A couple of weeks ago, I conducted focus groups for a company with a large percentage of what I would call “semi-wired employees.”
Front-line employees I spoke to don’t have their own computers, but the company provides computers in common areas—training rooms and employee lounge/eating areas—for employees to use when they have free time. Employees can grab an open computer to complete online training courses, visit the intranet or email their colleagues.
Sounds good, right? But most employees told me that they only occasionally go online. “Usually, I’m too tired after I finish work to check out the intranet,” said one employee, in what was a typical comment. “And if I’m taking training, when I’m done, I don’t hang around—just get up and move on to the next thing.”
As a result, these employees are only “semi-wired” because, while they have access, getting online is not very convenient. Being online is not part of their work routine, as it would be with headquarters or office employees. So “semi-wired” employees at this company don’t rely on the intranet as one of their primary ways to receive information.
As Susan P. Crawford writes, “Increasingly, we are a country in which only the urban and suburban well-off have truly high-speed Internet access, while the rest—the poor and the working class—either cannot afford access or use restricted wireless access as their only connection to the Internet. As our jobs, entertainment, politics and even health care move online, millions are at risk of being left behind.”
To illustrate the problem, Ms. Crawford cites statistics released last month by the Department of Commerce: “A mere 4 out of every 10 households with annual household incomes below $25,000 in 2010 reported having wired Internet access at home, compared with the vast majority—93 percent—of households with incomes exceeding $100,000. Only slightly more than half of all African-American and Hispanic households (55 percent and 57 percent, respectively) have wired Internet access at home, compared with 72 percent of whites.”
The upshot is that the same employees at your company who don’t have online access at work may not have it at home, either. In short, your communication program may be suffering from a digital divide—between the well-connected, well-paid, well-informed people in offices and the rest of employees (call them the 99 percent), working in factories, stores, transportation, warehouses and other places.
Your first step? Understand the challenge, through demographic and IT data and qualitative research like focus groups. Only by doing so, can you work on ways to bridge the gap between technology haves and have-nots.