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Improving Digital Literacy Is 'Simple'

January 31, 2019 Learning and Development
John Zimmerer
By John Zimmerer

In the age of robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, the need for digital literacy has become essential for today’s technology workers. 

So let's explore the connections between digital literacy and employee experience and its implications on digital workplace technology purchase decision-making.

What Is Digital Literacy?

Let’s start by laying some groundwork. What do we mean by “digital literacy”? Researcher Elizabeth Marsh provided this thoughtful definition

Digital literacy in the workplace is the awareness, mindset and ability of individuals to confidently use digital workplace tools responsibly and effectively in order to solve problems, be productive, support well-being and thrive at work by processing and applying information and data, creating content, connecting and collaborating with other people, and reflecting on and adapting one’s digital practices.

In another article on digital literacy, Jed Cawthorne notes that in order “... to provide an excellent customer service experience you need engaged, informed and empowered employees.” Cawthorne asserts that the digital workplace tools that employees use can either help or hinder the employee experience. He further notes that there is no shortage of tools from which to choose, and that choosing the right one for the job is key to promoting digital literacy.

But which tools best support digital literacy? The answer is simple. Sort of.

Related Article: Digital Proficiency: Literacy, Fluency and Mastery

Simplicity and Digital Literacy

I couldn’t help but think when reading another of Marsh's articles that today’s knowledge worker has a lot to think about and manage all at once and in real time. My gut feeling was that all of that complexity can’t be good for the employee experience.

Ricardo Saltz Gulko addressed complexity when he wrote about the customer experience of business technology users (i.e., the employee experience with digital workplace tools) for the Customer Bliss blog. In his post, Gulko provided some interesting excerpts from Siegel + Gale research, and concluded that, “Simplicity can win the day.” But what does “simple” really mean?

Writing for Wired Magazine, Robert Hoekman Jr. further distilled the concept of simplicity down to its essence: Clarity.

Hoekman contends that while not everything can be made to be simpler, everything can be made to be more clear. And although he is referring to web user experience design, Hoekman provides six useful guidelines to achieving clarity, which I’ll summarize as:

  • Put as little into the user interface (including features) as possible.
  • Give the user visual cues so they feel more confident they are in the right place, understand things in the right way, and take the right actions.
  • Organize information on a screen to guide the user through it.
  • When there’s only one choice, make it on behalf of the user.

Related Article: Is the Solution to Information Overload More Technology?

Making Buying Decisions Simple

Gulko offers a simple rule of thumb when it comes to purchasing digital workplace tools:

When we decide to acquire an enterprise technology solution, one key to consider: will this make the work of the C-Suite easier, or will it make the future of work for the entire employee base (the employee experience) better?

I would contend — and I believe the authors quoted herein would agree — that if a given tool is comparatively easier to use, so long as it otherwise addresses your requirements, then you should prefer it to more complex offerings. Everyone wants to succeed at their jobs — and success benefits the business and the individual. We can set people up for success by providing tools that are easier to use and thereby shortening the distance to digital literacy. And that spells a win-win for everyone, no?

About the Author

John Zimmerer is the senior director of marketing at Topdown, where he leads market research and outreach efforts for the company's customer communications and customer experience products. Most recently, John has been researching and writing about the future direction of the technologies that power customer experience, and is regarded as a thought leader in this area.


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