I’ve been thinking about workplace literacy lately. I’m thinking especially about professional offices (not so much the shop floor — my experience there is a lot older than my experience in front of a computer).

It seems to me that we are in the midst of a major change in how work gets done. Again. But people in management and leadership positions are increasingly unable to operate effectively within this environment. They are reliant on others to do simple tasks, or they work very inefficiently.

Keyboard and Encyclopedia by Flickr user brad.rourke

"Keyboard and Encyclopedia" by Flickr user brad.rourke

This is nothing new. Professionals have always had to learn new things and update their skills — using voicemail, getting by without a receptionist, learning how to use Word, Powerpoint, and Outlook.

Now, with so much work taking place almost completely within the digital, online realm, there is a new set of basic skills that every professional ought to have. People need to have a basic facility with online tools.

This is my list. I’ve probably missed a few items. What would you add?

  • How to make hyperlinks. In the professional world, people are sharing links more and more. It is important to understand what a link needs to have, what it does not need to contain, and how different programs parse them. This may sound like rocket science, but it’s not.
    • Always start a link you are emailing with “http://”. Why? Because most email readers look for that to tell them to make something into a clickable link.
    • Include only what you need to. Lots of links are longer than necessary. For instance, look at your Facebook address. Everything after the “?” in your Facebook address is extraneous. How can you tell? Try deleting parts of the link and see if it still works! “http://www.facebook.com/bradrourke?ref=name” is functionally the same as “http://www.facebook.com/bradrourke
    • If it’s really, really long, consider using a url shortener like bit.ly. Why? Long links can get brokenb when they word-wrap. Short links don’t!
  • Read and edit simple html code. This sounds scary but it is not at all. There are many occasions when you are adding something into a text box that will accept rudimentary html — for instance, most blog comment boxes (like the one at the bottom of this post). Facebook notes also use it. Knowing how to use basic html puts you in much more control of what you are doing. Some tips:
    • To make something bold or italic, surround it with the right tags. Use <b>WORD</b> to make bold and <i>WORD</i> to make italic. See how it works? There’s a tag that says ‘turn on bold,” then there’s the word you want bold, then there’s the tag that says “turn off bold.” Simple!
    • To make a real-live html link, you use the same kind of system, with an “opening” and a “closing” tag. Let’s say I want to make the word “Brad” into a link to my blog. Do this: <a href=”http://blog.bradrourle.com”>BRAD</a> See? the “<a href=”blah”> part says “here is a link and here is the address. The “</a>” says “OK, now the link is over.”
  • Control metadata in documents. Someone shared a Word document with me that was supposed to be anonymous. I easily found out who wrote it with just about three clicks. That’s because of what’s known as the “metadata” embedded in all Microsoft Office documents. Professionals need to know about and be able to control that to avoid embarrassment.
    • To look at and delete metadata in Office 2007 (the newest version), click on the big round button in the upper left of your document and choose “Prepare” then “Properties.” That’s where you will see who wrote the document, and various other useful bits of information.
  • Use search tools. This sounds crazy, right? How hard is it to type something into the Google box? But you’d be surprised.
    • People should know how to control their search results through the use of quotation marks. For instance, if you search for me by typing in my name, you will get lots of sites about Brad Pitt and Mickey Rourke. You need to enclose my name in quotes to get me!
    • People also need to know how to use the + and – signs. Add “+” before a word, and you are telling the search engine, “this word must appear in the results.” Use the “-” sign and you are saying “only give me results that do not include this word.” Let’s say there are two Brad Rourkes (there are). You might make sure you find me as opposed to the other guy by searching for “Brad Rourke” +Maryland.

These, to me, are just basic skills but I encounter a number of people who seem to be flummoxed by them. I do know there are others. What’s on your list? Let me know in the comments!