COVID-19 May be Widening the Digital Divide

88% of organizations have encouraged or required their employees to work from home during COVID-19. With most work activities now confined to the home, so too is the hiring process.

And for the 10% of Americans who have been laid off, they must conduct their entire job searches from home. In effect, this means that job seekers must rely on their own personal devices and their own internet connections to search for a job, without access to libraries or other public services.

Under these circumstances, it’s easy to see how COVID-19 exacerbates the digital divide that has persisted since the advent of technology. The digital divide refers to the gap in access and usage of technology that disproportionately affects certain groups and, as a result, can have wide-reaching effects on the economic and social opportunities that people are afforded. Statistics on the pervasiveness of the digital divide can be shocking. For the many of us who are accustomed to having the latest smartphones, new laptops, and high speed internet, it may surprise you to know that:

  • A quarter of the nation still does not have access to broadband
  • 46% of lower income Americans do not own a desktop or laptop computer
  • 26% of lower income Americans rely on their smartphones for accessing the internet

This is not a new problem. However, COVID-19 heightens the issue by preventing people from accessing public resources that, in the past, could fill a temporary need.

How can organizations ensure that the digital divide doesn’t get in the way of hiring the right people? It comes down to supporting and accommodating the people you are trying to recruit. Here are a couple of ways you can create a more equal playing field for your job candidates, despite what types of devices they may personally own.

1. Make the application process mobile-friendly

If you haven’t already, now is the time to make sure that your job applications can be completed from start to finish on a mobile device. Not only will this yield you more applicants in general, but it will also make your candidates feel just a little more positively about the experience, and remove some of the potential frustration that can come from a clunky process. This includes making the video interview mobile-friendly as well as any assessments you might administer to your candidates. (Mobile-friendly game-based assessments can even make the process, dare we say, fun!)

2. Keep it short

While mobile user interfaces have improved immensely over the last decade, it’s hard to argue that it is a lot easier to complete most tasks on a computer than it is on a smartphone. A short and sweet application process is a best practice no matter the circumstances. However, if you expect more applicants to apply on a mobile device, it’s even more important to minimize the length of the application as much as possible.

3. Be more understanding in the video interview

Most candidates already have the jitters about doing an interview, and it might be even more disconcerting to engage in an interview remotely. The last thing the interviewee needs to worry about is if their internet goes out, if the audio quality is poor, or if their home doesn’t look the tidiest. If these little hiccups occur during a remote interview, treat them as a they are – a hiccup, and not a deal breaker. Not everyone can afford the fastest internet speeds or the newest laptop with a high-quality web cam. Judge the candidate based solely on what is relevant to the task at hand – determining their ability to succeed in the role.

4. Text your candidates

This certainly won’t work for everyone, but if you find yourself struggling to get responses from candidates in your funnel, consider texting instead of emailing. Open rates are significantly higher for texts than for emails (98% compared to 20%). Texts are also significantly easier to respond to on a mobile device than email, which makes it easier for candidates to have equal access to the application process.

5. Communicate expectations through the hiring process

Over-communicate with your candidates about what you expect from them. For example, before a video interview, send them detailed information about any technology they might want to download ahead of time, what device would be optimal, and any other tips to ease their fears. When communicating next steps, provide clear guidelines on when you expect to get a response from them. Simply alleviating some of the uncertainty goes a long way.

The digital divide isn’t going away any time soon. However, every employer wants to be able to hire the best people regardless of their personal means and their access to technology. To unlock the potential within your applicant pool, make sure that your application process meets the candidate halfway.