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How the Pandemic Transformed Digital Literacy and Inclusion

Girish Ganesan, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Head of Talent for U.S., TD Bank

Girish Ganesan, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion and Head of Talent for U.S., TD Bank

Like many other industries, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated digital transformation for banks and other financial institutions as changing customer behavior and a remote workforce presented an immediate need to adopt new tools and technologies. The unprecedented situation forced companies to reevaluate their processes and establish new ways of doing business, and digital technologies allowed many of us to avoid a complete standstill, as billions of people were asked to work or study from home.

Post-Covid, the world is going to be fundamentally different from how we have operated in the past.

The Push Towards Digital Literacy

Pre-Covid, organizations moved towards digital transformation at a slow pace, but the pandemic forced them to quickly implement new digital tools and online platforms to serve customers and engage their employees. This continued rapid pace of technology innovation and COVID-19 disruption will continue to force reinvention and drive advancement.

Similarly, the nature of organizing conferences and meetings also has changed. The ‘seminar’ has transformed to ‘webinar.’ The rise of video conferencing apps such as Webex, Zoom and Microsoft Teams will be the future of business engagement activities. The challenge this evolution presents in the workplace is that we all were not born in the technological era, and not everyone knows how to operate digital devices at the same level. As business becomes increasingly digital, companies need to ensure their employees have access to the training and resources necessary to feel educated and confident in their ability to use the new technologies in their workplace interaction.   

Like many companies, TD has a diverse, multi-generational workforce, and we also serve customers ranging from Gen Z to Baby Boomers. Digital literacy was a priority for us well before the pandemic began, but our journey certainly was expedited as a result of it. As we rolled out new technologies to support our customers through virtual platforms and digital banking tools, we also quickly pivoted towards virtual learning, virtual D&I events, and other engagement activities for our colleagues. We realized that with ever-changing customer technologies, we needed to ensure we were offering the support required for our colleagues to feel comfortable with the technologies themselves too. Investing in how to adapt to new technology can go a long way.

Our digital literacy program offers accessible learning experiences to increase our employees’ digital literacy and ensure that they have the technical knowledge required to thrive in that rapidly changing environment. We started offering our digital literacy program to our executives, managers, and then to all 90,000 employees worldwide.

Bank Digitalization, The Way Ahead

During the pandemic, TD developed and launched over 100 new capabilities to inform and educate customers as well as provide new services. One service is a Virtual Assistant that within its first week logged 75,000 customer sessions and more than 135,000 customer interactions; another is SimpleApps, a platform developed in days that has been used over half a million times to facilitate relief service applications to programs like Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). We expect bank digitalization to continue in the post-Covid landscape. At TD, we are continuing to move forward on our journey as we enhance our work from home capabilities. We’ve ensured all employees are able to join daily meetings and routine appointments virtually using digital tools, and we’ve also pivoted training sessions and corporate events to be held virtually as well. In fact, we held over 100 events last year, and they were all done remotely.

Seeing through the lens of a diversity and inclusion perspective, these virtual events present an incredible opportunity to provide all employees access to a broader community and trainings no matter where they are in the world.

Recommendations to Fellow Professionals

The pandemic highlighted the importance of an agile workforce and the ability to adapt business models to changing employee and consumer behaviors and the surrounding environment.

I believe the Covid-19 outbreak has accelerated three workforce trends that could persist to varying degrees after the pandemic with different work implications. The three trends are as follows:

Digital Literacy: For long, there's been strong advocacy for digital literacy on par with basic literacy. Today, as we stare at a new normal where physical interactions are replaced by virtual existence, we realize that we need more action on digital inclusion and we need it now. Overnight, virtual became the new normal and continues to be so. Millions of children are at risk of losing precious academic year due to lack of access. Work-from-home options have saved many jobs during these extraordinary times, but the reality is not the same for those who are not completely comfortable with technology.

Digital Inclusion: With a hybrid work model, there will be a subset of the company that commutes each day — working physically in the same area, paired with a subset of the company that works remotely. I believe this will be more common going forward than an all-remote workforce or an all in-office workforce. The biggest concern for myself and for my fellow professionals in HR is how do you leverage technology and digital tools when you have some employees in your office premises versus a large proportion of employees who continue to work remotely? So, we need to be more mindful of educating our workforce and the leaders to prevent unconscious bias.

Reimaging Workforce and Workplace: The digital transformation is as much about transforming business processes as it is about empowering people to work in new ways. This includes reskilling opportunities for employees, and actively involving all business units to ensure an organization from top to bottom is driven by innovation and digital upgrades. Additionally, as work continues to evolve, companies will also need to ensure any inequities in the workplace are resolved and solutions are put into place that provide equal learning opportunities to all.

The future of work will forever be transformed as a result of Covid-19. Going forward, banks and other institutions will need to continue expanding their digital capabilities and adapting to new technologies. Human interaction can be lost in online settings, but perhaps what can be gained via smart uses of digital technology is underestimated.

I hope that some of the benefits that digital routes offer, which we were forced to resort to in these tough times, will be retained even post-pandemic. We are living in a digital age that is moving much faster than expected as a result of Covid-19, and it is more important now than ever to prioritize the education of colleagues to ensure no one is left behind.

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