The lockdown has exposed tech gaps within organisations

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Thanks to coronavirus, our working culture has swiftly moved into sharp focus.

Before the country-wide lockdown was introduced at the end of March 2020, few could have foreseen the impact that a large-scale remote working experiment would have. It was only when millions of people across the UK began working from home, many for the first time, that the outdated misconceptions about this practice were overturned.

Specifically, businesses that had preserved traditional office-based working habits – whether out of scepticism or an unwillingness to change – soon came to realise that remote working is not only manageable, but entirely feasible.

However, the acceleration of the movement has also caught many businesses off guard and exposed tech gaps that require urgent attention. To delve into the matter further, here at Studio Graphene we recently conducted some research to reveal how businesses have managed the transition. Here’s what we found…

What the research tells us

At the end of April 2020, a full month into the official lockdown, we polled a thousand UK businesses to understand how they had been affected.

Most notably, half admitted that they were not adequately equipped for the sudden change. This was true across businesses of all sizes, with four in ten businesses stating that they previously did not use technology that made remote working particularly easy.

As a result, many have had to invest in new hardware, such as laptops and smart devices, so that staff could easily work remotely during lockdown. At 72%, large businesses were the most likely to have had to take such measures to ensure operations could continue as normal. This is compared with just 19% of microbusinesses and 56% of small businesses.

Large companies were also caught out by a lack of appropriate software. Almost two thirds (62%) had to invest in new software such as Zoom and Slack.

These large-scale investments into technology are positive, paving the way forward for more flexible working arrangements once we emerge from lockdown. It is also promising to see that companies are investing more heavily in digital skills training for their staff, with 40% of the businesses surveyed now offering training in light of the move to remote working.

How to close the digital divide

The research clearly shows that despite the advances that have been made over the last decade, a digital divide still exists within and between UK businesses. So, how can business leaders accelerate the digital literacy of their organisation?

Investments into digital solutions and skills are a great place to start in the battle to close the tech gap. Indeed, without the appropriate software and hardware, there is little hope of managing largescale shifts. However, with strategic digital transformation now an essential consideration across entire businesses (and not just limited to the IT department!), there is more work to be done.

Providing employee training that makes a true impact is key. Indeed, workers must be confident that their digital knowledge is up-to-date with recent trends and developments. Ignoring concerns about a lack of digital know-how will not only affect morale, but also have a knock-on effect on productivity and performance.

Employers must invest in upskilling employees and ensuring that they have the necessary skills to thrive in the digital landscape. This starts by assessing the workforce and determining what skills already exist, and which need to be further improved. In doing so, business leaders can develop a programme that meets the needs of both their business and their staff.

As a starting point, a minimum level of digital literacy across the workforce is absolutely needed. All employees should always be comfortable and confident using hardware and software fundamental in their business operations – whether this is Microsoft Office products or communications software like Slack.

However, I would also encourage business leaders to tailor their digital training based on the specific requirements of different groups. Rather than pursuing a sweeping training programme for the entirety of the workforce, smaller-scale initiatives could prove more effective at helping employees get up to speed in different areas. For instance, some might require further training in more complex and specialist technologies such as AI and VR to help them advance their capabilities and keep them moving forward in their careers.

To maintain a good long-term standard of digital know-how, in-house training should never stop. According to Deloitte, employees at all levels expect flexible and continuous learning opportunities from their employers. The digital world is constantly evolving, and the most successful companies will be those than can adapt quickly and effectively – ensuring that employees are equipped with the knowledge, tools and skills to effectively respond to changes.

On a final note, this growing shift to remote working also introduces new challenges; one of which is communication. Technologies evolve rapidly and utilising the latest communication platforms to support new and existing colleagues lies at the core of any effective digital strategy. This requires constant reviews and upgrades to existing digital systems to ensure that workers can collaborate effectively – it also means abandoning outdated platforms that no longer meet the evolving needs of the workforce.

As the lockdown begins to ease, businesses will be looking to refine how they operate in this new environment. One positive outcome to emerge from this dire situation is that remote working is now more firmly within the grasp of those who want to entertain greater control over their professional and personal lives. Remote working isn’t possible in all sectors. However, I urge business leaders to take on board the lessons learned over the past few months and double down on their efforts to support the digital transformation journey within their organisations.