How the digital divide affects your remote working strategy

Windsor Telecom’s own lockdown communications report reflected the general consensus as thoughts start to turn to the COVID pandemic’s end: more of us will be spending more time working from home.

That’s the general picture, though of course the reality will differ by company and sector. Some workers won’t be able to work remotely at all, while a few might switch to full time home working. Many are likely to mix the two in a ‘hybrid’ working strategy where some of the week is spent in the office and some working from back bedrooms, coffee shops or shared local workspaces.

Whatever the precise details, the likelihood is that many of us will spend less time in offices. The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) certainly thinks so, and its research found that employers expect the proportion of people working from home on a regular basis to more than double.

Our own lockdown report highlighted the technological challenges associated with such a shift, with 52% agreeing that their technology landscape has to change to embrace a hybrid working future.

Within that, our business respondents talked about the need to better integrate communications apps and systems so everything works together, and to fully embrace cloud communications.

But there’s another issue here too. Remote working strategies require employees to be more digitally savvy than ever. Which begs the question, what if a significant number simply aren’t? What if they feel overwhelmed by the digital tools and services they already use?

 

The digital divide

We recently ran a quiz that aimed to provide a few clues as to how different generations viewed the technology they regularly come into contact with. It was as much for fun as anything else (after all, we asked about flip phones alongside video conferencing), so we’re not taking the results as the last word on the subject.

The Beatles - Abbey Road

But they are interesting nonetheless, because they highlight what many business leaders might instinctively know. The digital divide in many workplaces is real, and if you’re planning for more remote working in future, it might just hold you back.

That’s particularly true when you consider another workplace trend, and one that we’ve highlighted before. Given our longer working lives, it’s not entirely out of the question that in your organisation someone born during the Second World War is working alongside someone born after the invention of the iPod.

And it’s actually quite likely that someone who was a babe in arms before the release of the first Beatles LP (LP? Ask your grandparents…) is working with people who have never known a world without the internet.

tiktok

Digital natives

What does all that mean? Well, it means that some of your employees will be more adept at assimilating new technology than others, simply because they’ve lived their whole lives surrounded by digital tools and services.

Of course nothing is black and white, and in our quiz only 17% of respondents’ real ages conformed to what we identified as their technology generation. In other words, there are plenty of Baby Boomers with a good understanding of TikTok.

Nevertheless, as a general rule, the younger you are, the more comfortable with new digital technology you tend to be. Our quiz results bear this out. A quarter of respondents admitted to feeling overwhelmed by the amount of technology they are expected to use, and while that included 18% of those from Generation Z (born since 1995), the figure rose to 37% for Baby Boomers (1946 – 1960) and 50% for Traditionalists (born before 1946).

The home front

The message from that is quite simple: we’d advise that any post-pandemic homeworking strategy be thoroughly planned and systematically executed. The piecemeal implementation of ad hoc tools is only likely to confuse some employees even further.

Remember, nearly a quarter of Generation X (1961-1980) feel overwhelmed by their current portfolio of digital tools and services. And while there’s no turning back the digital tide, there’s a lot you can do to make the assimilation of new remote working technology easier. Go for integrated systems with unified tools that work together and can be accessed from a single interface. Prioritise good user experience over the flashiest tech. If the technology is easy to use, people will want to use it (and you’ll have less training to do). Choose a provider that offers short contracts so you can test and learn it to see whether it fits your business.

 

Remote working is not for everyone

And what our quiz results also confirm is that remote working is not for everyone. In fact, it might not be for anyone, or not all of the time. A large majority of our respondents (58%) chose meeting face to face as their preferred communication method at work, with the second most popular choice – email – languishing far behind on 19%.

Again, this suggests to us that your new remote working strategy has to be handled sensitively, and certainly not that it should be shelved. Remote working has real benefits, and employees tend to like it. But a well-planned hybrid model of on-premise and remote work, combined with intuitive, easy-to-use virtual communications, might offer all of your employees, and your business, the best of both worlds.