By Christopher Rousset, Managing Director Americas, Zensai

The move to remote work due to the pandemic has increased the need for digital literacy. But when it comes to enabling remote work, digital literacy remains a significant hurdle, according to the report Accelerating the Digital Inclusion in the New Normal. Only about 40% of Americans surveyed last year by the Pew Research Center could correctly answer questions about social media, tech policies and data privacy.

Without digital literacy, tech adoption lags. Organizations must build the needed skills across their workforce in order to thrive as digitization and automation shift job roles and remote work takes precedence. How can they effectively enable their staff with these competencies?

Digital literacy is a fairly broad term. Essentially, it means the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information (as defined by the American Library Association). Being able to do these things requires both cognitive and technical skills.

Digital literacy can be broken into three main buckets: finding and consuming digital information, creating digital content, and then sharing/communicating that digital content. And creating doesn’t just entail writing; it involves creating many forms of media involving images, video and more – all of which require specialized knowledge.

Barriers to digital literacy

Looking at the macro level, there is a phenomenon called the digital divide: a certain segment of the workforce isn’t going to be able to access information. This happens along generational and educational lines. A major factor inhibiting digital literacy is a lack of training.

Fear and apprehension of new technology is another. For example, imagine that 99% of your workforce embraces the new cybersecurity system. But if there’s just one person who isn’t on board, that can render the whole system ineffective. Another example is collaboration systems, like Microsoft Teams; an organization can only maximize the investment if the bulk of the workforce is onboard.

Knowledge of this fear can keep organizations from implementing new tools because they then worry that their employees will be overwhelmed. That can definitely prevent an organization from moving forward with its goals.

This most often occurs in organizations like government and education, where people are appointed to a position and stay there for 25 years doing essentially the same thing. There’s increased incentive to stay at the same job a long time, but there’s little incentive to actually learn new things.

However, there’s been a shift. COVID-19 has been a game-changer. Many of those leaders who hadn’t been providing reskilling and training are probably now regretting it. Collaborative learning solutions have been crucial for adapting to this new reality – and organizations who hadn’t been using them are struggling.

Why digital literacy is essential

Digital literacy is critical to successful adoption of new technologies and maximizing ROI of those new technologies and solutions. Again, cybersecurity is a good example. Time and again, a lack of cyber hygiene (a form of digital literacy) proves to be one of the biggest factors negatively impacting companies’ cybersecurity posture. When employees don’t know the basics of cybersecurity, they will be much more susceptible to falling for phishing and other social engineering tricks. They may also engage in risky security behaviors, either in ignorance or in a moment of carelessness.

Tools alone cannot increase innovation, production and collaboration; employees must be open to learning about and integrating these tools.

Overcoming digital illiteracy with training

The first thing organizations must do is assess skills and identify gaps. Business and HR leaders need to ask, “What skills do my employees need to be able to do their jobs, and how many of those skills do they have today?” That provides a baseline so you can ensure you’re providing the right training at the right time.

Provide training in a way that’s accessible to employees and that isn’t just putting resources out there without structure – like sending a link to a wiki or a video. That is less organized and targeted; it’s not measurable or trackable. This ad hoc approach lacks the planning and centralization needed to make training effective.

A learning platform offers a central resource for training that is organized and intentional, accessible to all employees. This enables you to track progress and measure the success of your training initiatives. In addition, employees will have the opportunity to engage, be social and collaborate during their learning process. In this way, training helps build a learning culture.

A strategic approach

In this time of massive and sudden remote work, digital literacy is more important than it ever was. Skills gaps exist, though, necessitating training to improve digital literacy. But signing up for content libraries with hundreds of courses, sending employees a link and then hoping for the best is not a strategic method of training and development. Because the biggest contributor to low user adoption and lack of ROI for new technology investments is not enough training, this topic requires strategy and intentionality. Use the recommendations discussed above to create or augment your training and development initiatives in an intentional manner. This will support employees in their learning journey while helping to support business goals as well.