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Digital literacy
in the workplace:
What it is and
why it matters

Author: Phil Muncaster

Digital literacy in the workplace plays a critical role in a company's ability to digitally transform, and it also has a significant impact on the employee experience. Without it, employees may struggle to perform core tasks, and businesses could miss out on realizing the full value of their technology investments.

This is especially true in light of the pandemic, which accelerated digital transformation when many businesses began supporting the needs of a remote workforce. Here's a look at what digital literacy is, how it impacts business operations, and how companies can enhance digital literacy in the workplace.

What is digital literacy in the workplace and why does it matter?

Digital literacy is an employee's ability to comfortably and efficiently use the technology required to do their work. It's relevant for almost every job role, whether it's a sales professional using customer relationship management (CRM) software to nurture an important client relationship, or a product manager using a unified communications and collaboration solution to direct an important call to an executive.

According to research from Markle, eight in ten jobs now require digital literacy—for example, positions that require proficiency in office productivity software. However, Markle also found that over half of U.S. employees are relatively hesitant to adopt or use technology, especially when employers ask them to learn technology to do something new. This poses a critical business challenge as technology becomes central to most modern occupations.

How digital literacy in the workplace impacts the business

Digital literacy can have a strong impact on business operations, particularly when it comes to communications and collaboration—two critical aspects of any well-run business. Employees that haven't yet mastered digital fluency (the ability to understand and incorporate technology into daily tasks) in the workplace may have problems effectively communicating with their colleagues in other areas using tools that may be new to them—such as video conferencing or text messaging, for example. This in turn can create online collaboration challenges and drain internal productivity. Employees in customer-facing roles who struggle with digital literacy may have difficulty communicating smoothly with customers and putting their best foot forward on behalf of the company.

Research from the National Skills Coalition (NSC) indicates that nearly one in three U.S. workers have either very few skills or no skills at all needed to use digital devices, communication applications and networks to access and manage information (collectively known as digital skills), even though between 38% and 43% of those workers are employed in jobs that require moderate or complex computer use. This digital skills gap created a drag on productivity for some businesses during the global pandemic, making them aware of just how critical digital literacy will be to their future success.

Going forward, businesses should consider cultivating digital literacy in the workplace so that employees can successfully adapt to the new tools, systems and processes that are essential to business productivity and growth. When employees become more digitally resilient, they will be able to more effectively support and potentially even champion digital transformation efforts that benefit the entire organization.

How to enhance digital literacy in the workplace

Fortunately, there are many ways businesses can encourage and sustain digital fluency in the workplace. According to the NSC report, companies should make a clear distinction between foundational digital literacy—that is, the baseline skill set that workers must have for the industry in which they work or for the job that they perform—and occupational digital literacy, which concerns the specific technology-related skills they need to carry out their job responsibilities.

The NSC recommends that companies include occupational digital literacy skills as part of their overall technical skills training for specific occupations rather than treat them as standalone or isolated skills to be developed through separate training sessions. It also can be more beneficial to assist employees with developing skills that are industry-specific and transferable rather than focusing solely on the skills needed to use individual proprietary systems. Sector partnerships are also a successful strategy for accomplishing this goal. Through these partnerships, multiple employers within a single industry can come together to identify shared talent needs and co-create a plan for upskilling workers into specific occupations.

Businesses should also adopt a supportive stance when fostering digital fluency in the workplace. Workers that lack sufficient digital skills often spend considerable time and energy manually compensating for their skill gaps, which no doubt impacts both their productivity and their level of job satisfaction. It could even affect how they perceive their value to the company, making them wonder about their prospects for long-term employment as the pace of digital transformation accelerates.

With this in mind, businesses should consider creating upskilling opportunities that are responsive to employees' needs and that accentuate how training can solve an employee’s pain points, rather than unduly calling attention to digital skills they currently might lack. For example, if your business is in an industry where mobile and remote working wasn’t common before the pandemic, it might be worthwhile asking for employee feedback on the key challenges they have encountered in these areas and how those challenges affected their ability to do their work. From there, your business can make sure technical skills training specifically addresses those challenges so that your employees can become more confident using technology in their roles.

Improve digital fluency in the workplace

Many businesses have had success solving remote work challenges with smart technology solutions—for example, investing in unified communications tools that can be quickly adopted and used and by training managers on how to support their employees in remote settings.

Managed services can also play a valuable role in your efforts to improve digital fluency in the workplace. When you team up with an experienced managed services provider that knows your industry well and has deep knowledge of the communication and collaboration tools required to support it, you can craft a training plan that helps your employees and managers make the most of the technology they need to succeed in their roles. By improving digital literacy in the workplace in this way, you can increase employee satisfaction, make your business more resilient and adaptive to change, and put your company on a digital-first footing.

Discover how Verizon's unified communications services can drive better collaboration, better communications and better digital literacy in the workplace.