Why the Workplace Digital Divide Matters

Originally written for Go1, “Bridging the Digital Divide”

Let’s start with providing clarity around the term “Workplace Digital Divide”. The “workplace digital divide” is the gap between those organizations that are at the forefront of technology and those that have failed to invest in technology infrastructure. This failure ultimately impacts employee productivity and motivation1 creating a divide between those companies who are technology leaders and those who are falling behind.

The divide between those companies who are technology risk-takers and those who are comfortable in their analog world, may not have been apparent pre-pandemic. However, with the sudden switch to remote working, the divide is wide and IT ecosystems are stretched. Now is the time to realize that specific aspects of your current organizational digital strategy may be holding people back.

Do you have a workplace digital divide?

It goes without saying that the challenge of bringing technology innovation into the workplace starts with cost and culture. However, preventing the workplace digital divide is the difference between a proactive upgrade and an urgent upgrade to fix a crash. Meaning a proactive upgrade allows an organization to feel and function at a higher level, keeping it a step ahead of organizations that wait and then find they have been left behind. 

It is important to point out the workplace digital divide is not about upgrading laptops and phones. The divide is about the failure of organizations to provide clear digital pathways for ease of communication, collaboration, and innovation.

Organizations that show technology leadership are those that create a culture of technology acceptance. They demonstrate leadership in all areas of the business by addressing three missing cultural links:

  1. Technology education through data
  2. Communication, and collaboration
  3. Having a North Star connection to people and business results

The question then becomes, does your digital strategy connect people to each other and to business results? Let’s discuss why L&D should be paying attention.

Why does bridging the digital divide matter?

People who work in organizations that are technology challenged are 500% more likely to be frustrated with their employer and 600% more likely to want to leave and work elsewhere2. The ask from people to employers is simple:

  • Understand how we work, and how we want to work
  • Help us do our jobs better and faster, know our daily journey, our challenges and struggles
  • Give us up-to-date devices and reliable access to collaborate and communicate beyond email

However, organizations create frustration by wanting people to be creative and innovative3 yet do not allow or take away access to tools that would support the workplace. This creates gaps with employee engagement, productivity, and attrition – which is referred to as “Access Agony4”. This is defined as employees being experiencing the following:

  • Legacy applications/programs
  • Slow technology
  • Limited devices, lack of BYOD (bring your own device) programs
  • Blocked access to critical functions

When employees were asked about how the lack of a connected digital and technology makes them feel, the responses were interesting:

  • 85% of employees feel frustrated in their jobs
  • 44% feel frustrated with their employer
  • 14% feel the lack of appropriate tech support makes them want to work elsewhere5

These figures tell a story. A 2017 Gallup report stated attrition costs US businesses a trillion dollars every year due to voluntary turnover. What’s most interesting is that some of this damage can be prevented by listening to what employees are clearly asking for.

“Losing your best people means losing your reliable winners, your constant innovators, and your most effective problem solvers.”

Gallup, 2017

Is the workplace divide breaking down your organization?

Most L&D leaders realize that positive social structure is a direct link to workplace engagement, collaboration and professional growth. Employees make this connection as well. However, those organizations that are technology laggards or who are draconian in technology policies are removing any potential benefits of communication and relationship-building tools. Therefore stripping away collaborative efforts, silencing innovation and watering down important learning initiatives.

Not only does this affect employees in the workplace, but it also affects potential employees. Potential employees who are creative, flexible, and have innovative mindsets will take their talents down the street. In fact, according to a recent McKinsey report, 74% of people are influenced by the apps, tools, and devices a potential employer offers when making an employment decision.

Devices and the lack of access to workplace social structures is a known pain point within organizations. A fact that continues to stymie learning curiosity. In fact, 45% of employees feel that outdated devices and limited access prevent workplace collaboration.

So, what would happen to the workplace if we planned social connections into bridging the workplace digital divide?

  1. Organizations and leaders who encourage connection and collaboration significantly improve employee satisfaction, making them more likely to stay. Plus, organizations that invest in connecting employees see 4.2 times the average profit than those who do not6.
  2. Collaborative spaces and team cohorts can lead to knowledge and productivity sharing from more tenured employees to those with less experience. Productivity is improved when employees can collaborate and communicate with more knowledgeable co-workers7.
  3. Organizations that support social interactions see a positive impact on employee engagement. When social interactions are nurtured this equates to lower business costs. This includes improved performance outcomes, lower staff turnover, and fewer safety incidents (Gallup, 2017).

These benefits are the tip of the iceberg. However, as mentioned, what is holding organizations back is the lack of supporting culture and cost barriers. How can we, as an L&D industry help our businesses better succeed? In part two we will explore the steps of how we can connect the benefits of a successful organizational digital strategy to overall business value.

Read on about Access Agony: “Is Your Workplace Digital Divide Creating Access Agony”


[1] Unisys, Global Report: The New Digital Divide 2018

[2] Unisys, The New Digital Workplace divide, Infographic

[3] World Economic Forum Report, The Future of Jobs, 2020

[4] IBM global Technology Report, 2018

[5] https://www.peoplekeep.com/blog/employee-retention-the-real-cost-of-losing-an-employee

[6] https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-the-millions-we-spend-on-employee-engagement-buy-us-so-little

[7] Albert Bandura, 1971 Social Learning Theory

Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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