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There's a reason there are so many classes offered on perfecting your elevator pitch. PHOTO: Scott Szarapka

According to Market Research Engine, the digital workplace market is on a growth trajectory, as organizations continue to invest in the most up-to-date equipment and tools. What tends to get overlooked in this rush to buy is their employees’ digital intelligence, a simple, yet impactful factor capable of advancing or hampering any digital transformation initiative. As the European commission reported, 88% of organizations haven’t done anything to enhance their employees’ digital skills.

The lack of digital intelligence is often one of the main impediments hindering the creation and implementation of innovative ideas and solutions. It's often a legacy mindset, rather than legacy equipment, that causes businesses to lag behind competitors.

Bridging the IT skills gap, on the other hand, could be the key to a successful digital transformation. In this article we will look into the factors that stand in the way of increasing employee digital literacy and discover how organizations can boost their digital IQ. 

Barriers to Raising the Digital IQ of a Workforce

So, what are the biggest obstacles preventing organizations from fostering the growth of their staff’s digital skills? An easy assumption might be that the cost of digital education is the main barrier, but it isn't that simple. Below are the three common mistakes organizations make while developing a digital workforce.

1. Having no clear definition of what digital literacy is

Too often, leaders of an organization assume that digital literacy is all about the lack of hard skills, and aim to coach their employees as best as they can. While it’s true that practical upskilling means a lot, digital literacy extends farther than that. Using digital tools to communicate with fellow workers, drawing insights from data and being able to identify tools that could help employees in their work is equally important. Knowing how to operate successfully in digital work environments without losing focus and managing one’s digital identity are also essential skills worth fostering and developing.

2. Applying a ‘one-size fits all’ approach

Many leaders mistakenly assume all their employees are in equal need of digital upskilling and enroll them into similar education programs. The truth is, skill sets may differ throughout an organization, and not in the way one would expect. Digital natives, for example, may turn out to be not as tech-savvy as expected and may lack important skills, while senior workers may be the first ones to adopt new approaches.

3. Having no consistent digital workforce strategy

Organizations often undertake disparate, hit-and-run educational initiatives, which lack planning and consistency. Alternatively, they may improperly apply digital workplace principles - they may, for example, create collaborative open-space environments for job roles where employees are at their best working on their own, and thus completely negate their own workplace transformation efforts. 

With that being said, we should admit that a lot of organizations are harnessing the power of an employee digital IQ and are reaping tangible benefits.

Related Article: How Can We Better Integrate Learning Into the Digital Workplace?

Benefits of Fostering Digital Skills

The benefits of improving digital skills are clear. A number of studies have confirmed building a stronger digital workforce gives businesses a competitive edge. More specifically, here are five benefits that a business can derive from boosting digital literacy among employees:

  1. Increased productivity: A higher digital IQ accounts for increased productivity: one study suggests it provides 33 more minutes of productive time daily per employee.
  2. Increased revenue: Businesses with a skilled digital workforce translates into higher revenues, according to a recent survey by Lloyds Bank. Being able to advantageously use big data, smart devices, and cloud technologies pays.
  3. Improved operational agility: Businesses with a high digital IQ are also reporting increased agility and reduced time-to-market, as compared to competitors.
  4. Better inclusion: Increased digital literacy promotes better inclusion in the workplace and boosts employee work satisfaction and engagement.
  5. Less work-related stress: A higher digital IQ eliminates most of the cognitive load associated with mastering new technologies, reduces stress, and results in a better work-life balance.

Ultimately, if all businesses commit themselves to fostering digital literacy in the workplace, the outcome would prove beneficial for the economy in general, on both a local and global scale.

Related Article: How to Start Improving Digital Literacy in Your Workplace

How to Raise Your Organization’s Digital IQ

A digital workforce transformation will help your organization unleash its hidden potential. Yet, it is often a continuous and painstaking process, which requires thorough planning and investment. Sticking to these five useful steps may help you advance smoothly and easily while building your digital workforce:

Step 1: Digital skills assessment

In terms of cultivating your staff’s digital skills, it is important to know where you stand. Which skills do your employees already have and which need improvement? An in-house skills assessment will help you define the skills gaps and important knowledge areas that need improvement within your organization.

Step 2: Build a learning strategy

Upskilling your workforce should proceed in line with the digital transformation process in your organization and provide your employees with the skill sets that match its strategic goals. If it’s IoT, data analytics or AR/VR that you plan to implement, make sure to give your employees all they need to learn the necessary skills.

Step 3: Design individual learning plans

Ideally, the learning programs should be as multi-faceted and diverse as your organization. If you can’t afford to cover all of them at once, it always makes sense to start at the top. Begin by upskilling your higher management and then proceed with improving the digital skills of your junior employees.

Step 4. Learn as you work

One of the best practices for managing a digital workforce lies in integrating the learning process with work. Most of today’s employees report that they can feel the skills gap and are willing to learn. A 70:20:10 approach adopted by many organizations implies 70% of learning happens at the workplace, 20% from communication and mentoring and only 10% from formal training.

Step 5. Harness your internal potential

To harness your internal educational potential, instill a culture of mentorship in your organization. Set up digital skills initiatives and events, and encourage employees to share knowledge and skills. Provide employees with continuous learning opportunities in their workplace and infuse your organization with the spirit of discovery and innovation.

Related Article: How to Get From the Workforce You Have to the One You Need

Paving the Way for the Future of Work

It’s not just the need to reduce expenses and beat competition that drives a digital workforce transformation. Failing to bridge the digital skills gap may be detrimental for your employee’s attitude and morale. Today’s workers feel their jobs are threatened by the advent of technologies: boosting their digital IQ will help them feel confident and protected, and, ultimately, increase loyalty and job satisfaction.

The tides are gradually turning, as more organizations today are starting to treat their workers as their most valuable asset. In 2018, PricewaterhouseCoopers announced its greatest and most important investment is building a digital workforce. At part of this, it committed to increasing digital literacy among the financial-service companies.

Now is the time to invest in such initiatives, given how little time we now have to prepare for future workforce diversity and the changes brought about by the advent of robotics and AI. By 2025 we will have five generations working together, with millennials accounting for over 75% of the workforce. Some job roles will become obsolete while others will require new approaches. With constantly accelerating technological advancements, the future generations will most likely change job roles at least five or six times over their lifetimes.

Under these circumstances, continuous learning and adaptation will be shaping the future of work. By developing digital workforce strategies, organizations are paving the way for future innovations.