Digital transformation

How to get employees to embrace new tools

February 24, 2023 - 5 minutes reading time
Article by Frank De Nijs

Everett Rogers, best known for the adoption curve, describes in his book 'Diffusion of Innovations' (1962) how, in an average situation, only sixteen percent of a given group of users are eager to adopt new solutions. As many as fifty percent prefer to wait to see what happens. Logical, right? After all, why use a solution for a problem you don't have?

Why is attention to User Adoption important? The obvious answer is because we see limited use of new functionality without adoption. But that is mostly an answer to what is actually the wrong question. In fact, the question from a user perspective lies much more in the nature of the added value of the new workspace. More relevant questions are: why this new functionality? And: what does this functionality provide me with? Showing end users that added value is what User Adoption is all about.

'The drive to use new workspace features for office collaboration needs a common purpose'

Common purpose

Introducing a new workspace to encourage collaboration has something in common with climbing a mountain. Mountain climbing is perhaps the most intensive form of collaboration in the world, as climbers literally put their lives in each other's hands. This requires a hefty dose of mutual trust. But it is not this trust that drives cooperation. The real driver is the permanently shared goal, the common drive to push boundaries and reach the top. The urge to use new workspace features for office collaboration also needs such a shared goal.

Business value

What Rogers observed with his adoption curve is that not all users are the same. Shadow-IT is a shining example of this. How is it that Shadow-IT appears naturally in the workplace and your new hybrid cloud workspace needs an accompanying User Adoption initiative? Of course, this also has to do with age groups and personal interests. So what is the common factor that binds your employees? What do they have in common? That they work for your organization and consciously choose to do so. So your organization is the binding factor! User Adoption is therefore not so much about highlighting what a new work environment can do as it is about demonstrating how it supports the organization's business goals by making employees' work more enjoyable. The investment in a new workspace represents an expectation in terms of new business value. It must also be clear to users. So clear, in fact, that the need to use the new features is perceived as inevitable.

In addition to the business goal, you can use a number of other factors as breeding grounds for User Adoption. Think about social connection between employees, data relevance and the user-friendliness or even the fun factor of a new workspace. Plenty of ingredients for a well-thought-out approach, then.


User Adoption

  • User Adoption without unconscious stimuli is virtually impossible. Create openness and make the business goal urgent and tangible to your users.
  • Offer concrete practices and behavioral examples that lead to goals.


Back to the business anchor point. Now, of course, you can think of the usefulness of, say, Microsoft Teams chats and video conferencing yourself just fine, but why is it really important to your organization and its employees? Why are you investing in this? How will you recoup this investment? And what is expected of the user? The more concrete the answers to these questions, the better users will understand what will change.

There is an additional ingredient needed for this, by the way: urgency. Without urgency, users may delay, and we now know from Rogers that more than 50% of users prefer to wait and see. An effective way to charge urgency is to attach consequences to it. For example, using a CRM system becomes urgent if sales bonuses only go to account managers who keep track of sales cycles of orders according to the rules of the game in the CRM system.

'Without urgency, users may delay'

Norms and values

In addition to "calculable" urgency, there is also one of a more cultural nature, stemming from discipline and the values and norms of colleagues and the organization. Consider that it is normal to arrive at meetings on time. Workspace use is also subject to organizational culture in this way. Take opening up agendas or how colleagues react when another person does not post his/her work in the shared workspace. If this is considered normal, the social urgency to do otherwise is lacking.

If the user mindset is not focused on working more effectively and efficiently, User Adoption loses momentum. Incidentally, our experience is that for younger millennials with a common goal, social connectedness and collegiality via workspace functionality is taken for granted. Being alerted to an interesting document via Yammer or Teams by a colleague and opening it immediately via a link to the Teams site or the underlying SharePoint environment is the most natural thing in the world for them. Therefore, User Adoption should focus not only on functions, but also on social groups within the company.


A much criticized aspect of collaboration environments is the mountain of irrelevant, often obsolete data that can arise. In that case, users sometimes cannot easily access documents. Data relevance and accuracy are not immediate incentives for User Adoption, but the lack of them is downright discouraging. User Adoption therefore requires a clean, quickly accessible and relevant source of information, and not just during startup. Correct data that is out of date constitutes noise and is sand between the wheels that lead users to other ways of working. A proliferation of Teams sites and channels also undermines the reasons why you started a modern digital work environment. Moderation of the environment from the functional-content perspective is therefore indispensable, just as it was for the time-honored SharePoint.

'User Adoption should also focus on social groups within the company'

Job satisfaction

Earlier, the fun factor came up briefly. Now that is certainly not a decisive factor, as the common goal with urgent features is. But it is certainly a plus! The lack of user fun can be partially avoided by low-threshold tips and tricks (did you know...), explaining the benefits and ways of working. If the software turns out to be less intuitive, provide easily accessible how-to's with short video clips and other modern features that are intuitively accessible to searching users. User polls from within the platform or gamification and other competition elements can also do wonders for acceptance of the new workspace and sentiment around the investment.

In review, User Adoption includes: formulating goals, attaching urgency to them, transferring data in an orderly fashion, making auxiliary provisions, and ensuring user-friendly and practical instructions for optimal adoption of new functionality.

'Changing behavior is an elusive process'

Positive emotional return

User Adoption is ultimately about nothing more than changing human behavior. And now, in the human brain, that very thing turns out to be a rather elusive process. First, rational thinking is quite unnatural, explains philosopher Johan Braeckman. And then, if we do manage to reason rationally about why that new workspace is convenient, modern psychologists like John Barghand Roy Baumeister argue that most of our behavior is actually driven by unconscious mental processes. They emphasize that behavior change is not a free choice. Therefore, talking down to people and explaining in rational terms why it is wise to use the new workspace is almost entirely wasted effort. Our brain is built to handle things fully automatically as much as possible. Doing something differently often takes a lot of energy.

Only if there is an immediate positive emotional return from it will people tend to "naturally" adopt the new way of working next time. Thus, User Adoption boils down to changing user behavior by applying customized subconscious stimuli within the organization, linked to business objectives, urgency, relevance and user enjoyment.

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