Digital Literacy in the Workplace: Deciphering the Gobbledygook

Welcome to this Jaluch HR Blast on the topic of digital literacy. Not our usual 2 minutes this time, but it’s an important topic so we thought you would value the extra information.

How literate are your staff? Do you check digital literacy at interview stage? Can your staff deliver what is in your business plan given their current digital literacy skills? Do you need to prioritise any L&D activities in this area? Does the thought of, or pressure for, digital literacy demotivate any of your staff?

Since ‘brick’ mobile phones in the late 80s and desktop computers in the early 80s, technology – and the digital world that has arisen as a result of new technologies, has, for the most part, been the most exciting, scary and challenging aspect of modern day workplaces. It has been a 30-year roller coaster, which shows no signs of abating.

In the early days, many companies paid for staff to attend Word, Excel and general computing classes. I remember being taught how to use the on/off button on the computer! But nowadays, there is an expectation that staff arrive with those, and other technology and digital, skills already mastered.

Digital technology has vastly changed in the last decade. More and more day to day tasks at work require staff to use digital skills. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about digital skills and how does that differ to technology skills?

The difference between technology and digital skills

You can find many variations on a theme if you research this, but our understanding is as follows:

Technology skills: knowledge and skills in setting up equipment (computers, printers, scanners, phones etc.), installing software, programming skills, networking skills (WiFi, LAN etc.)

Digital skills: knowledge, skills and behaviours used when online i.e. connected through the web to the world. Digital skills are essential when using digital devices such as desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones etc. Some also say that digital literacy also relates to the software we use in our daily tasks in the workplace, including Microsoft Office, Sage, CRM (customer relationship management) software and Photoshop.

In job ads and when talking to staff do you differentiate between technology and digital skills and do they understand the difference?

Is there any benefit in developing the digital skills of staff?

A few ideas…

  • There is no point asking staff to set up a LinkedIn profile if they don’t know how to use that profile for networking, marketing, promotional and sales purposes? It’s bad for staff morale, motivation and bad for business.
  • What is the point in giving staff expensive mobile phones or tablets if they later admit to only understanding how to use around 5% of the technological capacity of those phones? How might they enhance their productivity and efficiency if they are competent at using all the capacity of their phones, tablets etc.?
  • How can you compete with your competitors if your staff are fearful of and unsure about how to use social media? What promotional opportunities might you miss? How might you miss opportunities with your customers?
  • What impact on your ability to recruit if those you are interviewing see that your staff are technological dinosaurs? Might some of the best candidates go elsewhere?

And…

  • Strong digital skills can lead to efficiency through shortening tasks, leading to increased productivity.
  • The ability to eliminate/reduce the burden of unnecessary administrative tasks will provide greater job satisfaction for some – and reduce cost.
  • Digital literacy can enhance internal and external communications.
  • Digital literacy is expected by your clients. It’s a ‘need to have’ not a ‘nice to have’. No customers want to deal with a business that appears to be ‘behind the times’.

Digital Competencies

Developing your employees’ digital literacy will benefit both individuals and the organisation in many ways. Developing digital literacy is not simply about a defined skill set: it’s a complex mix of developing knowledge, building confidence and raising awareness. To develop full ‘digital literacy’ you might focus on the following eight areas:

Practical Skills

Developing the necessary practical skills is the starting point. These skills are needed by everyone but are especially important for remote workers. Practical skills include:

  • knowing what equipment, tools, software, apps etc. are available and what their capacity/capability is and their use might be
  • feeling confident to properly and fully utilise the equipment and tools provided, access and effectively use available software and download necessary apps,
  • developing confidence with basic problem solving for when the equipment or software is not working as it is expected to work.

Finding & Storing Information

We once had libraries full of books and experienced colleagues to provide us with answers and advice. Now staff need to learn how to use the internet to search for answers. So many workplaces have just a few search ‘whizzes’ whilst the rest of us plod along only half the time finding what we are looking for. This needs to change and everyone needs to become a search whizz. This skill can be taught, rather than employers patiently waiting for everyone to learn the hard way.

And after the information is found, another skill for staff is learning how to store it. To some, creating favourites, bookmarks and shortcuts is second nature, but it’s not second nature for others. It needs to be taught.

Another skill is learning how to take the information/content and learning how to re-use/ remix the information to create what is required for the organisation. As part of this staff need to be taught about copyright and licencing.

Critical Thinking & Evaluation

Increasing knowledge through the use of digital technology will likely give your staff a variety of perspectives. A critical skill to develop though is their ability to assimilate information from a wide variety of sources and learn how to take from it what is required for the project or task at hand.

So much information can confuse or overwhelm staff and they may need your support with dealing with this.

In the same way, some staff may need support with learning how to take different pieces of information and evaluate what is needed and what is not needed, what is ‘sound’ and what is ‘fiction’, what is opinion and what is fact etc.

Often what staff struggle with is understanding when they need to dig deeper to ensure they understand the research or the facts behind the opinion piece they wish to quote or rely on.

Safety

As always you have a duty of care towards your staff. Online safety education is as important as health and safety education in every other aspect of your organisation. Plus it makes good sense too to protect your staff and give them confidence about how they can protect themselves.

While some employees’ may instinctively recognise apparently ‘dodgy’ emails, some may not, placing your organisation in danger of cyber attacks, viruses and data theft to name a few. By raising employees’ awareness of online safety, you can reduce the risk to the organisation as well as the risk to individuals’ personal safety.

Another aspect of digital safety relates to protecting company data away from the workplace. We have all heard the stories of officials leaving laptops and USB sticks containing highly confidential information on public transport or on open view in cars. Protecting company data can be as simple as password protecting more confidential documents, but if individuals don’t know how to add a password, then they are unlikely to ask how to do it, perhaps for fear of embarrassment in front of more digitally literate colleagues. But all of this is fairly easily taught provided you have a regular and ongoing programme of education.

Cultural & Social Awareness

We have all read about drunk tweeting and Facebook posters who are trolled for their insensitivities. It is easy to upset and enrage on social media and staff need training in this area if they are to protect both themselves and their organisations.

Cultural and social awareness can be hard to grasp as the digital world exposes what we write and post to potentially millions of people around the world. Upsetting and offending others is easy to do unless we are educated, seasoned travellers who have a keen interest in culture, politics, religion and world affairs!

Another aspect is the need for users to be able to differentiate between different social media platforms, understanding that what is appropriate for one platform may not be appropriate for another and understanding the difference between the personal use of social media and professional use of social media. Users need to be taught the norms, codes and values that are relevant. Interestingly many companies have a social media policy, but not all staff actually understand what the policy requires of them. More education required!

Collaboration

Gone is the age when we get what we know to ourselves, sharing only when absolutely required to do so. Many marketing initiatives involve collaboration, many sales initiatives have collaboration at their heart. Collaborating is a new-ish concept for many which is a challenge, but global collaboration is an interesting but challenging next step that many are unsure how to take.

Digital working provides an opportunity for collaboration, but when does collaboration become gross misconduct as a result of you giving away confidential information? It can be a fine line in some organisations, it’s a learning curve for many.

Collaboration opportunities also arise frequently through tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter etc. but what are the boundaries, what are the rules, where is the guidebook on creating (and owning) networks and sharing information? This is what staff might need support with.

Communication

A study by McKinsey Global Institute has found that the average worker spends approximately 28% of their work week managing emails. It’s massive, the amount of time we put into communication, but it’s a rare organisation that would say that its staff communicate effectively and in a way that enhances rather than reduces productivity.

Who do you copy in on emails? How do you maximise the benefits of the intranet? How long should an email be before it will simply end up in junk? How do you manage your emails? How do you re-educate those who abuse internal communication tools? What tips and guidance are there for good communication in a world of mass and over-communication? When is a WhatsApp’s group chat more beneficial than email? What can be posted on Facebook rather than on the intranet? Who controls what goes on YouTube etc?

There are so many ways to communicate, but most staff would value some training and setting of standards around what is done, how it is done and when it is done. Get that right though and digital opportunities might revolutionise both internal and external communication for your organisation.

Creativity

And finally, digital technologies enables us to be more creative than ever before. Options, such as Photoshop, YouTube, Instagram, Final Cut, Logic and many more enable us to be as creative as we want to be. But whilst some take to these creative opportunities like a duck to water, other staff would benefit from being shown, taught or simply working with others to understand how they too can use the software, apps and programmes available. And creativity is all important of course with the rise in popularity of visuals in training, PR, marketing, sales etc.

A few ideas to develop Digital Literacy  

To kick start developing the digital literacy agenda for staff, here are a few ideas:

Cost-free

  • Mentoring – your more ‘digitally literate’ employees mentor their colleagues on digital technologies. Why not set up an organisation wide mentoring scheme for a 6 month period, starting with an online survey to assess skills followed by an online survey 6 months later to assess your success?
  • Lunch ‘n learn sessions once a week and across the year. Each time focussing on a different technology, an area of social media, digital skill etc. Make the training ‘bite-size’.
  • Online survey – why not take the opportunity to assess confidence and knowledge and behaviours of staff by using an online survey. Always useful to have a benchmark. Otherwise, if you don’t want staff self-assessing, organise a more formal Training Needs Analysis (TNA) around digital skills.
  • If you have a real digital literacy skills gap, make it a requirement for the next 6 months that all new recruits are highly skilled in digital literacy – whatever role they are applying for. These new recruits can then raise the competencies of everyone.
  • Introduce one new, easy-to-use tool that will streamline process and procedure, every 6 months, many of these are free online. A good plugin to start with is Xobni (xobni.com), which is an Outlook plug-in. It helps to train staff to delete their rubbish emails and makes it easy to search for the email string they need.

Not so cost free

  • Invest time and money in new technologies – the latest equipment really can be a way to put your organisation ahead of its competitors
  • Provide formal training to selected staff on specific areas following identification of a training need for that individual
  • Invite in external speakers on digital literacy to your annual meetings to add in expertise and interest in the topic.

And finally… a few quotes for you to reflect on

“I grew up in a physical world and I speak English. The next generation is growing up in a digital world, and they speak social.” Angela Ahrendts

“Teaching in the Internet age means we must teach tomorrow’s skills today.” Jennifer Fleming

“New technology is common, new thinking is rare.” Sir Peter Blake

Digital literacy aside, if management, supervisor or individual development is on your agenda this year how about taking at look at:

Please contact us if you’d like some more information.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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