Building a digital literacy program to help workers from being overloaded by technology
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By now, we can all agree that digital literacy is vital in today’s workplace. The ability to use digital technologies to solve problems, create information, or to locate, access and communicate that information to other employees, is going to define the productivity and success of employees and businesses. Improving the digital literacy in your workplace means that every employee will meet a basic standard of technical knowledge and skills. In this article, we’ll share five things you can do now to improve the digital literacy within your workplace.

The challenges faced by organizations working to increase digital literacy are not new. In 2011, as part of the Digital Literacy presentation at the NetHui conference, speaker Earl Mardle said it well, stating that "Our biggest challenge in digital literacy is taking all of these organizations [in government, business, education, healthcare, and non-profit] and moving them to a position where they can interact with, communicate with and work with the community that is digitally enabled."

Fast forward to 2018, when Digital Literacy expert Elizabeth Marsh wrote a research article entitled "The Digital Workplace Skills Framework" that focused on the digital transformation process for businesses. In the article, Marsh states that, "88 percent of organizations have not taken any action to tackle the lack of digital skills of their employees" and that "the digital skills deficiency in their workforce is impacting on performance, with lost productivity and decreased customers the main negative impacts." Not much has changed in that regard.

Some businesses are better positioned than others in terms of digital literacy. A company with a focus on digital technologies is obviously going to be in a better position with its employees, many of whom are millennials, than a retail outlet that has a varied and diverse workforce. But even within a digitally-focused company, such as an advertising agency, there will be a divide between the digital literacy of its sales agents and its design team. 

By providing a standard level of digital literacy for all employees, as well as providing additional training to bring every employee up to speed, a business can be assured that everyone, regardless of the department they work in, has achieved a standard level of digital knowledge and functional skills.

Related Article: 4 Key Elements of an Impactful Workplace Digital Literacy Program

Step 1: Proselytize Digital Literacy and Why It’s Valuable for Everyone

Generally, people are open to learning, but new technologies are often intimidating. As a business leader, it's your task to show your employees why digital literacy should be important to them, and why continued learning in the workplace is something that they should not only take part in, but revel in. They should become aware that it can impact their performance and productivity, increase their general knowledge, and create more empathy from them for their co-workers who work in other departments, which in turn increases the effectiveness of collaboration between those departments.

While some employees may feel that continued learning is not something they need to do for their particular job, the reality is that additional education is vital for every employee or potential employee, and for the workforce in general. Traditional entry-level jobs that used to be strictly analog, such as manufacturing, retail, clerical and food service, have now crossed over into the digital realm.

Businesses have come to realize that a continued learning program within the company is valuable for them for reasons that include employee loyalty and retention, higher ROI, and better interdepartmental collaboration. At the same time, the employees taking the courses are learning useful technical and analytical skills, along with cultural diversity and diverse methodologies and traditions.

Related Article: The Digital Workforce Isn't Going to Disrupt Itself

Step 2: Do an Assessment of the Digital Literacy Level in Your Workplace

Let’s face it, some folks are just afraid of technology. We’ve all had an uncle who can take apart and reassemble a ‘69 Mustang in his sleep, but who is afraid to touch a computer and still won’t do more than make calls on his $800 smartphone. And you can bet that although you may have many employees who believe themselves to be cutting edge when it comes to technology, there are others who are too shy to tell you that they don’t know how to use the copy machine, and others that can certainly handle routine office tasks, but do not feel comfortable with using Google Docs and other online collaboration tools, and they definitely don’t know enough about topics such as cloud computing and cybersecurity. As a business leader, it’s your job to see that these employees know how to use the tools your company uses, and are comfortable enough with them to do so effectively, but first you have to know the digital literacy level of your employees, and you’re not going to find it listed on their resume.

You have to assess your own business to determine which digital tools and technologies are used. Do you use Android tablets in the field? Special apps on the smartphone? Collaboration software? Digital bookkeeping and invoicing? Put together a list of the ways your business uses digital technology, and prioritize it. Obviously if only one person in the whole company uses Google Analytics, then there is no reason for everyone to be up to speed using it (although it’s beneficial to train several people within the department on its use so that hat can be worn by more than one person).

Once you have a good idea of the digital needs of your business, you need to find out the level of competency of your employees in a manner that is not intimidating or threatening. A pre-employment survey is a great start and can help you determine the shortcomings and strengths of your employees. For current employees, a questionnaire can be useful, and both can be used as the basis for your company’s training curriculum.

Step 3: Provide Digital Learning and OTJ Training Courses

Once you have determined the digital skill levels of your employees, you can put together a digital learning program that includes online classes and on-the-job training courses based on what is needed.

As an example, let’s say that you determined that the marketing department uses the Slack collaboration application to communicate and work with the advertising department. The advertising department uses design software such as Canva to mock up designs, and then the same Slack collaboration software to work with the development department. They, in turn use an Integrated Development Environment to turn the Canva mockups into apps, and once again use Slack to communicate with the sales department. The sales department then uses Salesforce Sales Cloud to automate the sales process. Obviously there is a lot of digital technology being used here! So as a business leader, you need to determine if there is a need for each department to understand the functionality and use of the software used by the other teams. By understanding how the other teams work, each team is more in touch with the functionality and limitations of the other departments they work with. Your company’s digital learning program could then include training in:

  • Slack software
  • Canva software
  • Salesforce Sales Cloud software

It won’t always be so specific, but rather may be more along the lines of:

  • Collaboration tools
  • Project management tools
  • Document sharing tools
  • Time management tools
  • Workplace applications (MS Word, MS Access, Excel, etc.)

The main thing is to get everyone on a level playing field, and to provide training across the board, which also helps to provide a sense of inclusivity throughout your organisation.

Step 4: Don’t Procrastinate: Provide Training Now

Bruce M. Morgan, author of the book Interpretations, has a great saying about good intentions: “Your good intentions will never overshadow your deeds.” Although you may have every intent to create a training program for employees, your company needs to have one implemented yesterday.

Once you have an idea of what type of training your employees need most, begin putting it together. Find a mentor or coach to teach a course from each department, and have them put together an hour-long introduction to the course. Allow employees to take the introduction to the course on company time, and allow them to sign up to take the course once a week, again, on company time, for as long as the mentor or coach thinks it will take to teach the course. This will allow the mentor to design the course around the number of employees taking it, and how many weeks will be needed to teach it.

Courses may be offered that are just a general “brush-up on known skills,” or they may be teaching the use of software that is totally new to the employee. The former may be a very short course that uses a video or presentation, simply a week or two of one-hour classes. The latter may be six-to-ten weeks of two hour classes in a classroom setting that end with the employee being well-versed with the software. This allows them to move up to different departments within your company, ensures employee loyalty and retention, and better self-worth and job satisfaction for employees.

Step 5: Fine Tune, Evaluate and Grow

Once a training program has concluded, it's vital to evaluate its effectiveness, fine tune it, and continue the process. It could be the trainer or employee who has been doing the training that does the evaluation, but more likely, it will be someone who has been tasked to be the training evaluator from the human resources department of your company. It's their job to assess whether or not the training was aligned to the goals and objectives of the company. The evaluation process will help to increase the effectiveness of the program, as well as the morale and job satisfaction of the employees who have been a part of the program, by engaging them in the evaluation and development of the ongoing program.

Questions that need to be asked during the evaluation include:

  • What were the goals of the training course? Were they met?
  • What were the best/most effective parts of this course? What were the worst/least effective? What parts did those taking the course really like? What parts did they hate?
  • What were they unable to learn through the course? Were they able to learn what they needed from the course?
  • Of the course material that was taught, how much will they be able to use on the job? How will this course affect their performance on the job?

Conclusion

The process of improving the digital literacy in the workplace is designed to increase the productivity, efficiency, personal satisfaction and success of employees. By promoting digital literacy, assessing the level of digital literacy within the workplace, providing essential training, and evaluating the success of the training program, you can make a huge difference in the digital literacy within your organization while ensuring that your employees play a vital role in the evolution of your business.