With the sudden and massive shift to remote work, employees need to strengthen their digital literacy skills. There are many tools available to help organizations transition to remote work, but if employees don’t know how to use them, morale and productivity will suffer.

In a recent report, the World Economic Forum states that 62% of the population of higher-income economies has basic digital skills, such as “the ability to copy or move a file or send emails,” a number that drops to 44% for “standard skills” — the ability to use basic formulas in a spreadsheet or create presentations, for example. This lack of digital literacy also creates high barriers to adopting the digital services that enable a remote lifestyle.

The American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information.” These capabilities require both cognitive and technical skills, which organizations must build across their workforce in order to thrive as digitization and automation shift job roles and remote work takes precedence.

Digital literacy is comprised of three primary activity sets: finding and consuming digital information, creating digital content, and sharing and communicating digital content. What’s more, creating doesn’t just entail writing; it involves creating many forms of media, including images and video, which requires specialized knowledge.

What Hinders Digital Literacy?

A key barrier to digital literacy is the digital divide: A certain segment of the workforce isn’t able to access information. The digital divide exists for a variety of reasons, including generational and educational differences as well as a lack of training.

Another factor is fear of new technology. Consider online collaboration tools, for example. An organization can only maximize its investment in such a tool if the bulk of the workforce is on board. Or, imagine that 99% of your workforce embraces your new cybersecurity system — but if there’s just one person who isn’t on board, it can render the whole system ineffective.

When organizations know that some of their employees fear technology changes, they may choose not to implement new tools, because they worry their employees would be overwhelmed. Then, the lack of a tool could prevent the organization from moving forward with its goals.

Organizations like government and education institutions, in particular, suffer from this scenario, because many of their employees are appointed to a position and stay for decades, performing essentially the same tasks. There’s an incentive to stay at that job a long time, but there’s little incentive to learn new skills.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a significant shift, however. Those leaders who hadn’t been providing reskilling and training opportunities are probably now regretting it. Continuous learning solutions have been crucial for adapting to this new reality — and organizations that hadn’t been using them are struggling.

The Critical Nature of Digital Literacy

For adoption of new technologies and maximum return on investment (ROI) of those new technologies and solutions to occur, digital literacy is a must. 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 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.

Training Is the Key

For these reasons, organizations will serve employees and business goals alike by implementing effective training. First, they must first assess skills and identify gaps. Business and human resources (HR) should need to ask, “Which skills do my employees need to be able to do their jobs, and how many of those skills do they have today?” The answer to that question provides a baseline to ensure they provide the right training at the right time.

Training must be readily available to all employees who need it, and it should be structured — not merely sending a link to a wiki or a video. The latter, ad-hoc approach is less organized and targeted, and it’s not measurable or trackable. It lacks the planning and centralization needed to make training effective.

To help with the structure and availability aspects of a training program, consider a learning platform. A learning management system (LMS) offers a central resource for training that is organized, intentional and accessible to all employees. It also enables you to track progress and measure the success of your training initiatives. Plus, employees have the opportunity to engage, to be social and to collaborate during their learning process. In this way, training helps build a learning culture.

Training Benefits Everyone

Digital literacy is critical to organizational success, yet many organizations suffer from skills gaps that hinder their ability to remain competitive and achieve business goals. Organizations need structured systems to deliver appropriate training to all employees who need it — not a link to a content library sent out with high hopes and no direction or tracking ability. Technology adoption and ROI depend on strategic training. The best practices outlined here will help to create or enhance a forward-looking training program that benefits employees and the organization alike.