Before COVID-19, the office was thought to be pivotal to productivity, engagement and business outcomes. Companies invested heavily in physical spaces to attract and retain employees. Now that businesses are recovering, and we are getting used to this hybrid world of work, global corporations and SMBs (small-to-mid-sized businesses) alike are reducing square footage.

However, after initial reports of increased productivity and improved work/life balance, a wider talent pool and maintained productivity, research shows the widescale shift to remote working has come with challenges as well as benefits. We are missing the interactions that bind us and the benefits of learning socially that drive curiosity and continuous learning. We must reframe how we develop employees, teams and leaders.

Mitigate the Risks of Hybrid Working

Organizations must now focus on re-creating a culture of continuous development and truly flexible learning to mitigate the risks of hybrid working. Closely related issues like employee retention, employee engagement, productivity and strategies to improve business outcomes take new shape in this new era of remote and hybrid work.

While hybrid or remote working widens the talent pool, the job market is still highly competitive. Candidates are looking for organizations who make a commitment to professional development, and organizations will retain employees by doing the same. But today’s employees are likely taking on a heavier workload — perhaps paired with childcare or caring for elderly parents — and are looking for ways to fit learning and development into their already busy schedules.

Line managers are facing these same challenges and managing remote teams, often for the first time. They are trying to figure out how to ensure their people are happy, healthy and contributing to the goals of the organization. And the success of these leaders will have a direct impact on the employees under their direction. So how do you equip remote managers with the necessary tools to help their teams adapt and thrive? How do you help them identify existing gaps that could be holding them back from reaching their potential?

Meet Employees Where They Are

Current development programs need to be revisited in light of these new challenges. Creating a culture of continuous learning, reimagining the content that is most critical for success and offering personalized learning experiences all contribute to effective, behavior-changing developmental programs.

The hybrid workplace has made it possible for employees to participate in a development program when and where it best suits their schedules. A blended learning approach, deploying the best of synchronous and asynchronous learning, is adaptable to the realities of today’s world of work, no matter where employees are — whether they work from home, from the office or a combination of both. In addition to location, it’s also important to tailor development programs to where an employee is in their career path. Creating a program that’s adaptable to any stage of the talent life cycle helps organizations get the most out of learning and development investment.

Organizations can also use a combination of modalities to make development programs more accessible and digestible. For example, pair short eLearning sessions with virtual instructor-led trainings (VILT) and small group learning circles, followed by mobile-app-hosted knowledge checks. This will help to create an equally robust experience for everyone, regardless of the physical workspace. And creating comprehensive programs rather than one-time learning events helps employees tackle their professional development goals in a more manageable way.

A truly tailored development journey can prompt employees and leaders to take responsibility for their own progress. The best results can be seen when a custom learning roadmap is established for everyone, using data insights to target competencies that have personal and organizational value. This creates learning that is self-paced and bite-sized to fit flexible schedules, while being reinforced with competency-specific learning circles or coaching to promote and sustain behavioral change.

Develop Future-focused Skills

We are seeing a new set of competencies take center stage in the hybrid workplace, including digital dexterity, accountability, adaptability, building resilience, motivating and engaging employees, embracing diversity and emotional intelligence. Highly personalized and specific learning journeys can develop these critical skills for the future world of work, particularly embracing diversity and building resilience. Organizations will see a greater return on learning and development investment by leveraging solutions that work together and using assessment data to inform employees’ blended learning journeys.

When strategically placed, assessments serve as a tool to identify skill gaps. By testing to establish a competency baseline prior to eLearning, and again post-learning to evaluate knowledge gained, learning can truly be customized to an individual or teams based on top development needs. For example, a development program could be built to identify a precise blended learning journey to prepare an individual for a current or future role.

Real-time development from VILT can then build on these competency-based eLearning modules, advance “next-level” learning, and address targeted skill gaps and development needs to accelerate team success.

Desired Behavior Change

Finally, a successful employee development program does not end with knowledge gain. In fact, the knowledge gain signifies where change begins. Organizations and individuals feel the true value when they see and experience a more effective behavioral outcome from the learning. Regardless of the way content is distributed — eLearning, via Zoom or face-to-face — we must assist learners in identifying professional habitual goals. And provide real workplace scenarios in which they can apply their learning and develop skills to sustain desired behavioral change.

There is no better time to re-prioritize employee development. As hybrid workplaces bring more opportunity to organizations and employees alike, we are all working to navigate a new world of work. The more we can do to equip ourselves, our employees and the leaders of our organizations to adapt and grow through the change, the easier it will be to thrive in this new era and adapt to the opportunities and challenges ahead.

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