The Eight Must-Have Skills for Information Workers

These days, a high proportion of the population of developed countries are employed as information workers. That is, they don’t produce physical goods, but instead spend their time creating, developing, sharing and consuming information.

As a general rule, if you have a computer on your desk at work, you are an information worker. The chances are, you’ll also use e-mail a lot of the time, and have access to the Web.

Because desktop computers crept into our work-lives slowly, there was never a point where the corporate World stood up and said “right, everyone to the training room!” Instead, people often have had to learn the generic skills necessary to be an information worker themselves through trial and error.

Many of these can be considered Soft IT Skills – you are unlikely to go on a specific course to learn them unless that is your speciality, but those that develop even a few of these can see dramatic improvements in their productivity and career.

I would like to outline what I believe are the 8 “must-have” skills for information workers. Most people have a basic grasp of all of these, but each can be improved significantly.

  • Ability to find things online
  • Ability to determine the accuracy of what they read
  • Communications
  • WIMP interface
  • Office programs
  • File management
  • Security and Access
  • Managing Your Attention

Ability to find things online

Most people use a small fraction of the capabilities of search engines, limiting themselves to two or three-word phrases. Understanding the shortcuts, advanced features and how search engines actually work can allow you to find almost anything online… within seconds.

Other research resources – such as Wikipedia – can also be used, but an understanding of when and how to use these is needed (see the next skill).

Ability to Determine Authority

As it becomes easier and easier for anyone to publish things online, without having to get permission or approval, the Web is full of (sometimes dangerously) inaccurate information.

Being able to cross-reference things, and seperating fact from opinion.


E-mail is the communication medium most talked about. From the basics like sending and receiving, to more advanced issues like understanding how to minimise SPAM.

Also, Instant Messaging (IM), Voice-over-Internet-Protocols (VOIP – e.g. Skype), Message Boards.

Understanding the benefits and disadvantages of synchronis and asynchronis technologies.

WIMP Interface

The “Windows, Icons, Mouse and Pointer” system that has been standard across Windows, Apple and Linux computers since the late 1980’s. This replaced the old command-line interface as the main way to access your files.

Also, how you change your desktop and computer settings.

Office programs

The big three are Word Processing, Presentation and Spreadsheets. Not only how to create files in the these formats, but also how to integrate and pass information between them.

File Management

From filetypes (e.g. Word documents end in .doc, photos end in .jpg) to backing up files. Understanding that not every computer can read every format, and the reciever may need additional software installed to read particular formats.

Security and Access

This falls into two categories – technical security (e.g. computer Viruses, Firewalls, etc) and information security (e.g. sending confidential reports via e-mail, dealing with third-parties, access to personal information).

Managing Your Attention

With the exponential increase in the amount of information available over the past decade, the ability to decide what to pay attention to is now more important than ever. Being able to manage the use of the Web, so that you don’t spend all day browsing sites. Being able to stay focussed on information directly related to your job, while filtering out the rest.

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