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The Most Important Skill You Need to Work on in 2021: Digital Literacy

I'm tired of hearing it. That the workforce is changed forever and that we'll never return to pre-COVID corporate culture. It was likely always headed this way with COVID catalyzing the transition to a digital and remote workplace from the traditional Office Space cubical culture. What's surprising, however, is the absolute lack of digital literacy and competency as we move to this new work life. How long have you been sitting on a response to a single email? And then, when you receive the response, did it even touch on the questions you asked? If not, then your coworkers or clients may be lacking in digital literacy.

Digital literacy is like any other form of literacy. It's a competency and a skill. It's our ability and capacity to communicate effectively through typing and other digital platforms. And it is shocking how many are affected by breaks in these streams of communciation that are so easily changed and manipulated by the user. Digital literacy can also encompass our ability to pinpoint key information and using our resources of millions and billions of search results to our advantage. They teach this in schools now so we certainly need to start teaching this in our workplaces.

I'm a freelancer so I deal with my clients almost exclusively via emails and messaging. Things get lost in digital translation. Whether it be because of traditional writing skills (grammar, punctuation, etc.), unclear tasks and expectations, or comprehension issues, there are constant, avoidable issues because of a lack of how to express oneself through digital means.

If you're struggling with this, perhaps bogged down by workplace communication issues or an email chain that's 30 messages long because nobody has answered the original question, then you absolutely need to take the time to teach yourself and your coworkers, and maybe even your clients some digital literacy.

It starts with reading. As most communication does, ensure the original message was clearly understood and if not ask. As an individual who spent quite a few years in corporate culture including working remotely on a multitude of occasions and now shifting into full-time writing where I constantly have to express myself through a small white box, here are my tips for developing digital literacy:

  • Skim, Read, Skim

    • You receive an important email. Skim for the highlights, read in detail and then skim again for anything you may have missed.

    • Read through the information several times, if necessary.

    • Note any questions that need answering.

  • Ask clarifying questions

    • Senders may struggle with their own digital literacy. Try posing the following questions:

      • What task is to be accomplished?

      • What do they specifically want from you?

      • Are there any additional resources that you require to complete this task?

  • Use your digital resources

    • I don't know how many times I've answered a question via email that could have easily been googled or found on a forum. The internet is a vast place and when you know how to use it properly, it can be your research assistant and best friend.

    • Can your question be answered with a google search?

    • Can you assist the process by performing research independently?

    • Keep a critical eye on your sources

      • You don't need to validate every source you come across, but make sure you're not getting all of your research from Wikipedia.

      • Check out this chart below by the University of Idaho - The CRAAP Test

  • Respond Appropriately

    • Pose any questions you may still have.

    • Provide a thoughtful response within 1 to 2 days.

      • The more emails you write, the better and faster you'll get at it.

    • Be polite.

      • Please and thank you go a long way.

    • Keep your language simple.

      • Short sentences are easier to read and understand.

    • Stick to the point.

      • I'm sorry, Debbie but no one wants to hear about your chihuaha's birthday party before you get to the actual answer to the question I asked you three weeks ago.

Digital literacy is not as easy as it may sound, but with active awareness and a drive to improve, anyone can become an effective digital communicator. If you're going to improve any skills in 2021, it should be this because it is only a matter of time before it's an absolute necessity for anyone and everyone in the modern workplace.


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