Updated on 07.10.17

The Overlooked Job Skill That Could Be the Key to Your Next Raise

It’s time to come clean about something that brings me shame: Up until a few years ago, I was a “hunt-and-peck” typist. I only used five fingers, and I had to look down at the keyboard every few seconds while I worked.

I know, I know. I was supposed to learn “touch typing” — all 10 fingers dancing around the keyboard without looking down, choreographed by muscle memory — during a middle school computer class. Unfortunately, I spent more time secretly playing computer games with my friends than focusing on learning the craft of typing. (Sorry, Mrs. Ames.)

When I started freelance writing, I figured it was time to get my act together and learn how to type like an adult. I was sick of slogging through assignments doing the five-finger shimmy.

I eventually got my act together, and I’m so glad that I did. Not only am I more efficient with my work, but the latest research suggests that remote workers who can type well are giving themselves a big leg up in the workplace. Touch typing on a physical keyboard, so overlooked in a world of smartphones and voice recognition devices, could hold the key to quicker promotions, more prestige, and higher paying positions.

The Research

A recent study out of the University of Iowa showed that those who can type quickly are more likely to emerge as leaders of remote groups. That’s a direct correlation between typing speed and being perceived as a high performer.

It goes without saying that high performers at work get promotions and raises more quickly. Thus, better typing skills should lead to higher salaries. Somewhere, Mrs. Ames is reading this and thinking, “I told you so!”

The Iowa study found that “individuals who can type faster are able to more quickly communicate their thoughts and drive the direction of a team.” In my experience, that is spot on.

I’ve been a part of innumerable Skype chats with people from all over the world. When things get tense and critical business decisions have to be made, my chat window will fill up with little “thought bubbles.” These indicate that multiple people are typing at once.

Whoever gets their thoughts written (coherently) and sent the fastest has the best chance of driving the conversation. It’s simply human nature. We want to follow a fearless leader, and quick, decisive writing indicates someone who is bold and confident. My company has a fairly flat structure, where input from many voices is taken into account. In offices like that, speed definitely matters.

Furthermore, the nature of both chats and email chains is such that any responses must at least acknowledge the content that came before it. If you completely disregard what someone has said before you, you run the chance of coming across as arrogant and also confusing people. If you want to have your voice heard, it’s best to be a fast responder.

But accuracy matters as well. If you’re always replying quickly but you misspell a bunch of words, that will reflect poorly on you. The researchers noted that individuals were only perceived as leaders after “taking into account both speed and accuracy.”

That being the case, you want to take the advice of legendary basketball coach John Wooden: “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” You’ll be much better equipped to do that if you’re a confident touch typist.

The Rise of the Remote Workforce and ‘Business Chat’

Each year, more and more Americans are spending time working outside the office. As of 2017, “43% of employed Americans said they spent at least some time working remotely,” according to the New York Times.

These workers are relying more and more on Skype, Slack, and similar “business chat” technologies. Slack, in particular, has been growing like crazy. The young company is already valued at over $1 billion. There’s a lot more “business chat” going on via keyboard communication than even just a few years ago. Meetings are dying, and text-based chats are taking their place.

If the rapid adaptation of chat services by big companies is indicative of a trend toward more written communication in the workplace, than employees who can type clearly and quickly will only increase in value over time. This applies whether you work remotely or not.

Resources: Teach Yourself How to Type

If you’re hiding in the hunt-and-peck closet and you’re ready to step out into the light, a quick Google search for “how to type” will serve you well. There are tons of free online tools to help you improve your skills. I found the free lessons at Typing.com to be intuitive and challenging. Plus, they make it easy to chart your progress.

Most community colleges offer typing courses as well. If you learn better with an in-person instructor, those would be a great option.

In my case, breaking my bad habits was really hard at first. Muscle memory is powerful. Try eating your morning cereal with your weak hand, and you’ll get a small feel for just how difficult it is to build up new fine motor skill pathways.

But, keep in mind that this is not like learning to speak fluent Mandarin Chinese. Within a few months, you can go from being an embarrassingly slow typist to one that is above average. I am living proof.

Summing Up

If you’re interested in learning one skill that has a low barrier of entry and a high return on investment, touch typing is a great choice.

Steve Charlier, who led the Iowa study on typing and leadership, puts it best: “Individuals who can type fast are simply able to communicate more information within a given period of time. In turn, adept users of electronic communication are more likely to set strategy, drive conversations, and influence work teams as a whole.”

If you have dreams of improving your standing at work, becoming a great typist can be one of the keys to making them a reality.

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