Learning is a mix of formal training, learning from others and on-the-job learning. Usually, we pick up knowledge, skills and advice from watching coworkers solve problems and through interacting in an office environment. So how do we ensure continuous learning when the communal office spaces and water cooler chats have been taken away?
COVID-19 has accelerated our adoption of remote work practices. Currently, nearly twice as many employees are working from home than at their workplace. Workers like the flexibility of remote work – 72% of US workers say they’d like to work from home at least two days a week post-COVID and a third (32%) say they’d prefer never to go to the office again.
Going forward, HR teams, line managers and employees may need to accept remote work as the new normal – and work together to ensure employees have the opportunity for continuous career development while working remotely.
Here are three ways to embed continuous learning in the workplace and future-proof your workforce.
1. Create a culture of continuous learning
Organisations must create a culture that supports ongoing learning. From just-in-time learning to close a specific skill gap, to upskilling people for future positions, continuous learning helps employees thrive within their workplace.
HR can drive this learning revolution, but it requires buy-in from all stakeholders – from C-suite to line managers and employees. Crucial to creating a culture of continuous learning is facilitating ongoing performance management. Managers can craft development plans with remote employees to address learning for skills required now, and map out skills that will be required in six months, a year and into the future. Mapping out these skills means employees and managers have a reference point to guide them on the continuous learning journey and can measure their progress. Be sure to schedule regular virtual check-ins to track progress and address any roadblocks.
2. Empower employees to lead their own learning
We’ve seen a shift away from corporate top-down driven learning towards employee-led learning. Over half of employees (58%) want to learn at their own pace depending on their requirements, development needs and interests. It’s still important for managers to suggest ways to improve, with 56% of employees saying they would spend more time learning if their manager suggested activities. Managers should set aside time to check in on their team’s learning and offer new challenges and opportunities.
The number one obstacle for employee-led development is employees making time for their learning – especially when working from home presents a raft of new distractions. Employees need support from leaders and managers to create this space and time.
To reduce friction, learning should be built into daily activities and available on-the-go from any device. Organisations are creating personalised learning paths that develop employees in their current role, next role and future career paths.
Employees also expect to learn on-demand when, where, and how they choose. Those working from home often want the flexibility to learn outside work hours, on whichever device suits them best. To meet these expectations, organisations are employing social collaborative tools, cross-functional project-based learning, creating online learning marketplaces and structured mentoring forums.
Social learning is particularly effective in engaging remote employees: 87% of employees say that sharing knowledge with their team is critical for learning. With 34% of organisations already investing in social learning tools, offering people a chance to share knowledge with their peers is becoming a crucial element of an always-on learning culture – and a great way for people to stay connected with their teams.
3. Connect continuous learning to career development
It’s important for managers to provide coaching and learning opportunities for their teams, even without regular in-person interactions. Nearly three-quarters of employees who felt empowered to drive their career say that their manager was active in supporting their development.
As a manager, be proactive in clearly connecting learning opportunities with cross-functional projects, secondments, and internal mobility openings which are aligned with employees’ career interests. This helps employees to see the different career development paths available to them, and identify the skills needed to get there. Development activities should be aligned to future career aspirations as training without the ability to utilise skills learnt may demotivate individuals.
Creating a foundation where employees are supported and encouraged to engage in continuous learning takes time, effort, and resources. But the more an employee knows, the more they feel connected to the organisation and motivated to succeed. Investing in continuous learning will help create skilled, engaged employees who can help an organisation weather any challenges the future holds.
And finally, it’s an ongoing journey…people used to develop skills for a specific career: nowadays the career itself is a journey of constant learning. Globalisation, a global pandemic, and the introduction of AI mean the workplace of today is constantly evolving and is starkly different to ten years ago. Likewise, the approach to learning needs to constantly evolve and change to create the workforce of the future.