Corporate Leaders as Allies for Digital Equality

Leaders need to create a bridge for digital equity in the workplace. - Rashmi Verma, Equifax

The fourth industrial revolution is here to bring us all together as one global community. Connectivity is one of the foundational pillars of this revolution. As the communities and organizations adapt to the digital world and “remote working” becomes mainstream, people’s ability to connect to the office becomes essential to perform their daily duties. With advancements in infrastructure and technology, we can see gradual growth in connected populations, yet this ability remains an issue for many. Lack of broadband infrastructure, unaffordable internet subscriptions, and lack of training create a digital gap between the urban population and others living in low or no coverage areas. This digital gap is causing inclusiveness and job retention challenges at the workplaces. According to Microsoft’s data, “157.3 million people in the U.S. do not use the internet at broadband speeds and, according to Broadband Now, at least 42 million people do not have broadband access at all.” The lack of connectivity has hindered many in the United States even before the coronavirus crisis. Wire19 predicts that 46% of businesses could see a drop in productivity due to connectivity issues.

Corporate leaders as Allies

While the government and telecoms continue to widen the broadband internet infrastructure, the corporate leaders also have the opportunity to become allies for their struggling employees to foster an inclusive work environment irrespective of connectivity challenges. As allies, they can become accomplices and collaborators who fight injustice and promote equality in the workplace through their strategies, supportive personal relationships, sponsorship, and advocacy.

Build the trust and walk the talk

Corporate leaders as allies must realize that they are privileged. Opportunities, advantages, resources, and power are automatically accorded to them as leaders in the organization. They can work on supporting and building trust with their struggling employees by listening, empathizing with, and validating the connectivity challenges and the impact. In addition, they can take some time and analyze how their own behaviors and expectations may be perpetuating the inclusion challenges. For the struggling employees, corporate leaders as allies can set realistic day-to-day performance expectations and flexible work arrangements with a balanced onsite-offsite shift, enabling them to perform their daily jobs. If a job can still not be performed with these arrangements, they can partner with HR and reallocate staff into other suitable departments or positions. This will encourage employees to trust their leaders as allies, helping corporations retain employees in the long run.  

In-house network readiness and training

Corporate leaders must advocate for and invest in infrastructure and tools for effective remote work. They can promote the adoption of network management solutions such as split tunneling configuration and Kentik for increased visibility into the network traffic and optimized performance bandwidth. They can sponsor technology and tools trainings for employees and promote knowledge share on office collaboration solutions.  

Advocate for embracing alternate options

Lack of employee engagement leads to decreased productivity. Corporate leaders as allies can advocate for revised effective communication strategies to maximize employee engagement. Scheduling regular one-on-one meetings to update employees on the latest news and policies promotes an employee’s sense of belonging. To make connectivity more affordable for struggling employees, corporate leaders can advocate for implementing remote connection expense reimbursement policies, including office-based secured connectivity in homes, linking employees directly to their office network.

To address the connectivity challenges due to lack of broadband infrastructure or Wi-Fi-hotspots, allies should promote a culture of embracing alternative ways of staying connected to perform daily jobs. They can encourage the use of phone, text services, and collaboration apps that can operate in online or offline conditions. For example, with Google Docs, multiple people can edit a document online or offline. BYOD-friendly, mobile-first,  and local network-based apps such as Airdrop, Nearby Sharing, Inko and many others are other options for employees to collaborate and perform their daily duties. 

Advocate and urge for Government Policy changes

Corporate leaders must urge policymakers to implement change in the government policies to help bridge the digital gap. They should advocate for government agencies such as the FCC to update broadband coverage mapping via modern technologies to increase accuracy on population and areas with connectivity challenges. Leaders can influence, support, and advocate for prioritizing connectivity and directing more government funds towards speeding up broadband infrastructure builds in these low coverage areas. They can participate, promote, and invest in new technology adoption projects such as the 5G network and Edge computing to maximize connectivity bandwidth enabling, people’s ability to connect. 

Build a community of allies

Corporate leaders as allies can broaden their impact by joining or forming groups of people interested in fighting the inclusiveness challenges at work caused by digital inequality. They can focus on advocating evidence-based tactics that will drive small wins within their sphere of influence and create opportunities to interact through mentoring, networking, and professional development events.

In Summary

As corporate leaders or employees of an organization, we all have the opportunity and a responsibility to support positive change in our teams, ultimately benefiting the organizations and the communities. No matter where an organization is on its digital inclusiveness journey, corporate leaders can champion and lend time and efforts in developing and implementing the strategic alliances that can help boost morale and minimize the impact of the digital gap on corporate productivity.

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