Where should organizations get started with digital literacy? What skills do they need to foster in the workforce? For practitioners trying to come to grips with the digital skills challenge inside the organization, it can be hard to know where to invest their efforts. In this post, I focus in on the key areas of digital skills that employees need to be productive and thrive in the digital workplace.
In my previous article, I showed how poor digital skills hold back digital workplace progress and introduced a framework for addressing the problem. For practitioners looking to understand the current state of digital skills in the organization and devise a plan to improve them, it offers a systematic approach.
Here’s a quick reminder of the four areas of the framework:
In the sections that follow, we’ll delve into each of these areas in a bit more depth.
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Use the Digital Workplace
Research shows organizations often mistakenly assume workers have the right skills to operate effectively and safely in the digital workplace — and that doing so may be compromising both productivity and cybersecurity. It’s for this reason that ‘using the digital workplace’ starts with the ‘Establish’ and ‘Safeguard’ facets. These facets include critical elements such as basic skills to use devices and applications, identify appropriate help and resources, awareness of security policies and procedures, and an understanding of issues that can arise in online environments.
Employees who are already competent at using the range of available tools and applications can extend their skills in the Optimize and Innovate facets to help maximize their personal productivity, generate new ideas and ways of working, and engage with novel technologies and ways of working.
Interventions aimed at addressing skills in the "Using the Digital Workplace" area may include defining a set of minimum digital requirements that employees and leaders need to meet and helping staff to achieve them. A digital skills diagnostic tool can help individuals understand any gaps and recommend resources or events to address them. Data gathered from such tools will also help digital teams understand issues, needs and progress.
Having a recognized accreditation, for instance a badge scheme or driving license, can help make learning opportunities more compelling. Those with more advanced skills may appreciate opportunities to hear thought-provoking talks from external speakers as well as discuss ideas internally.
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Process and Apply Information
Information-literate employees are an asset to any organization, performing more highly according to OECD research, as well as doing better in their careers. It’s in the interests of both individuals and organizations, therefore, to invest in the skills to identify, evaluate, absorb and apply information in technologically-rich work environments.
Search and navigation tools are often considered the scourge of employee and manager productivity in the digital workplace. Although these capabilities are progressing, there remains a critical need for strong skills in accessing people and resources, evaluating retrieved information, assimilating it into one’s personal knowledge, and applying it to problem-solving and everyday tasks. The four facets of "Process and Apply" get into the nitty gritty of each of these core capabilities, exploring specific skills such as formulating a search query, identifying experts, interpreting information in different formats, and getting new insights from data.
The same interventions applied in "Using the Digital Workplace" will also be relevant here. Relate the digital skills offerings to what people are doing on a day-to-day basis, demonstrating how to use the digital workplace in context of real world tasks and interactions. In their journey to becoming information literate, individuals will need to tap into not only learning resources online or in a classroom, but also colleagues. Informal formats such as genius bars, digital cafés, or open-door sessions will ensure people have a chance to ask questions, discuss challenges and get help with any issues. This process can be continued online via online community spaces.
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Create Content and Connect With People
The digital workplace is increasingly a creative and collaborative space, one in which individuals without the skills to create, share and collaborate around digital content will struggle. The Create and Communicate facets cover the skills needed to confidently produce digital artifacts in a range of formats, and communicate in an appropriate, fluent and aware manner via diverse digital channels.
Building on these skills, the Relate facet describes the ability to establish and maintain a digital identity and network of colleagues and peers, while Collaborate focuses in on the skills to navigate a range of formal and informal collaboration environments, from ‘watercooler’ chats to formal projects.
Any digital curriculum will need to cover these skills but interventions should also provide personal support and guidance to help people gain confidence in sharing, communicating and collaborating digitally. This may involve mentoring schemes for senior managers and champion networks to provide localized support to teams and individuals. Training to support champions and community managers is a valuable investment here, as the effects of these digital evangelists ripple out through the organizations and even to customers.
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Think About and Adapt Digital Practices
A digital workplace skills framework could arguably stop after the previous three areas. However, thriving in a technologically-rich work environment means more than being a competent driver of the tools, it also means understanding how to harness them for a sustainable and fulfilling work life. If this area is weak, teams and individuals risk digital burnout or technostress, resulting in the possible loss or diminishment of any gains in productivity made through the previous facets. This facet recognizes that digital mastery requires an extended set of skills.
The Attend and Flex facets involve managing the role of the digital workplace in terms of both our cognitive resources and our wider life. The Learn facet involves the individual in continuous learning in the digital space. In fact, it represents not just a set of skills but a fundamental shift in mind-set. This goes hand-in-hand with Reflect, which encompasses the ability to reflect on one’s digital practices and enhance one’s approach, both as individuals and teams. This may encompass a range of practices such as identifying when a face-to-face (instead of virtual) meeting is needed, understanding how online interactions impact emotional health, and knowledge of the ethical use of technology and content.
While organizational interventions, such as resources to support working and managing flexibly, are still important here, interventions may well be driven ‘bottom-up’ by individuals or teams. For instance, managers and teams defining and agreeing optimal digital practices together (e.g. ways and times of communicating with each other); or individuals devising personal digital development plans to achieve greater digital competence.
Have you mapped out what the critical digital skills are for your organization to support digital transformation? What approaches are you taking to assess and improve them?
To find out more about each of the skills areas, including sample questions to assess employee skills, download the full Digital Workplace Skills Framework report.
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