keeping the host system clean and stable?
To finish, then, I'd like to point out that us web 2.0, social technology evangelists are on the leading edge of this change. I think we tend to forget that! Early adopters will be frustrated during change - there's no avoiding that. This shouldn't stop us advocating use of social tools, far from it! But we should recognise that change may take years, or decades, to truly sink in. We should aim our efforts at the audience that matters - not some corporate entity but rather our colleagues and friends who remain dubious about the whole idea. Obviously the opinion of top management in any organisation does make a difference! But ultimately, the combined opinions, expectations and culture of the individuals making up that organisation have to be convinced before we can expect widespread change.