We are the millennials, also known as digital natives. We have grown up in a world where information isn’t just everywhere, but also available through a quick search and click of a few buttons. We, and especially the younger among us, find it bizarre that previous generations were searching for information in physical encyclopedias. Does this make us lazy or just better equipped to handle the rapid technological development?
New methods of working
The digital generation is heading full speed onto the labor market and soon people who don’t even remember Windows XP will be done with their college or university education and be applying for jobs at your company. I am myself part of the digital generation and have experienced the transition of user documentation in Word and PDF-documents to always available web-based documentation.
I recently read about a son trying to teach his father to use Google searches. He needed to explain in detail every step of the process. It took some time, but suddenly the father understood how Google thinks based on what he’s searching for. Now he’s searching as if it’s all he’s ever done. It might be obvious for many, especially members of the new generation, but it isn’t certain how this way of thinking should be applied to workplace-related information. As a new employee being introduced to your job and workplace, shouldn’t an easily searchable system with answers to your questions be available? During the introduction and implementation of a new system, shouldn’t information regarding its’ usage be available and easily accessible? The methods we use at work should reflect the ones we use in our everyday lives. Good examples of this may be using Google searches to solve problems or finding explanations of certain software functionalities on YouTube. These are both obvious and given methods for us digital natives. Having to search in multiple places and systems before finding what you’re looking for is both frustrating and time consuming. Unfortunately, a surprising amount of people still believes that having Word- and PDF-documents stored on an intranet is a good solution to information sharing.
Good Enough is Just Perfect
High standards and requirements can often be a hindrance when attempting to make documentation and knowledge available. However, the fact that the material exists is more important than the quality of its’ educational aspects. This is especially true since a lot of knowledge is perishable and needs to be regularly updated.
As a systems vendor we know that a product is constantly developing and changing. New functions are added, menus reorganized and features renamed so the product is constantly made easier to use and more logical for the user. The user experience is made much simpler if each new version is accompanied by updated documentation and support material, even if the changes are just minor ones. If the aim of such documentation is to be visually and educationally perfect the threshold for producing it is much higher, which may lead to it not being produced at all. To instead settle for “good enough” makes constant updates and changes possible without being all too demanding, time- and resource-wise. The most important thing is after all that users can get the answers they need.
The use of technology comes naturally
Growing up in a time where the release of new technological products and changes to existing ones happens constantly leads to a habit and experience of learning new systems. This includes the ability to understand, recognize and learn the patterns of how most systems function, instead of focusing on the very specific functions that may be required to work in the system. More specifically you learn the functions that you most commonly use. When a very specific and rarely used function is needed, you simply find out how to use it at that time. This may be through a Google search for a support page or an instructional YouTube-video. In relation to workplace situations, it is therefore important to have the unique functions of your systems clearly documented and easy to find. The functions and processes not so commonly used are as important to document as those used frequently. Functions used constantly are stored in the short-term memory, while that one specific function in the business management system used only once a year is forgotten.
How do you prepare your workplace?
So, what can you do to prepare the workplace for this new, digital generation?
- Make your documentation available on search pages and portals. This way, you are providing your employees with the information they need through methods they are comfortable with and used to. Being able to find whatever you are searching for in one place increases the effectiveness of daily tasks, regardless if you’re a digital native or not.
Note: Accessible information is usable information!
- Make it possible to learn something new every day! Create short introductory articles and videos explaining a feature or function. You don’t need to memorize everything necessary for your work tasks. Often this becomes too much to remember, and as time passes the correct processes may have changed leading to errors you aren’t aware of. Keep your documentation short and updated. Employees in need of details will find them. The motivation to learn is much greater when the need for it is clear.
- Consider that good enough is just perfect, in most cases. Information is perishable and needs to be constantly updated. As mentioned before, too high standards of quality may mean a lot of unnecessary time and resources are spent keeping the documentation up to date. Changelogs for new versions, descriptions of system functionalities and work routines don’t need to be visually or educationally perfect since the information is important enough to still be absorbed.