Digital technology has forever transformed every aspect of modern life and will continue to do so. No matter our age or disposition, we may as well admit that we’ll need to acquire new digital skills for the rest of our lives.
It may be that part of our ambivalence toward technology stems from the fact that many of us have to learn digital skills on top of staying current in our chosen fields. Whenever frustration grows to a boiling point, it’s often because it feels as if technology is getting in the way of what we want to accomplish.
When it seems like technology is slowing things down where it promised to speed them up, it’s time to step back and ask, “is the problem with the tech or with me?”
Be open to the possibility that the problem could be on either side or perhaps a bit of both. If you’ve resisted developing new tech skills, here are six reasons why you need to overcome your reluctance so you can thrive in an evolving workplace.
1. A Dirty Digital Footprint Could Have Consequences
Over the last several years, employers have demonstrated that they’re willing to discipline or even terminate employees who can’t manage themselves in the digital realm. There have been countless cautionary tales of high-profile executives, politicians, movie stars, and motivational speakers losing their livelihoods because they didn’t think before posting something on social media.
Businesses, for their part, have begun managing their liability by proactively scouring the digital footprint of job applicants before they make hiring decisions. Colleges and universities are heading off future disciplinary problems by adding social media scans to their enrollment procedures. And that’s not even talking about the rise of “cancel culture.”
The best lesson is to keep it classy online and add a regular self-monitoring checkup to your routine. There is now an entire industry of digital footprint-scrubbing services, but a less-expensive option is simply to self-regulate. Start by asking a trusted friend to Google your name and find the most potentially embarrassing post, photo, or other information they can within 10 to 15 minutes. Identify (and delete) your bad judgment calls before someone else does.
2. You Need to Know the Tricks—and Tools—of Your Trade
Entire industries are being rapidly transformed by tech. Future job applicants will be expected to know both their field and its most commonly used tech tools on their first day. Unfortunately, the speed of technological change can result in a college or trade-school graduate landing a job only to discover that the skills they were taught last year have since become obsolete.
Fortunately, many new initiatives are rising up to meet this challenge. In Los Angeles, for example, a partnership between grassroots organization MARTY and Hawke Media resulted in the creation of the first-ever digital marketing academy. Whether your field of expertise is HR, PR, or something else altogether, there are likely digital skills workshops you can take advantage of. As tech continues to make inroads, the need to stay digitally current—in addition to having mastered textbook concepts—will increase.
3. Effective Communication Requires Understanding Audience Expectations
Hopefully, by now, you know that sending a message in ALL CAPS makes it look like you’re shouting. You might also have noticed that it’s becoming customary to text someone before calling and ask, “can you talk now?” Gone are the days when the phone would ring, you’d have no clue who was calling, and you’d pick up anyway.
What constitutes appropriate communication by phone, text, Slack, email, social media, or any other channel comes bundled with audience expectations. Those who know which channel to use in a given situation and abide by the unspoken rules will thrive in this new landscape.
When entering any new digital environment, spend a week or two as a cultural anthropologist. Observe what the digital natives do and act accordingly. Stay humble and open to correction. Hold off on cheeky humor and good-natured sass until you understand the world in which you’ve landed.
4. Without a Solid Tech Foundation, You’ll Be Left Behind
Back in junior high, our math teachers would warn us about the importance of making sure we fully grasped a particular concept before moving on. The idea was that whatever came next would build on what we’d already mastered, so we’d better have it down cold.
Today, innovations in digital technology are being released so rapidly that more than a few late adopters will be left behind. If you haven’t mastered Google Sheets, for example, or don’t know your way around common project management software, then create your own learning opportunities. Online course platforms like Udemy and Coursera can help you get up to speed.
As more and more everyday products and services lean into digital platforms, those who make the effort to stay current with digital skills will more quickly adapt. If your current workplace demands technology skills that you don’t have, ’fess up to a sympathetic supervisor and develop a concrete plan and timeline for acquiring them. Your determination to fill your tech gaps will be a point in your favor.
5. You Need to Keep Yourself and Others Safe Online
Email phishing, identity theft, ransomware, and a wide array of other threats have become a settled fact of life online. According to Statista, money lost to phone scams alone jumped from $10.5 billion in 2019 to $19.7 billion in 2020, nearly doubling in just one year.
As online mistakes become increasingly common and costly, the value of those who use their digital skills to protect themselves and others will skyrocket. Make sure you stay current on acceptable uses of technology in every setting. Rather than learning the hard way, take the advice of cybersecurity experts and follow the best security technology practices. Whenever you don’t understand the logic behind various security protocols, ask. You’ll be far better equipped to follow rules you understand.
6. Digital Skills Will Be Needed to Help Break Down Barriers
Digital skills are like any other tool—they can be used for good or bad. As the online world continues to reveal fractures across cultures, the need for people who use their digital skills to build bridges will increase.
Apply commonsense communication guidelines in the digital sphere. Adding your own personality to communication is a good thing but only up to a point. Seek out past posts that could cause unnecessary division and consider deleting them. You may feel very strongly about a controversial issue, and that’s fine. Just be aware that your supervisor may have something to say if your stance begins costing the company revenue.
As you sharpen your digital skill set, keep in mind that the lines have begun to blur across previously separate realms. Pressure is mounting to get more of our work done online. People aren’t as free to separate their work identity from their after-hours conduct.
The rules seem to shift slightly with the introduction of every new, popular platform. The best way to adapt is to stay current, stay sharp, and regularly review your online conduct.
More About Digital Skills and Knowledge
- How the Digital Age Has Shaped Communication Management
- 17 Must-Have Work-Related Skills for a Successful Career
- 10 Email Management Skills Everyone Should Learn to Be More Productive
Featured photo credit: hj barraza via unsplash.com