Bridging the digital divide: Why training and support are essential for effective digital comms

Digital tools are not easy for everyone. That’s the number one conclusion from the technology generations’ quiz we ran recently. Over 350 people answered the questions, and the results suggest that, on the whole, the majority of employees are comfortable with digital technology and have adapted pretty well to new tools during lockdown (like Zoom and Teams). But the results also highlight a noticeable digital divide.

One conclusion is that older generations are in danger of being left behind when it comes to new technology. That’s not really news, but it’s important because when the COVID pandemic peters out, employees of all ages are likely to be using more digital tools and services than they were a year or two ago.


Covid-19 widened the digital divide

It’s not just about COVID, of course. Technology advances all the time, and the march of cloud computing has been getting faster for a while. We used to use Microsoft Office; now we use Office 365. Everything from CRM systems to bookkeeping programmes have moved from local servers to distant server farms, making them accessible from anywhere.

But COVID has poured rocket fuel on this process, and especially so when it comes to digital communications. In lockdown, we went virtual almost overnight. Video calls replaced face to face chats, and conferencing replaced meetings. Instant messaging became the preferred channel for more informal work-based conversations.

Digital transformation certainly helped firms cope with lockdown, and very few will be turning back the clock once the pandemic fades. But an increased reliance on digital tools and services is likely to widen the gap between the most technologically savvy employees in an organisation and the least. Bridging that gap will be a challenge for businesses in the post-pandemic world.

The digital divide in numbers

Our quiz goes some way to quantifying that divide. We asked about the digital tools and services people use most and the generation they were born into, so we could get insight into the way different age groups interact with technology. Here are a few highlights:

  • 86% of respondents overall are comfortable using Microsoft Office, though 18% of Generation X (born between 1961 and 1980) don’t feel competent with it at all.
  • 62% said they would continue to use video calls after COVID, leaving a significant minority of respondents (38%) who are less enthusiastic.
  • 58% prefer to communicate face to face at work, far more than any other option.
  • 25% feel overwhelmed by communications technology. That included 18% of those from Generation Z (born since 1995), 37% of Baby Boomers (1946 – 1960) and 50% of Traditionalists (born before 1946).

It’s easy to see luddite tendencies in all this, but it’s also worth noting that a clear majority of respondents are happy to carry on using video calling after the pandemic, and that 75% don’t feel overwhelmed by technology despite the fact that, over the last year, they’ve had to rely on it more than ever.


3 ways to bridge the generational divide

What our quiz results do suggest is that one way for businesses to make themselves even more effective is to start closing that digital gap. The most efficient companies will be those in which employees feel comfortable using the right technology for the task at hand, whether that means creating a spreadsheet, organising a video conference or collaborating with colleagues who work remotely. How might that be achieved? Here are three ways:


1. Rethink your strategy

Too often businesses think about technology in terms of the skills of the most technologically gifted employees. But most people in most companies aren’t at that level. They’re looking for technology they can use, and not necessarily the most advanced. Of course, we’re not suggesting you ‘dumb down’ when it comes to digital tools and services, but it does mean that ease of use and an attractive, responsive and simple user interface should be very high on the list of priorities.


2. Make training part of the deal

Employees from Generation Z might pick up the fundamentals of a new app by messing around with it for an hour. Baby Boomers, not so much. That’s a crude generalisation, but the key message is that any new tool or digital service requires training. Digital natives might not see the need, but many of your employees will be far too cautious to make full use of a new technology unless they’re shown how to use it. They might get by without training, but that’s very different to using it to its full business-enhancing potential.


3. Pick the right supplier

The right supplier can help you bridge the digital divide without you even knowing. At Windsor Telecom, for example, we comprehensively support every piece of technology we supply to customers, be that connectivity, phone solutions or IT services. We provide short contract lengths so that businesses can make sure they’ve made the right technology choice without a long-term commitment. Finally, we ensure onboarding and training is kept simple, talking about features and benefits in language everyone can understand.

Our quiz results demonstrate that the digital divide is real, and that different generations engage with technology in different ways. But that needn’t interfere with your own digital transformation plans. Companies that take simple steps to close the skills gap will be in a better position to fully exploit the benefits of an increasingly digital world.