It was March 2020. Samantha was going about her business at a large health care call center fielding a customer complaint when an alert popped up on her screen. This COVID-19 that had been bubbling up on the news was shutting down the country. All workers had the next few hours to take their company equipment and move offsite. IT was planning enterprise-wide system upgrades to mobilize the workforce, but not until 2022. As a result, 100 call center employees were unplugging large desktop machines and moving them into their homes.

I interviewed Samantha while doing research for a report, Honing Your Digital Edge. As people like Samantha were moving offsite last spring, Accenture Research fielded a global workforce survey of 5,400 people to understand what people needed to thrive in a remote environment. How did they prefer to learn and work? Did they have the right skills to enable them to work differently?

Her experience resonated because millions of workers went through the same experience in early 2020 when the world’s workforce quite suddenly needed to rely on digital tools to get their work done. That same research found that before COVID-19 less than 40% of companies supported remote work. By April 2020, nearly 60% of the global workforce was remote, yet most organizations still didn’t have formal work-from-home policies.

Many workers faced the frustrations Samantha felt with their company equipment. Nearly one-third of people surveyed for our research started using their personal devices to do their work from home.

Discovering digital fluency

One concept emerged from our research as necessary to thrive in this new world of work: digital fluency.

Digital fluency is being able to work alongside the latest digital tools so you can add value to the way you work. In Samantha’s case, she quickly upskilled around digital collaboration tools to work together with her co-workers and access relevant company information.

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72% of people who identified as remote work collaborators had never worked remotely.

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Our research revealed four unique patterns that depict the personas of digitally fluent workers. Understanding these four groups will help you better understand your own style of working and how to work with employees to move your organization towards digital fluency.

1. The Remote Work Collaborator: Engaged, experienced, enthusiastic

Seventy-two percent of people identified as remote work collaborators had never worked remotely but now find themselves loving the newfound freedom and flexibility. Here are other traits of the remote work collaborators:

  • They are motivated by a sense of belonging and see technology as a key enabler to stay connected with others as they continue in remote work settings.
  • They thrive as self-starters and aren’t looking for someone to micro-manage from a distance.
  • They respond well to leaders who check-in on their well-being and provide tools necessary to deliver high-quality customer experiences from afar.
  • The highest percentage of Gen Xers were remote collaborators with longer tenures (at least six years at their current companies) and most likely to be in middle management roles.
  • Since the remote world is largely new for this persona, their digital fluency scores were low.

Best way to engage this persona on their digital fluency journey: Remote Work Collaborators are enthusiastic about upskilling, but will most likely only do so if you can show them how new digital tools add value to their work. Also, consider personalized learning roadmaps with milestones and social recognition.

2. The Adaptive Team Player: Flexible, emerging talent, personable

Mostly in early-career roles, the Adaptive Team Player is likely Generation Z or Millennial.

  • They actively seek team-based environments that challenge them to grow in their careers.
  • Eager to return to the office — 70% weren’t working from home before COVID-19 and miss the in-person interactions.
  • They look for hands-on, highly communicative leadership that is transparent.
  • They are highly motivated to learn new skills to be marketable in the future.
  • They are highly enthusiastic about new digital tools and look towards organizations to provide customer-grade technology experiences.
  • Their digital fluency scores are relatively low, as their enthusiasm outweighs their experience.

Best way to engage this persona on their digital fluency journey: Consider cohort learning models to explore new ways of working in social contexts or apprenticeships to learn from seasoned leaders. In addition, gamification of learning may be a good motivator for this persona.

3. The Relentless Innovator: Smart, seasoned, exploratory 

This personality type has the highest digital fluency scores amongst all the personas in our research.

  • They are among the most educated of all personas — 1 in 3 have advanced degrees.
  • They are most likely to be in leadership positions with moderate tenure at their current employer.
  • They are most motivated by purpose and seeing the bigger connection their work makes to others.
  • They are most likely to be disappointed in their company’s current technology.
  • They actively seek to push the digital boundaries at work and use emerging technologies such as VR for personal use. As a result, they like the space and time to work alongside technologies independently to pilot new ways of working.

Best way to engage this persona on their digital fluency journey: Having the time and space to tinker with new technology motivates these people. Encourage them to participate in hack-a-thons that meet broader societal needs. Also, consider putting them in leadership positions where they can mentor others.

4. The Disciplined Achiever: Participatory, helpful, eager to learn

About 91% of the people with this digital personality type were below manager level in our research, and 40% had a two-year associate degree.

  • They are most likely to be seeking educational opportunities as a result of the global pandemic.
  • They thrive in well-defined structures with clear roles and responsibilities.
  • They are highly motivated by a sense of belonging in their organization.
  • They prefer leaders who are readily available and take an active interest in their well-being.
  • They prefer working at companies that excel in operational efficiency with active programs in upskilling their workforce.
  • They are highly motivated to learn digital skills and want to be financially rewarded when upskilled.

Best way to engage this persona on their digital fluency journey: Ensure that Disciplined Achievers work in cross-functional teams. Seeing how digital technologies enables different parts of the organization will help accelerate their digital fluency. Set clear learning goals and accountabilities for obtaining new digital skills.

How to gain digital fluency from now on

You may be wondering what persona Samantha was. She was the remote work collaborator with some adaptive team-player tendencies. Samantha prefers a hybrid work model in the future and is actively involved in a digital upskilling certificate program.

We may not all fit neatly into one of these personas. Still, each persona can help us make meaning of the shifting world around us and give us insights into how we best gain digital fluency in a largely technology-driven world.

Kelly Monahan, Ph.D.

Talent Research Lead Senior Principal at Accenture Research

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