Arguably the digital workplace isn’t new, per se. We've been digital for quite some time. Over the years, the adoption curve has remained the same every time we roll out a new technology: a large spike in usage up front, followed by a plummet and then a gradual decline. Focusing on adoption isn’t how you get people to use new technology. If you think adoption is the answer, you’re asking yourself the wrong question.

Knowledge workers are in application and information overload. Acknowledging this and then assessing the landscape that users traverse can help put this into context. As we are asked to do more with less, the answer isn’t necessarily to throw a new technology at the problem. Often, the problem is the technology rollouts that fail. How do you get an investment in the digital workplace to stick? There are several points to remember as you strive to answer to that question. Let’s examine a few of them.

Technology Should Respond to a Business Process Need

Often, new communication and social enterprise technologies fail to gain traction in the workplace because users don’t really need them — the systems don’t address an actual business case. Without a reason to share, post or search for information, people won’t waste their valuable time using a newly deployed tool.

Corporate culture can also play a big role in technology adoption. The closer a system is tied to strategic goals and processes, the greater the chance of it achieving its intended return. For example, Microsoft has a case study of how Yammer gave Nationwide a platform that helped improve customer service and responsiveness and provided a vehicle for sharing successful solutions between employees in call centers and those at the homes of customers filing claims. When tools like Yammer can be deployed in ways that impact real work and knowledge, adoption rates go up.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Shadow IT is reality. Whether you like it or not, employees are using personal accounts to conduct business, store data and collaborate with people inside and outside of your organization. If an organization’s tools don’t meet users’ needs or expectations, users will find better solutions elsewhere. This can lead to compromised security, lack of adherence to compliance measures and lack of ownership of knowledge and intellectual property.

Adapting to the challenge of shadow IT doesn’t mean you have to provide a wide array of tools with similar capabilities so users can pick and choose the ones they like best. But it does mean that you have to acknowledge that, say, one enterprise content management system may not meet everyone’s requirements or accommodate all work styles. It’s important to have both options and clearly defined roles and responsibilities for systems. More is not better, but a prescriptive approach is.

Change Shouldn’t Lead to More Work

Having a strategy for change management may be one of the keys to ensuring that users will adopt new tools. However, the call for change will be a nonstarter if using the new system means users will have to do more work to accomplish tasks. The exception is if the additional work aids in improving compliance or the ability to find data or accomplish strategic goals. But even with exceptions such as those, the change must have a compelling value proposition and promise a desirable user experience.

Change is inevitable though, and there are cases where users will readily adapt to new ways of working. An example is a move from attaching copies of documents to email messages to adding people’s names to a document with edit privileges so they can share and collaborate.

Not Everything Needs to Change

With the addition of new and exciting productivity tools, like many of those that come with Office 365, it can be easy to think that every process can be transformed. However, some processes don’t need to change. Here is an example: Say your users have developed their own process for using Excel to handle communication and knowledge-sharing needs. If a new tool you want to deploy wouldn’t save them any time — or would require them to do more work — in addition to changing the way they work, then it may be best to leave the current system in place.

The digital workplace is evolving, and its DNA will be different for every organization. Equip users with tools that will be effective, and be careful to not inundate them with more applications and information than they can handle. No one needs another newsfeed to check, unless it is critical to their professional success and the strategic success of the organization.

The focus for the digital workplace should be prescriptive without losing any nuance for the detail surrounding the work. Step away from focusing on adoption, and look at the digital workplace with a fresh lens, considering the user experience and mission as your core tenets.