Wesley Connor is the VP global learning & development at Randstad Enterprise Group. Views are the author's own.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of American life, including the way we work and conduct business. Beyond putting millions out of work, the pandemic has forced organizations in every sector to embrace new technologies as they quickly transition to remote working for some or all of their employees. Yet businesses also must recognize that many of their workers may not be adept at using the technology needed to continue effectively working from home.
To avoid business disruptions during this time of uncertainty, it is crucial that organizations have the ability to quickly upskill their workforces so employees are able to remain motivated and productive during what could be an extended period of remote work.
The key to upskilling employees on essential technologies is to recognize that all employees learn at different speeds and that different generations learn in a variety of ways. There is truly no "one size fits all" approach when it comes to technology adoption. Many employers are most likely facing a workforce with multiple levels of readiness, from early adopters who are extremely tech savvy, to those who are self-proclaimed "technically illiterate."
Because upskilling methods will vary for someone lacking digital skills versus someone who just needs a refresher, a module-based training approach is best, since it allows organizations to quickly scale learning from beginner to advanced. A variety of skill paths will also ensure that new users do not feel overwhelmed, while simultaneously preventing more advanced users from getting bored. These learning pathways should be tied to career paths and leveraged as development support during performance management conversations.
Here are some tactics employers can adopt to quickly upskill their staff:
Walk them through it. Businesses should use learning platforms that show employees how to navigate through the new technology, click by click. Some people prefer to learn through live interactions, so offering virtual sessions with live coaches can also help orientate new users. A best practice is to keep the groups small so that learners can ask questions and can be walked through the content step by step.
Deploy your tech heroes. In every organization, there are technically advanced people who enjoy nothing more than teaching others. To combat ageism, businesses should assume that there are tech savvy individuals at all ages and should highlight and celebrate these early adopters from every age group. Employers should identify "technology heroes" from multiple generations and engage them to help upskill the organization through mentoring and apprenticeship programs.
Support is pivotal. There is nothing more frustrating for new users than being stuck without support in sight. Employers should offer both live support with humans through video chats, as well as chat bots, to avoid frustration from their staff. Businesses can also assign targeted product experts as go-to resources for certain technologies.
Rethink how work gets done. Many organizations wrongfully embark on digital transformation journeys by overlaying technology on their regular operating procedures (e.g., conducting a virtual meeting like you do a live one). In order to successfully make the transition, companies must re-engineer how their teams get work done. From a behavioral perspective, this is the only way to ensure that new technology is a logical step in the workflow process and feels intuitive to employees.
Mind the gaps. Businesses should encourage feedback from employees, ideally through a community chat function, so that they can easily spot development gaps and offer timely support.
Avoid tech shaming. Some employees may be mocked for lacking a solid understanding of technology, so it is important that companies practice compassion and realize that everyone learns at different speeds. By creating a supportive, non-judgmental environment, learners who are struggling will have the psychological safety to ask for help.
The coronavirus pandemic has challenged all organizations, and their employees, to embrace new technologies in order to remain productive, and it is vital that companies support and upskill employees so they can fully utilize those digital tools. While businesses adapt to navigate through this unprecedented time of uncertainty, it will be the companies whose workforces are agile and technologically savvy who will be best positioned to thrive now and in the future.