Four children gathered around a smartphone.
PHOTO: Arjan

Many organizations simply aren't investing in their workforce’s digital skills. According to the Digital Workplace Group’s 2017 Member Survey, 39 percent of respondents said their organization had no digital skills program or that they were not aware of any such program. This number should concern those organizations, considering recent findings from Gartner that suggest the need for digital literacy will continue to increase.

By 2021, 25 percent of digital workers will use a virtual employee assistant on a daily basis. And consider this sobering stat, Accenture found that in Great Britain, if a digital skills gap continues, the UK economy could forfeit as much as $186.8 billion of the GDP growth promised by investment in intelligent technologies over the next 10 years. 

It may be time to consider your organization's digital literacy program by looking at where your organization stands in terms of digital skills. We caught up with leaders and practitioners who shared their tips on implementing a digital literacy assessment.

Cultivate Senior Leadership Buy-In From the Beginning

Brian Byer, vice president of content at Blue Fountain Media by Pactera Digital, said one of the biggest obstacles implementing enterprise-wide digital literacy assessments is resistance from the senior management team. Why? They may be concerned about their own slipping digital literacy and a general unwillingness to decentralize what are perceived as valuable IT skills to the larger workforce, according to Byer. This, he said, often results in hedging on resource allocation and budgeting when the time comes to deploy a digital literacy campaign. Other veteran corporate leaders may be leery of re-establishing the internal training and development programs they dismantled decades ago, when skills acquisition was viewed as an employee responsibility, not the company’s.

“The best way we’ve found to secure buy-in from senior leaders is by briefing them with hard evidence, spotlighting the latest in productivity stats and ROI research findings that support our position that digital literacy is a genuine issue in the workplace,” Byer said. “We make it clear to them that those who fail to raise digital literacy skill levels across the board risk falling precariously behind in the market.”

Related Article: Digital Proficiency: Literacy, Fluency and Mastery

Show Why Digital Literacy Is Important 

During your digital literacy assessment, show how the benefits of any program extend far beyond the workplace, said Kayne McGladrey, IEEE member and director of security and IT for Pensar Development. What can help in the digital world at work may help at home. “I regularly teach employees about phishing and account takeover attacks not because it’s a threat they’ll encounter at work, but rather because it’s an attack they’re likely to see on their personal accounts,” McGladrey said. “This helps them understand that the ability to use and process information safely isn’t just a work requirement; rather, it’s part of modern life.”

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

Do Regular Assessments

An assessment of digital literacy isn’t a one-time event in an organization, according to McGladrey. “This is a continuous cycle for businesses to assess how employees use the tools provided, how they process information, how they’re creating content, and their critical thinking skills,” McGladrey said. And don't make this a class that's going to drag people down and eat most of their day, he added. “This continuous assessment process should be buttressed by brief just-in-time learning opportunities. No one wants to sit down for a four-hour digital literacy class for things they do know if they can instead get a five-minute tutorial on a new topic or technique they can apply to their current work.”

Get your employees to understand that after the initial skill set audit, the assessment process needs to be conducted as a continual exercise, Byer said. “The only effective way to ensure this happens,” he said, “is by changing the employee culture, so that everyone has a stake in identifying, assimilating and educating the enterprise with the industry’s latest and greatest tools and practices.”

Related Article: Digital Literacy Initiatives Must Evolve With the Workplace: 4 Potential Directions

Wrap in Cybersecurity Awareness

Organizations should consider cybersecurity in their digital literacy assessments on top of collaboration, communication, lessons in the Office 365 toolset, according to Steve Bynghall, partner at Spark Trajectory. “Cybersecurity awareness and training may be run separately through IT or risk,” he said. He cited an example of teaching employees “how to spot phishing emails and good password management.”

Covering these topics in your digital literacy assessment will give your organization the holistic view of digital issues of which employees need to be aware. “This also means some stakeholders such as risk or finance will also want to be involved and your initiative will gain momentum,” Bynghall said. “Nobody disputes that cybersecurity isn’t hugely important so this can help you to gain support.”

Bynghall also encourages organizations to cover a related risk topic: trustworthiness of sources of information, especially in the age of fake news and amplification of fringe opinions over cold, hard facts. “That,” he said, “can be critical if your management is making key decisions based [on] some dodgy statistics the new intern found on the edges of the web.”

Related Article: Microsoft Ignite Road Trip and the Digital Literacy Conundrum

Consider Attitudes and Motivations

With your digital literacy assessment, you may find some very bright people who don’t know how to use collaborative tools with intuitive interfaces but do know how to do really complex pivot tables in Excel. That’s because, Bynghall added, the take-up of social tools is sometimes less to do with not being able to know how to use them but more of a reluctance to embrace more open ways of working which involves sharing content and collaborating.

“Therefore, in any digital literacy assessment you need to make sure you’re also uncovering any attitudes and motivations that might be a barrier to the adoption of different tools. Sometimes the lack of use of tools may be because users are not quite convinced of the benefits of a more, open working style, or could even be down to quite legitimate barriers on their ability to share,” Bynghall said.

Expect Employee Resistance

Dialog, candid communications and employee engagement need to be keystones to the foundation of your digital literacy assessment, Byer said. “Otherwise, you risk building your program on tainted assessment data,” he said. Based of media reports, your employees will likely have preconceived notions about the threat emerging technologies like AI, robotics and big data potentially pose to their livelihoods.

“For your assessment to be authentic, you’re best off addressing this issue with vetted, company-specific communications," Byer said. Engage employees from the beginning, at the assessment stage, solicit their input and concerns and detail how the plan will benefit their professional standing. This will enable you to develop a better, more comprehensive plan that will be easier to implement in the deployment stages. This will also allow you to “identify those who, for one reason or another, refuse to get on the bus,” he said.