A Mandate For Learning And Development For a Hybrid Workplace 0

As hybrid work takes off in 2021, there will be a renewed focus on employee engagement and wellbeing. Learning and Development professionals will need to take a more strategic and proactive role to help employees develop the skills and ensure the holistic development they need in order to navigate a new workplace environment. The idea is not just to up-skill an individual, but also to ensure that the learning strategies are well aligned with the organization’s key business priorities and performance.

Given the tectonic shift the pandemic has created, Talent Management is now among the top five priorities for most organizations, irrespective of their industry or market position. Hence, in such a scenario, Learning and Development needs to take a more strategic and proactive role to ensure the holistic development of people resources.

The nature of ‘work’ and ‘workplaces’ was already changing, but the pandemic has fast-forwarded many aspects of the ‘future of work’. We are entering a new era of work. The recent shift to remote working has driven humanity to reimagine how businesses and teams operate when in-person meetings are not possible. Organizations are now examining how to move forward – from establishing flexible work arrangements to ensuring a safe return to the office. Despite the challenges, we now have a unique opportunity to fundamentally improve how people work – wherever they are. The path forward is the ‘Hybrid Workplace’.

“If you want something New, you have to stop doing something Old” – Peter F Drucker

As companies open up to remote workers, on-site employees and gig workers, there is a need to rethink what the learning mandate is going to look like. The forced transition to remote work has put a strain on employee learning and development. A number of organizations are already charting the path towards the future by focusing heavily on reorganizing organizational priorities, workforce strategies & mapping the skill requirements required for the new normal and hybrid future. Business relevance and scenario planning are becoming increasingly important as learning priorities.

2021 offers a great promise for getting the pandemic under control, but no one is expecting we will just flip the switch and go back to pre-covid levels. The workforce has become more diverse, especially with a mix of digital immigrants and digital natives and it’s challenging to strike a balance to keep the employees engaged both at the office and in their homes. Given the tectonic shift the pandemic has created, Talent Management is now among the top five priorities for most organizations, irrespective of their industry or market position.

Hence, in such a scenario, Learning and Development needs to take a more strategic and proactive role to ensure the holistic development of people resources. The idea is not just to up-skill an individual, but also to ensure that the learning strategies are well aligned with the organization’s key business priorities and performance.

This article is meant to help us reflect on what all this change means for the Learning and Development function. It focuses on the following aspects: Learning for the hybrid workplace and the skills or competencies needed to thrive and succeed in the new normal. How can Learning and Development craft an overarching training agenda for a hybrid workplace?

These are challenging times and organizations are expected to grow and develop in critical areas. As Learning and HR Professionals, it is our job to help employees develop and master skills that make growth possible. To handle the challenges effectively, we cannot use the old ways of thinking or old tools. We have to offer creative and forward-looking solutions. There is a need to reimagine and power and purpose of learning more broadly. More importantly, beyond multiple technologies and domains, the ability to see the interconnected big picture is becoming the key.

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Metamorphosis of L&D

Learning has always played a critical role in the rapidly changing environment. It must enable employees to engage with and own strategic changes happening within the organization. Not only has learning taken on a preeminent role in the hybrid workplace, but it has also forced new learning paradigms quickly.

PwC US Work Surveys (2021) reported that there is likely to be a rise in spending on virtual collaboration tools and manager skilling and reskilling by 50 to 60 % in the 12-18 months. In another study by People Matters and Skillsoft, 8 out of 10 leaders, say that their main priority in the next year is to build capabilities for the future.

In order to help businesses navigate through the challenges, L&D leaders and practitioners need to look at who their learners are, what their preferences or learning styles are. Like hybrid species in nature, we are witnessing a workforce shift where companies evolve to a mix of permanent staff and freelance talent. Optimizing the hybrid workplace requires accelerating investments to support virtual collaboration and creativity, as well as identifying critical areas of capability development.

As employees transition to a hybrid workplace, they may face unfamiliar work situations when it comes to brainstorming, collaborating and problem-solving. To meet these challenges, organizations can leverage training and continuous learning. Today’s virtual collaboration and learning environments offer significantly more options than their traditional in-person counterparts, allowing organizations to deploy programs that meet individual training preferences while addressing technical and business priorities.

As the avenues for traditional learning have been ruptured, a lot of employees have expressed their interest in on-the-job learning, coaching, mentoring and crossfunctional live projects. Informal learning or non-structured learning is not mandated by the organization, however, it forms a critical part of learning, and especially in a hybrid workplace, it can play a significant role. It can give insights into interest areas, study patterns and engaging formats.

Corporate L&D professionals are grappling with the constant change. With the prospect of a return to office looming, L&D leaders will need to develop hybrid learning plans with the expectation that the employees will be split between in-office and remote locations. Experts believe that the challenge for L&D is to develop their own skills. In addition to what L&D Professionals were before, they now need to wear several hats – part futurist, part CIO and part design thinker, in order to build the skills their employees need for the future.

Learning Design for a Hybrid workforce is a challenge that needs to be well thought out. Whether it’s experimenting with new methodologies, personalizing learning journeys or measuring learning effectiveness, the innovative digital tools are going to play a significant role in boosting business. L&D Professionals must combine the flexibility of self-paced online training and resources with highly engaging live experiences. This model has the potential of achieving a high level of efficiency and effectiveness in training programs if executed well.

“Experts believe that the challenge for L&D is to develop their own skills. In addition to what L&D Professionals were before, they now need to wear several hats – part futurist, part CIO and part design thinker, in order to build the skills their employees need for the future.”

There are several challenges in utilizing this modality – for instance, determining how much of the learning experience requires live interactions. With the rise of social and collaborative learning technologies, there is a possibility of greater online interaction. It is easy to err on the side of too many live interactions & this needs to be watched out for. Maintaining engagement and persistence is a real challenge that can lead to dropouts and difficulty in making learning stick. This is a challenge that can be handled in various ways like reinforcing the importance of the program, a badge or certification, gamification, and behavioral triggers.

“With the rise of social and collaborative learning technologies, there is a possibility of greater online interaction. It is easy to err on the side of too many live interactions & this needs to be a watch-out. Maintaining engagement and persistence is a real challenge that can lead to dropouts and difficulty in making learning stick.”

Even after the pandemic fades, there is going to be a durable shift in the number of people working remotely. Organizations need to be thinking about delivering learning experiences through technology for the long haul. When transitioning to technology-enabled learning, L&D needs to focus on the science of how we learn differently in that modality vs classroom. Attention spans are different, content needs to be chunked and more interactivity is required. There are plenty of content players like Skillsoft, LinkedIn Learning, Harvard Business Publishing available, however, significant effort is required to create learning paths and curate content so that learners do not get overwhelmed with options.

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There has to be a stronger linkage between Learning and Engagement. Building a strong connection between engagement and learning partly depends on the relationship between the manager and the team members. In organizations, where learning infrastructure is not in places or where managers are not well supported, engagement scores may be low for indicators such as career growth opportunities, which can ultimately result in a lack of retention. Human Capital Management ( HCM) solutions are evolving to better integrate all these elements for a more seamless view of data throughout the talent lifecycle.

When transitioning to technology-enabled learning, L&D needs to focus on the science of how we learn differently in that modality vs classroom. Click To Tweet

Learning and Development need to evolve from the role of a content provider to the role of a facilitator. They have to take up the role of someone who creates superior engagement and accountability of learning. It’s time for L&D to embrace the change and lead the way while making learning truly inclusive, democratic, business relevant and aspirational.

Summary

For Learning Professionals, the canvas has grown larger and there is a need to take a bigger mandate. It must help business leaders, employees across the organization grow and adapt. Learning and Development Professionals have become some of the busiest people out there these days. They have become Pulse Survey Experts, Virtual learning Specialists, Experience providers. The positive outlook of these unprecedented times is that all of us have our creative heads on at all times. There is an opportunity to speak to as many people as possible. What would lure them back? What tools were they missing? How best could they access help and share learning on a virtual platform? It is important to focus on how you can help your people learn effectively and share effectively. It’s critical to ensure that learning emerges from the workflow and returns to improve the workflow. It is critical to be explicit about this.

The good news for L&D leaders who were ahead of the curve maturity-wise in their program before Covid, these sudden massive shifts shouldn’t be overwhelming. Those who had underinvested or had not effectively rolled out comprehensive digital learning strategy will have to play catchup both in terms of spending on technology or conversion of the content so that it can be effectively delivered in that modality.

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Head of Talent and Leadership Development, Trent Limited Manavi Pathak is the head of Talent and Leadership Development at Trent Limited. She is a seasoned HR professional with over 18 years of experience in HR Consulting and Academics. Prior to this, she has worked with some big names in the industry namely, TATA Motors, Cipla, KPMG to name a few. Complementing her rich consulting experience in the field of Talent Management, she maintains a strong academic interest in this area. An alumna of XLRI Jamshedpur, she has done her Ph.D. in Organisational Behaviour. Her specialties include - Talent Management, Psychometrics, Assessment, Leadership Development, Competency Mapping, Organisational Change, and Executive Coaching.

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