Office tech that’s out of touch alienates the young and old

Since 22-year-old Erika Loc is an up-and-coming IT whiz, the boss at her first cybersecurity internship figured she knew how to use a printer.

When Loc and a fellow intern needed to print and sign some paperwork in the office, they started out confident, she said. The printer had a touch screen interface, so how hard could it be? But the printer wouldn’t print. They tapped the screen. They hunted for 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 inside.

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

Workplace tech can be exasperating — and it doesn’t discriminate by age. While a company’s oldest employees are adjusting to screencasting and cloud storage, its youngest may be encountering printers, scanners and landline phones for the first time. Age bias affects both sides, as boomers try not to appear out of touch and Gen Z contends with stereotypes that young people are naturally skilled with all forms of tech. Tech-shaming 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 sees staff of all ages confront new workplace tech. About half come away unscathed, she said. The other half need some extra help, and that’s okay.

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

Curious how to make work tech friendlier for everyone? Here are the Help Desk’s tips.

Don’t be techier-than-thou

Sorry, Ted, but the office scanner is not “intuitive” for everyone.

Even if you find fax machines or zip files self-explanatory, your younger colleagues may not. Similarly, just because you’ve spent years navigating mobile apps doesn’t mean everyone feels at ease.

If you get impatient when people struggle with new (or old) tech, they’re more likely to disengage and fall further behind. Yeagle said she has worked at companies where administrators made snide comments when employees got confused by new tools or gadgets. It caused more tech problems in the long run, she said, as employees avoided admitting confusion or asking for help.

When tech problems arise, don’t waste valuable time insisting the offending tool is easy. Instead, do something to help your co-workers catch up.

If there’s always a cluster of people standing around the postage meter scratching their heads, print out clear directions and tape them to the machine. If a chunk of employees keeps missing important updates in your new scheduling app, set up a question-and-answer session and walk them through it.

Choose some shared tech tools, and help everyone learn

If your office tech is a stumbling block for the youngs or the olds, purging the pre-Y2K machines or banning cloud storage isn’t the answer.

Instead, talk to your colleagues about what isn’t working. Is somebody losing their meeting notes because the agendas are always printed on paper? Is someone else missing important calls because they can’t remember the voice mail passcode for their desk phone?

Pick a single tool for each function — like Slack for brainstorms, Google Docs for real-time collaboration. Then schedule no-shame, question-and-answer sessions to get everyone up to speed. Encourage questions, and provide written directions whenever possible.

Here are some workarounds for common tricky office tech.

Printers, fax machines and scanners

Using your smartphone as a scanner can save a lot of time — and paper. Both iOS and Android phones come with scanning features. On an iPhone, open the Notes app, start a fresh note, tap the camera icon and select Scan Documents. Then, just point the camera at the page you want to scan and select Save. To share it or send it to your computer, tap the Share button (the square with the arrow pointing up) and choose Send Copy in the drop-down menu. You should see multiple ways to share, including email and Slack if you have those apps on your device.

On Android, open the Google Drive app and tap the Plus sign. Choose 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 it.

For documents that need signatures, try DocuSign. It lets your recipient sign digitally rather than printing everything out. (And remember that Apple’s Preview app has a signature function, as well. Go to Tools > Annotate > Signature.)

Why dial 9 to make an external call when you can just…make an external call?

As more work takes place in shared digital spaces such as Slack or Zoom, shifting to mobile phones instead of landlines will be a boon for everyone. Some companies provide work cellphones. If yours doesn’t, check to see if the firm will cover some or all of your bill.

Either way, working from a mobile phone lets you keep professional text messages, voice mails and phone numbers on hand. Download the Google Voice app and set up a phone number separate from your personal one. That way, you can keep work and life separate without tying all your professional communications to the office.

In theory, Bluetooth makes life easier by letting you connect external devices — such as headphones or a keyboard — to your phone or computer without having to plug them in. In practice, the technology is tetchy.

For the office, laptops with USB ports and audio jacks, along with old-fashioned corded headphones and mice, are often the way to go. Everyone will understand how to hook them up, and you’ll spend less time troubleshooting Bluetooth connections.