Unconnected office technology alienates the young and the old



As 22-year-old Erica Locke is an up-and-coming IT whiz, her boss learned how to use a printer during her first cybersecurity internship.

Locke and her co-worker began to feel confident when they needed to print and sign some papers in the office, she said. The printer had a touch screen interface, so how hard could it be? But the printer could not print. He tapped the screen. You save ink and toner – all accounted for. The machine was plugged into the wall, and the outlet was working. Finally, they found the problem. There was no paper in it.

“It was embarrassing how long it took us to think about that,” Locke said.

Workplace technology can be frustrating — and it doesn’t discriminate by age. While the company’s older employees are getting used to screen capture and cloud storage, the younger ones may be experiencing printers, scanners and landlines for the first time. Ageism affects both parties, as Boomers tend to look out of touch and Gen Z contends with stereotypes that young people are naturally adept at all forms of technology. Tech-shyness at work is a problem, but it doesn’t have to be.

As an office manager at a company with hundreds of employees, Kate Yeagle has seen employees of all ages face new workplace technologies. About half came away unharmed, she said. The other half needs more help, and that’s okay.

“It’s all about creating an opportunity to ask questions and letting people know you can’t make them feel bad either way,” she said. “Being Gen Z doesn’t mean you’re an expert, and being big doesn’t mean you don’t know what’s going on.

Want to know how technology can make work for everyone? Here are the help desk tips.

Don’t be smarter than you are

Sorry, Ted, but the office scanner is not “familiar” to everyone.

Although you may find fax machines or zip files self-explanatory, your younger colleagues may not. Likewise, just because they’ve spent years exploring mobile apps doesn’t mean everyone feels comfortable.

If you get impatient with people struggling with new (or old) technology, they may become more disengaged and left behind. Yeagle said she’s worked at companies where managers make the wrong comments when employees are confused by new tools or gadgets. In the long run, she said, it led to more technology problems because employees were reluctant to admit confusion or ask for help.

When technology issues arise, don’t waste valuable time pretending that the offending device is simple. Instead, do something that helps your coworkers connect.

If there are always people standing around the postage counter scratching their heads, print out clear directions and tape them to the machine. If a handful of employees are missing important updates in the new scheduling application, schedule a Q&A session and walk through it.

Choose some common technology tools and help everyone learn

If your office technology is a hindrance to young and old alike, wiping out pre-Y2K machines or banning cloud storage isn’t the answer.

Instead, talk to your coworkers about what isn’t working. Is someone losing their meeting notes because the agendas are always printed on paper? Has anyone else been missing important calls because they can’t remember the voicemail code for their desk phone?

Choose a single tool for each task – like Slack for brainstorms, Google Docs for real-time collaboration. Then plan shameless, question-and-answer sessions to bring everyone up to speed. Encourage questions, and provide written directions when possible.

Here are some solutions to common office technology problems.

Printers, fax machines and scanners

Using your smartphone as a scanner saves a lot of time – and paper. Both iOS and Android phones have a scanning feature. Open the Notes app on iPhone, start a new note, tap the camera icon, and choose Scan Documents. Then just point the camera to the page you want to scan and select Save. To share or send to your computer, tap the Share button (the square arrow pointing up) and select Send a copy from the drop-down menu. If you have those apps on your device, you should see plenty of ways to share, including email and Slack.

Open the Google Drive app on Android and tap the plus sign. Select Scan and use the camera to capture your document. Tap Next and the app will create a PDF of your document. Then you can save and send.

For documents that require signatures, try DocuSign. Instead of printing everything, it allows your recipient to sign digitally. (And remember that Apple’s Preview app has a signature function. Go to Tools > Annotation > Signature.)

Just to make an international call… why dial 9 when you can make an international call?

As more work is done in shared digital spaces like Slack or Zoom, switching to cell phones instead of landlines will be a boon for everyone. Some companies provide work cell phones. If yours isn’t, check to see if the organization will cover some or all of your bill.

Either way, working from a cell phone lets you keep professional text messages, voicemails, and phone numbers at your fingertips. Download the Google Voice app and set up a unique phone number. This way, you can keep work and life separate without tying all your professional relationships to the office.

In theory, Bluetooth makes life easier by not having to connect external devices — like a headset or keyboard — to your phone or computer.

For the office, laptops with USB ports and audio jacks are often the way to go, along with old-fashioned wired headphones and mice. Everyone knows how to connect them, and you spend less time troubleshooting Bluetooth connections.


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