Bridging the workplace digital divide

Do you have a workplace digital divide? Does your digital strategy connect people to each other and to business results? Here's why L&D should be paying attention to bridging the digital divide, to keep your organization feeling and functioning at a higher level.
Shannon Tipton - Guest Contributor

Written by guest blogger Shannon Tipton, workplace Learning Strategist and owner of Learning Rebels. Shannon is excited to work with organizations to develop learning solutions to achieve applicable business results. Recently named in the top 100 eLearning‘ Movers and Shakers’ by eLearning Industry, Shannon’s blog ‘Learning Rebels’ is in the top 100 eLearning blogs.

The “workplace digital divide” is the gap between those organizations who are at the forefront of technical investment and use, and those who have failed to invest or have invested poorly in the wrong areas. This ultimately impacts employee productivity and employee motivation[1] creating a glaring divide between those companies who are technology leaders, being flexible and adaptable, and those who are falling behind.

The divide between those companies who are technology risk-takers and those who are comfortable in their analog world, may not have been as apparent pre-pandemic but now with the sudden switch to remote working, the divide is now a chasm and have put their IT departments and their ecosystems into the fast lane. Now is the time to determine what specific aspects of your current organizational digital strategy is holding people back.

It goes without saying that the challenge of bringing technology innovation into the workplace is going to be cost and culture. It may feel like waiting to implement a digital strategy may be wiser, because something new and shiny may be just around the corner. 

However, preventing the workplace digital divide is the difference between a proactive upgrade and an urgent, necessary upgrade. A proactive upgrade means the organization would feel and function at a higher level and keeps it a step ahead of the organizations that wait and find they have been left behind. 

Do you have a workplace digital divide?

It is important to point out the workplace digital divide is not about upgrading laptops and phones. The divide is about the failure of organizations to provide clear digital pathways for ease of communication and collaboration.

Those organizations who exhibit technology leadership are those that create a culture of technology leadership in all areas of the business by addressing three missing links: technology education through data, communication and collaboration, and North Star connection to people and business results. The question then becomes, does your digital strategy connect people to each other and to business results? Let’s discuss why L&D should be paying attention.

Why does this matter?

People who work in organizations that are technology challenged are more than 500 percent more likely to be frustrated with their employer and 600 percent more likely to want to leave and work elsewhere[2]. The ask from people to employers is simple:

  • Understand how we work, and how we want to work
  • Help us do our jobs better and faster, know our daily journey
  • Give us up-to-date devices and reliable access to collaborate and communicate beyond email

However, organizations create frustration across the board by wanting people to be creative and innovative[3] yet do not allow or take away access to tools that would support such initiatives. This creates gaps with employee engagement, productivity, and attrition – which is referred to as “Access Agony[4]” which is defined as employees being burdened with the following:

  • Slow technology
  • Legacy applications/programs
  • Blocked access to critical functions
  • Limited devices, lack of BYOD (bring your own device) programs

When employees were asked about how the lack of a connected digital and technology strategy makes them feel, the responses were enlightening:

  • 85% of employees feel frustrated in their jobs
  • 44% feel frustrated with their employer
  • 14% feel the lack of appropriate tech support makes them want to work elsewhere[5]

These are telling figures. A 2017 Gallup report stated attrition costs US businesses a trillion dollars every year due to voluntary turnover. What's most intriguing is that for the most part, some of this damage is self-inflicted through not listening to what employees are clearly asking for.

“Losing your best people means losing your reliable winners, your constant innovators, and your most effective problem solvers." - Gallup, 2017

Is the workplace divide breaking down your organization?

Employees today realize that a positive social structure within the workplace enhances overall mental health, but also improves engagement. However, those organizations who are technology laggards are removing the potential benefits of key collaboration, communication and relationship building tools.

Not only does this affect employees in the workplace, but it also affects potential employees. Those who are of the most creative, flexible, and innovative mindsets will take their talents to organizations that have a digital strategy that reaches across the organization. In fact, according to a recent McKinsey report, 74% of people are influenced by the apps, tools, and devices a potential employer offers when making an employment decision.

Devices and the lack of access to workplace social structures has been identified as one of the biggest pain points within organizations today with 45% of employees feeling that outdated devices and access limitations prevents workplace collaboration. We know that positive social interactions at work directly bolster resourcefulness i.e. enhanced productivity.

So, what would happen to the workplace if we planned social connection into bridging the workplace digital divide?

  1. Employees who are satisfied with their workplace relationships are more likely attached to the organization. Organizations and leaders who encourage connection and collaboration significantly improve employee satisfaction and organizations that invest in connecting employees see 4.2 times the average profit than those who do not.[6]
  2. Organizations that support social interactions see a positive impact on employee engagement, which then equates to lower business costs, improved performance outcomes, lower staff turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents (Gallup, 2017).
  3. Collaborative spaces and team settings can lead to knowledge and productivity spillover from trained to untrained workers. We know productivity is improved when employees can collaborate and communicate with more knowledgeable co-workers.[7]

Connecting to business results

Moments of “access agony” create additional hardships to employees which create pain-points in productivity achievement. When 71% of your employees must create work-around solutions for antiquated technology, there will be a productivity issue. When 35% download additional software to their PCs in hopes it will help them do their jobs quicker and smarter there may be a security issue. When 45% of your workforce feels as though their devices are outdated and use their personal devices instead, there is an engagement issue.

The following data from a 2017 Gallup report is noticeably clear in the overall KPI results of organizations that are technology laggards:

  • 27% state the lack of up-to-date technology slows them down at work
  • 28% state the lack of access to programs that are important to their work prevents them from doing their job
  • 20% of employees report using 3 or more devices at work to get the job done.
  • 30% state the lack of interconnectivity prevents them from doing their work in less time

There is clearly a pattern of employees being so frustrated with organizational technology that they are creating their own bespoke solutions to get the job done – with or without approval. This likely creates actively disengaged employees which cost the US $583 - $605 billion in lost productivity. What is it costing your organization?

What can L&D do to support the business and decrease the workplace digital divide?

Raise the “Tech IQ"[8] of your organization to create a culture of technology acceptance

As with most things culture driven, education brings knowledge and acceptance. This means starting from the top, educating leadership through data and using cross-department partnerships and gaining an understanding of an organization's capabilities to shift the mindset.

  • Do this by helping business leaders understand what they should be exploring. Start with workshops and use-cases to build a foundation of technology curiosity.
  • Take inventory of the employee’s journey. How do they use current legacy apps and tools? How do they want to use these tools? Identify all frustration points.

Build a North Star connection to people

Your digital strategy must first begin with the end in mind, how we can help people to help the business? To do this, there are a few areas to address.

  • People will be afraid of technology. Some fear technology may take over their jobs or job roles. Help them to understand that technology may subvert some of the tasks we do, but not necessarily erase the actual jobs we have.
  • Create quick wins to display the critical advantage that bridging the divide will have. Create your hypothesis about the creative methods technology can support that help people work smarter, better, faster to create business results.
  • Sharing data around the technology growth and success to show proof of concept.

Create a mindset of community and collaboration

Strong community ties with frequent social interactions (even remotely) with co-workers provide opportunities to experiment, collaborate and share experiences. Additional benefits reach deep and wide across organizations.

  • Employees with broad cross-department access can help solve the problems of tomorrow because they see the problems coming.
  • Create access to tools, apps, and up-to-date devices to take the handcuffs off people and allow for freer, more productive thinking.
  • By creating broader and wider communities and connections, we create an organizational ecosystem. Where if one part falters the others are there to keep the momentum going.

L&D has an opportunity to have a role in empowering the workplace to bridge this divide. Here are some questions to unlock this opportunity:

  • Do you know the employee journey?
  • Do you know what employees have access to or not have access to?
  • Is L&D consciously or unconsciously limiting access to important connections and tools?
  • What decisions or actions can you influence? What bridges can you build across the organization?
  • Do you know business KPIs? Do you know how your organization makes money? Do you understand the delicate business ecosystem?

Forward-thinking organizations consider the gains in efficiency for building a strong digital strategy as a reason to build better connections, promote innovation, and strengthen bottom-line results. But also, to design workplaces and processes to encourage working smarter and better. Because as we know, people can only be as good as who they’re working with and the tools they use to get the job done.

Is your organization creating access agony or being a technology leader with an eye to the future?


[1] Unisys, Global Report: The New Digital Divide 2018

[2] Unisys, The New Digital Workplace divide, Infographic

[3] World Economic Forum Report, The Future of Jobs, 2020

[4] IBM global Technology Report, 2018

[5] https://www.peoplekeep.com/blog/employee-retention-the-real-cost-of-losing-an-employee

[6] https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-the-millions-we-spend-on-employee-engagement-buy-us-so-little

[7] Albert Bandura, 1971 Social Learning Theory

[8] IBM global Technology Report, 2018

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