Digital transformation has been a buzzword in tech circles for the better part of the last decade, but there’s a new term in town: digital literacy. And as employees across the globe have suddenly found themselves in more independent, remote work setups, digital literacy has never been more critical.

If you’re wondering what digital literacy is, why it’s essential, and how you can help employees improve it, keep reading! We’ll break it all down in simple terms.

What is digital literacy?

Western Sydney University defines digital literacy as “having the skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is increasingly through digital technologies like internet platforms, social media, and mobile devices.”

What does that mean in the context of today’s digital workplace?

"Digital literacy has always been a thing, but only recently did it become a common phrase. Using and understanding technology within a basic level is a must for absolutely everyone," says David Jannsen of NVPNoverview. "But for the younger generations, advanced digital literacy will be essential for most future jobs."

In the era of COVID-19, digital literacy has become even more crucial. For the digitally illiterate, remote work has become a challenge. Timo, CEO at Asap Credit Solutions, shares an example of this in action. 

“This pandemic is forcing everyone to do things that we’re not used to doing. For instance, in an office setting, you can simply call IT to fix something on your computer, but since we’re all working remotely, we have to figure it out by ourselves,” says Wilson. “You can, of course, chat with one of your IT colleagues for help, but ultimately, you literally will be doing the fixing on your own.“ 

Why should businesses invest in digital literacy?

Businesses of all sizes face more competition than ever before. The unique conditions of today's digital workplace only make the game more fierce. The difference between the companies that thrive and the companies that fail to weather the storm often has a lot to with their employees' digital literacy level.

“Companies that haven’t nurtured digital literacy have suffered the biggest setbacks because their employees got overwhelmed by the number of new tools they had to use to get their jobs done,” says Malte Scholz, CEO and Co-Founder of Airfocus.

On the other hand, the organizations that invest in digital literacy will have the opportunity to innovate, increase revenue, and thrive.

“If you employ digitally literate employees, there is less need for supervision, which saves time and increases productivity and revenue,” says Timo Wilson, CEO at Asap Credit Solutions.

Here are the top five reasons to invest in improving your employees’ digital literacy:

  1. Improved productivity - Research estimates that inadequate IT resources or a lack of digital skills can cause employee productivity to drop by eight percent. Even more alarming, employees spend an average of 22 minutes per day dealing with IT issues. Over the course of one year, that adds up to eleven workdays. 
  2. More opportunities for innovation - When employees spend less time troubleshooting technology, they have more time for creative brainstorming. And when they're confident using workplace tools, they can leverage technology to improve the way they do business. Being able to use digital technology to solve problems is at the crux of innovation. 
  3. Increased revenue - Freeing up your staff to focus on strategic, revenue-driving tasks impacts the bottom line. And according to Forbes Insights, 87% of CIOs believe digitally empowering employees can generate 5% revenue growth over the course of three years. Can you afford not to invest in digital literacy? 
  4. Bigger leadership pipeline - Tomorrow's leaders will need digital skills to thrive. Educating the next generation of leaders requires a sharp focus on digital technology. Investing the time and resources to train your team members on how to use new technology only broadens your pool of future leaders. 
  5. Better employee engagement - Employees who have the tools and skills they need to be productive and meet their goals are more confident. And confidence boosts engagement. When some employees feel left behind by processes or technology that they don't understand, morale suffers, and resentment builds. Investing in educating your workforce--regardless of age, role, or department, makes your entire team more cohesive.

How can employers help their team members develop the skills they need to become more digitally literate? In many cases, the answer is, “it depends.”

How to help employees become more digitally literate

You can't improve what you don't measure, so before you begin the journey to improve your organization's digital literacy, it's crucial to take stock of current conditions. 

Benchmark your organization's current state of digital literacy

“To become more digitally literate, it is important first to assess the current state of literacy within the workforce," says Jesse Spencer-Davenport, Marketing Director at Grooper. This can be as simple as a questionnaire asking questions like 'How often do you collaborate with a peer on a document using built-in collaboration tools as opposed to emailing an attachment back and forth?'"

It's also a good idea to assess digital literacy at the team level to determine where to allocate resources.

"A more in-depth needs analysis can be performed to assess the overall literacy of a department or the organization as a whole," says Spencer-Davenport. "These surveys will form the basis of enterprise-wide information as a second language program.” 

Once you've completed company-wide and departmental assessments, you can begin to design training to address specific knowledge gaps. As you're doing so, it's vital to create unique programs based on need, which brings us to the next tip.

Tailor your training to the role

As you're designing your digital knowledge programs, be mindful of your audience and their needs. 

“Employers should first shortlist the mediums of training that make the most sense for their employees. It varies based on role. For example, graphic designers can learn more from videos. At the same time, software engineers might benefit from finding solutions to their coding problems in industry forums,” says Phil Crippen, CEO at John Adams IT.

Once you've determined the medium that makes the most sense for your team, consider the course material's best level. Your benchmark results will help you make these decisions.

“The next step is to provide them training accordingly. For this purpose, you could design the beginner's course or get them enrolled in some already available training," says Crippen. "Employers should go for virtual training as it can be recorded once and used for a longer time. You could add more sections to it as well. Contrarily, conventional learning is more expensive.” 

One of the best ways to make training more interesting is to enlist the help of your employees. Team members who are comfortable using digital technology are often the best teachers, which is why peer-to-peer learning works so well.

Utilize peer-to-peer training

Peer-to-peer training is invaluable. New contact center agents typically learn from their more seasoned peers, and many companies have new employees job shadow a coworker to speed ramp-up time. The same concept applies to digital skills.

“I’ve assigned my employees who are digitally and tech-savvy to go help employees who are having difficulty working from home. This is a way for them to coach their peers and help them work effectively and productively at home," says Sonya Schwartz, Founder, Her Norm. "We also teach our employees by using remote access software to guide them step-by-step in mastering tools they may be struggling to use."

Once you've given everyone the chance to learn, the next step is offering opportunities to apply new knowledge. 

Practice makes perfect

The best training in the world is useless without practical application. As with any skill, employees need hands-on, real-world practice to embrace digital technology and fully understand its applications fully.

“The best training you can give employees is practice and experience. When you address all of your work-related processes in a digital platform, it forces your employees to adapt and learn the ins and outs of the digital world," says Willie Greer, Founder, The Product Analyst. "When employees are used to doing tasks online, it will condition them to be more adaptive to new digital trends, making digital literacy a basic skill for them.” 

How can you encourage hands-on experience? A good first step is to require team members to work on the same tools. By cutting out the option to bypass team technology, employees are much more likely to increase their digital literacy. You'll also see higher productivity and improved communication.

Bringing it All Together

Digital literacy is no longer a nice-to-have skill. It's a requirement to succeed in the new work-from-anywhere model. Taking these small steps will put your employees on the path toward success. As a result, you'll be in a better position to serve your customers in innovative ways.

No matter where your organization is on the path to digital transformation, we're here to help. Our Digital Workplace Essentials eBook series explores every facet of team communications--both short-term and longterm. Whether you're looking to develop a remote work strategy that will take you into 2021 and beyond, or you're seeking best practices for serving customers during this new normal, these resources will help you navigate the future with confidence. Learn more about how you can join us on this journey.