5 min read

Tools of the Tirade

Hand Brace, hammer with the Microsoft Teams logo.

If you saw a hammer lying on the ground for the very first time, would you know what it was for or how to use it? It’s very difficult to imagine you wouldn’t because it’s so engrained in your mind. The large flat face on one side used for hammering in nails and opposing claw used for removing nails. Not much has changed in the design in thousands of years.

If you saw a drill lying on the ground for the very first time, there are several questions to consider before knowing what it is and how it works. It could be a hand drill, a drill with a cord, or a drill with a battery pack. Each is designed for the same purpose but knowing how to use them and use them effectively does take some level of research and education.

My grandfather was a renaissance man, a master of carpentry, stonework, leather; you name it and he could design it, build it and repair it. I spent hours of my childhood watching him ply his craft, asking questions and learning about tools. He taught me the important principle of “measure twice, cut once” when woodworking. His shop was full of every type of hand tool and serious power tools. There was just enough room for a table saw, planer, lathe, drill press, band saw, grinder, router and more. The two things my grandfather always taught me first was purpose and safety. I must first learn the purpose of the tool and then how to use it properly and safely. Using a drill to cut wood would be a misuse of it’s purpose and cutting wood without eye protection and ‘guards’ could result in a lost eye, finger or worse.

I realized later in life how great the value of this informal introduction and education would become when I became a homeowner and started the cycle of never ending ‘projects’. Many of the tools have changed with the advancement and power of batteries, but the purpose and safe use of use the tools remained basically the same.

Technology related tools are the same, yet different. When first introduced to the concept of email, one first had to understand the purpose – to send information electronically instantly, without the delays of associated with mailing an envelope. As email took off, safety was not in the conversation, it was all about speed and efficiency. Sending documents across oceans saved days and dollars. It wasn’t until much later the dark side of viruses, scams, and basic maliciousness in email became commonplace and security was added to the ‘safety’ side of the equation.

As email progressed through the years, the way and how we use it is relatively the same, but the ‘look and feel’ as changed. The send and receive functions remain the same, but they may appear differently based on the type and age of software being used. The ‘look and feel’ in technology terms is referred to as the graphical user interface or GUI. Every time the GUI changes in email I can plan on a call from my mother to help her find the Send, Receive and, most importantly, the Print buttons. Even slight changes in the tool can throw her off, resulting in frustration and a decrease in productivity until she has become fully accustomed to the ‘new way’.

Today, there are thousands of technology tools at our disposal, which is a blessing and a curse. There’s an ‘app’ for everything allowing tools to expand from the computer to smartphones and now watches. What a cool thing! I can send an email from my watch! No way! Literally, there is no way to use the new technology unless I take the time to learn how or have someone show me. With all the advances has come complexity.

To make matters worse, vendors are in an arms race to develop and release new tools and improvements to existing tools at a blistering pace. Take Microsoft Outlook for example. Outlook has been around for years as a tool to consolidate email, contacts, calendars and tasks. Once four separate tools, it became the Swiss Army Knife for basic business productivity. Over the years, the look and feel GUI of Outlook has changed many times and with it the renewed requirement to learn what’s changed. Where’s my send button? Where’s my print button? What’s the Junk Email folder?

With the evolution of tools has come a commensurate business expectation that you will become more productive. After all, vendors are putting more power in the hands of users to do more than ever before. But at what cost? If tools are simply released without the benefit of understanding the purpose and how to use them safely, what are we really gaining? In many cases it’s more business risk. Random users can send sensitive private information anywhere without a thought and companies fall victim to crippling ransomware with a single click.

The pressure to do more faster with less is palatable

So what to do? When do we pause for a second before wielding the new sword to fully understand it? A great case study is Microsoft Teams. Anyone that has Microsoft Office 365 has probably received the annoying, uninvited popup message asking you to try Teams and to “Sign up for free”!! Microsoft does this without warning, which can be not only irritating, but confusing. Are you supposed to upgrade to Teams? If you do upgrade, what happens? What does it mean?

Integration of Mictosoft Teams with Microsoft Lync and Skype for Business

Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft Teams is a good product with many very helpful capabilities for improved collaboration. But what is it? I’m oversimplifying here for brevity. Years ago, Microsoft had a product called Lync. Lync was used to send instant messages, for voice and video for calls and meetings, as well as sending files and sharing your desktop. In 2011 Microsoft acquired Skype to boost the calling capabilities globally of the Lync product. Almost overnight the Lync logo changed to the Skype logo. Then Skype became Skype for Business, which allowed for more users, security, etc. businesses would need.

Around this same time, Microsoft released Office 365 as the platform for hosting Microsoft Exchange email, Microsoft Office, Skype for Business, and others, all hosted directly by Microsoft. As part of Office 365 came the Skype for Business logo. Then in late 2018 the Skype for Business suddenly disappeared in favor of the Teams logo. Now Teams is the standard ‘collaboration’ tool within Office 365.

That was a long way to go to get to Teams and why it keeps popping up on the screen requesting to be used. The problem with this approach, as with any tool, is it asking, even begging users to start using it without first understanding the purpose and how to use it safely. Compounding the issue is Microsoft’s continual barrage of new products being added with no explanation as to what they are and why we should use them.

For end users, this is not only confusing, it can be very frustrating and dangerous. If you run a business, you may have half your employees using Teams without your knowledge doing who knows what and the other half continually asking “what is Teams?”, “why does it keep popping up on my screen?”. We are back full circle to the potential for employees to send sensitive private information insecurely without even knowing it.

The point is, tools are great and can really improve our lives in business and personally, but only if deployed and used in a controlled and planned manner. Time must be invested to first understand the purpose of the tool, how and why it can improve employee productivity (value), and how to use it safely (reduce risk) with the proper amount of user education to ensure success. It takes many slammed thumbs to drill a hole with a hammer. Take the time to respect the tool enough to learn its purpose and responsible use before releasing it in the wild.

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