Recently, we posted an article about Digital Inclusion in Education. In this case, we discuss this topic from a workplace perspective with Learning & Development Consultant, Michelle Arentz.
How do you view Digital Inclusion in the workplace?
Digital Inclusion (let’s call it DI for short) is about ensuring that the benefits of digital technologies are available to everyone. Employees, like students, need to have a healthy digital ecosystem in which to operate and flourish. As we approach the anniversary of a full year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dust is settling to some degree on the major shift many businesses had to take to accommodate remote working and more. What is being revealed I think is both heartening, and troubling.
Interesting. What do you see as the heartening aspects?
I think we managed to prove the point that a lot more can be done with technology than we’d previously believed, or wanted to believe possible. The pandemic was a game changer in allowing more workers than ever to work from home (WFH). Productivity improved in many instances, and greater flexibility in scheduling work – something that was increasingly in demand – became a real thing for many. Work could, was, and is still getting done. There’s even a good possibility that when this is all over, more companies will continue to offer greater flexibility in where work gets done by their employees.
And the troubling part you mentioned?
Well, there are several things that could stand some improvement. For starters, the kinds of jobs that enabled WFH tended to be white collar, higher paying, and more exclusive. Private sector employers outnumbered public as having the means to make this move more readily. Race played a role, as that is often tied back to education levels, job categories, income levels and other factors that generally mean if you’re not a college educated professional, chances are you aren’t included in the digital economy that otherwise meant you could stay home and keep safe from COVID.
Even when considering those who can benefit from remote working, we shouldn’t assume they all have equal access to technologies, or know how to use them effectively. Just as many students have struggled with the move to learning online and in virtual spaces, so have many workers. Stripping away the context in which we’re used to operating (being in the same room, more easily reading body language, tone, expressions and such) means one has to work harder to compensate, or get frustrated trying.
There’s definitely been buzz about Zoom fatigue and other imbalances from remote working. Is that what you mean?
Yes, that, and more. As noted in the ReadSpeaker article focused on DI in education, a digitally-excluded population lacks skills, confidence, and motivation, along with having limited or no access to equipment and connectivity to compete in today’s global environment. Granted, there are some jobs that no matter what, will never translate into remote working opportunities, like hairdressers or restaurant servers. I can’t help but wonder how many others may have moved themselves more to some level of change, had the technology and training for it been in place. As it is, we’re all disadvantaged when workers are lagging in technological skills and access, whether remote working or not.
What can be done to help close the gap on such disadvantages?
Again, to build on what was shared in the education posting, in order for companies to stay competitive, Digital Inclusion for corporate social responsibility must evolve as technology advances. Organizations must have intentional strategies and investments and strive to reduce and eliminate institutional and structural barriers to technology accessibility. If the educational system is struggling to provide DI, then businesses have to pick up the slack. One cannot assume that everyone in the workforce has the technological skills required to do their jobs, and it cannot be a burden placed on individual workers to figure it out for themselves.
Savvy businesses will stay ahead of the curve by ensuring they have a long-range vision and strategy around digital capabilities, and the ways in which they will keep their employees up-to-date and actively engaged in using them. As well, smart businesses will focus more on inclusivity in general, as having a workforce that is a reflection of the diversity of society at large is also a surefire way to connect with and keep customers.
That’s a good point, that Digital Inclusion for corporate social responsibility is part of a greater whole of diversity.
Absolutely. When the economy picks up and begins to recover (and it will), there will likely be a war for talent. Why leave any options on the table? It’s crystal clear that diversity drives better business results, and the definition of diversity has progressed far beyond the more obvious factors such as gender or race. Making sure everyone has the means to engage in their work further unleashes their potential to create, innovate, and meet challenges head-on. Bottom line: Digital Inclusion for corporate social responsibility is an underserved but powerful part of diversity, one that companies can embrace for standout results to their own bottom lines. Who doesn’t want that?
Interested in finding out how you can incorporate Digital Inclusion for corporate social responsibility?
About Michelle Arentz
With degrees in Communication Studies and Education, learning has been an integral part of Michelle’s life. Having woven a career tapestry over the past 20+ years that has moved between corporate learning and development and public education, for her, it’s a calling, not just a career. With many years’ experience in content, course, and program design and delivery, making learning engaging and meaningful is her mission. Sharing her love of facilitating and teaching, she has reached a wide range of audiences, from high school students to manufacturing plant workers to corporate leaders, both domestically and abroad. Now operating as an independent consultant and instructional designer in her business, Michelle blends her skills and passion for skill and knowledge advancement in the service of clients who wish to improve the life-long learning journey of themselves and their employees.
About Lazarus Learning
Lazarus Learning LLC was inspired by Michelle’s desire to ‘breathe new life’ into learning content, resurrecting existing materials clients may have, or creating it from scratch. Years of experience in learning and development proved that while many have great knowledge and abilities, it’s not always evident in the materials they have. Everyone benefits when given access to enriched and engaging learning materials and experiences, and Michelle is determined to help rid the world of “death by PowerPoint” as she applies her talents to learning and development projects.