What is Digital Fluency, and Why Does Your Workplace Need It?

When tech solutions, especially online solutions and apps, first rose as a core part of modern business, a term was used to describe employees ready for it: Digital literacy.

As time has passed, workplaces of all kinds have embraced digital literacy. For the newer generations of employees, it’s as common as breathing. But new demands create new needs for employees, and in recent years another term has come to replace literacy–digital fluency. And it’s still remarkably rare: A 2020 Accenture study showed that only around 14% of global companies are digitally mature. Many industries still have work to do on their digital progress.

Let’s take a look at what digital fluency means in the workplace, where to find it, and how HR can encourage it throughout an organization.

Smiling businessman using a tablet in a modern office.

Digital Literacy vs. Digital Fluency

Digital literacy refers to the ability to understand certain kinds of digital technology in the workplace. This was very important in years past when digital solutions were new, and organizations hadn’t considered using the internet or related platforms to help out.

As more digital solutions were developed, businesses needed employees that knew how to use them from the beginning. It fell on HR to ensure that new employees were asked if they were familiar with key technology, from using online databases and text editors to cloud storage and WordPress.

Several things changed as time moved on. Businesses adopted even more technology until every position needed to be familiar with at least some apps and platforms. Organizations also became more comfortable with changing, merging, or updating their digital solutions based on their current needs, so technology in the workplace started to change more frequently.

This led to new training demands, which typically fell on HR to arrange. Work positions themselves became more flexible and more reliant on technology to complete everyday tasks or communicate with decision makers.

Ultimately, today’s employees need more than digital literacy. They need digital fluency, the ability to understand technology well enough to easily switch between platforms, understand which online tools will help them, and apply lessons learned in one platform to the other platforms they use.

A language comparison is very accurate: Those who are fluent in another language don’t just comprehend it. They’re able to use it on the fly, adapt it to their current conversation, and use it in creative ways when they need something. 

Break Down Digital Fluency: Four Key Digital Personas

What does digital fluency look like right now in the workplace? The Accenture study identified several different personas that serve as helpful examples of what digital fluency looks like at various stages or roles in an organization. 

Remote Collaborator: Organizations have seen a lot of this persona over the past few years, often with great results. These people may not have done remote work much before, but now they love it. They’re engaged, enjoy the tech they’re using, and enthusiastic to adopt more solutions.

While they thrive as self-starters without too much micromanagement, they’re also motivated by a sense of belonging. Gen X employees are often in this role. However, this persona still has a lot to learn, so their digital fluency will take a little time.

Disciplined Achiever: People that fall into this persona are often looking for new positions or compensation in a company and are interested in increasing their own education and skill set. They’re very motivated but may not have much experience with any of the digital solutions the company uses.

This persona thrives best with a well-defined structure, leaders who are willing to explain things, and familiar training techniques that will allow them to learn all the new technology they need. 

Adaptive Team Player: This persona often applies to Gen Z or millennials. Adaptive team players love being involved in their team and will happily embrace any type of technology that helps them communicate, brainstorm, collaborate, and push results to customers. They often have a lot of personal experience with technology but are still relatively new to digital business and tend to need training to become truly fluent.

However, they experience few issues with digital learning.

Relentless Innovator: A person in this category has extensive experience in digital solutions and is often in a leadership or advisory role in the organization. They are skilled at aligning digital tools to company strategy and are always looking ahead. These are the people who always suggest new tools to make things easier or the latest app that’s changing the industry.

The relentless innovator needs to work to align their excitement with organization goals, budgets, and timetables, but they’re a valuable resource that thrives when given a bit of space to experiment.

How to Improve Digital Fluency in Your Workplace

Where does digital fluency start in a workplace? There are many ways to help employees improve their own digital fluency, and specific strategies will depend on what platforms your organization uses. However, it’s always important to look for digital knowledge that can be applied to many different situations, giving employees an experience they can use across multiple platforms.

Let’s take a look at some effective ways to begin encouraging digital fluency for various kinds of teams.

Survey How Employees Use Digital Capabilities

Surveys and analysis are an important place to start. Many times, HR needs more information on the current digital literacy of employees, which can be compared to digital fluency goals. This often uncovers skill gaps, which are important areas to start new training and practices. Surveys should focus on the platforms or apps that the business relies on and include questions about how often employees take advantage (or don’t) of certain tools.

Explain Why Digital Fluency is So Important

This step is often important when first incorporating new digital training: HR leaders should be able to explain why digital fluency matters to both employees and decision makers. It’s often helpful to focus on how fluency can help save time, help make employees suitable for more roles, and make future tech training simpler than it otherwise would be.

Choose Easy-to-Use Platforms and Networks 

An important part of digital fluency can also be choosing the right future platforms and tools that match previous training employees have had. Digital fluency should be a part of future strategies for the best synergy results. That means thinking about what tools will be familiar to employees, what platforms have similar interfaces, and how new apps may integrate with older tools that employees are already familiar with. In all cases, the easier new technology is to use, the more it will improve digital fluency throughout the workplace. This will obviously require coordination with IT and organization leaders. 

Create a Resource of Useful Knowledge

As we saw with the digital fluency personas, many employees are eager to learn new skills and apply them to different platforms, but they don’t quite have the knowledge they need yet. Increase digital fluency in the workplace by creating curated training resources that employees can access at any time to brush up on new tools, remind themselves how certain apps integrate, and quickly find solutions for their specific tasks.

Provide Upskilling Opportunities for All Employees

A core benefit of digital fluency is upskilling for employees, providing them with training that can be used in multiple situations and carry over to new positions. Take advantage of how many employees want to learn new digital skills to help improve their skill sets and compensation opportunities. Make it easy for employees to access new digital training while still taking care of their responsibilities.

Create Company-Wide Standards for Data Management

This is typically the realm of IT, which decides what data formats to use, how data is stored, and who has access to it. But HR can lend a valuable hand by codifying this information and providing clear guidelines to all employees. This in turn helps employees understand where to look for information and what practices to use, no matter what platform they’re currently on.

Incorporate TQ 

TQ stands for Technology Quotient, or the enthusiasm and expertise for technology in a workplace. Organizations that are especially interested in digital fluency may want to use TQ as a standard to help gauge the excitement for digital solutions, aptitude of new applicants, and what businesses need to do to improve their fluency. Sometimes it can be helpful to have a key indicator that represents fluency like this.

Learn More with Expert KnowledgeCity Courses

Ongoing education and training are particularly important for digital fluency. KnowledgeCity’s directory of digital courses is a solid place to start: You can browse and choose from a variety of computer-based courses based on what your team needs, or areas you would like to branch out into.

For example, if a marketing team wants to gain more analytic skills for their digital fluency goals, then the Google Suite courses could be very useful for providing important analytics knowledge. The Operating Systems section can offer courses that help employees get comfortable with newer platforms like Windows 11. Other topics include courses on cloud computing, cybersecurity, and Adobe design programs. Take a look, and find what resources could help your organization.

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