The past two years have propelled hybrid and remote work to the forefront, and it’s clear that they are here to stay. The flexibility, autonomy, and equitable opportunities that remote and hybrid work provide will only continue to separate companies that offer these benefits from those that try to return to “the way it was.”
Learning technologies, although often overlooked and underutilized, have the ability to define how successfully a company can adapt to this new, but inevitable future. In response to this new future, one of the best benefits employers can offer include flexible hours and the ability to work remotely. In some cases, this has included creating options for longer-term remote work, which has led to increased productivity, lower environmental impact, better employee branding and lower turnover. Now that the world is entering a new phase of the pandemic armed with additional information and experience, some workers find themselves in a hybrid work situation where they have the flexibility to work from home and in the office as needed. With remote, hybrid and office workers in mind, how do we solve for the blend of these situations while providing an equitable experience? A major way to solve for this hybrid way of working is through learning technologies.
The Power of Tech
While learning technologies were never intended to replace in-person interactions, they have had a significant impact on remote and hybrid workers onboarding to a new company, growing their career and developing relationships across the business. We’ve come to a point where learning technology has the ability to make or break a company’s future as we move to a hybrid work environment because it’s impact is no longer constrained to the onboarding or professional development portions of an employee’s tenure, but learning technology now has the potential to impact all parts of the employee experience. Let’s take a deeper dive into how learning technologies affect a remote or hybrid worker’s experience across three core areas: onboarding, continuous skills development and company culture.
Gone are the days when companies were able to fly employees out for a week-long onboarding experience at an office location. Not only does this require a new hire to leave their home and responsibilities, but it has a negative impact on the environment and is quite costly. It is well known that onboarding is a critical part of an employee’s initiation into a company and culture. A Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) article claims that 69% of employees are more likely to stay with a company if they have a great onboarding experience. It’s imperative that we use technology effectively to provide an exceptional onboarding experience and help employees onboard where they will work from long-term. Doing so is more inclusive of those who are disabled, neurodiverse, parents, caretakers or those experiencing mental health conditions. It helps employees gain first-hand experience on how the company approaches remote work while enabling real connections.
To support a remote and hybrid onboarding experience, technology solutions must include increased accessibility functionality to be equitable. Accessibility can mean many things when referring to learning technologies. Basic accessibility functionality that all systems should have include Section 508 compliance, support for screen readers, and closed captioning for videos. With hybrid workers needing increased flexibility, especially in these times of uncertainty, it is important to broaden our definition of accessibility to allow for technology that can be consumed on-demand. For this reason, it is important to leverage learning technologies that can host eLearning and other multimedia content, and that allow for asynchronous communication and collaboration.
Continuing Skills Development and Career Growth
Career growth opportunities have taken on a new level of importance when it comes to attracting and retaining talent compared to years past. Professional development sets learners up for success, enables personal and professional growth, and leads to 15% higher engagement and 34% higher retention rates than organizations that do not offer these opportunities. With a more distributed workforce, it is important for employers to provide technology solutions options that can reduce barriers to information, increase growth opportunities and foster connectedness.
Overall, learning technology plays a major role in hosting, facilitating, nudging and bringing awareness and an aspect of localization to professional development opportunities. Let’s take a tech enablement platform, for instance, which can elevate awareness and increase sign-ups for professional development opportunities and includes the ability to host content, live events, and filter learning opportunities by topic, date, or region. It’s important to consider technology that can aid in pairing employees with one another for more formalized mentorship opportunities, create cohort experiences or enable informal social connection, all of which assist in bridging the gap between the hybrid workforce.
Although learning technology isn’t the first solution that comes to mind when trying to improve or build company culture, if onboarding and continued skills development solutions are in place, they become the building blocks to enabling a culture that is inclusive of everyone, regardless of tenure, role or location. Technologies that offer some aspect of social learning can be instrumental in helping to not only enable remote and hybrid employees to feel included but to aid in building a culture of learning by democratizing it. As industries become more global in nature and the workforce expands to include new generations that place higher importance on organizational values and flexibility, it is important to provide opportunities and resources that can be accessed anywhere in the world.
There are ways to leverage synchronous and asynchronous video or broadcasting technologies (i.e., for company meetings, “executive ask-me-anythings,” external speakers, etc.) to better communicate the mission and vision of the company, allowing employees to create a direct connection between the work they do and the impact on the company thus fostering a feeling of connectedness and driving home the point that the company’s success is tied to the individual’s success. Opportunities to grow with one another, not just within the context of work but to grow as individuals on a personal level (through meditation, journaling seminars, sharing experiences, and other non-traditional connections) can increase feelings of inclusion because employees are able to bring their full selves to work. This, in turn, increases employee happiness and improves overall culture. After all, HubSpot’s 2022 Hybrid Work Report found that “culture thrives when it’s tied to employee experience, not location.”
Advice for Beginners
We caution you to start with a true understanding of the opportunity you’re aiming to solve rather than beginning to plan your tech offerings based on the features of the technology or testimonials from others. As Donald H. Taylor proposed in “Learning Technologies in the Workplace,” “Too often, learning technology implementations fail because they start with Planning, rather than Understanding, then jump to Implementation skipping over the need to Test first. By leaping straight into the intricacies of the implementation itself, and ignoring the need for scoping, the L&D team fails to understand the precise business needs, and the people who may support or impede the implementation.”
Furthermore, ease of use and connectivity from one technology to another can make or break adoption and the benefits technology brings. Take the time to fully understand your unique business needs, those of your learners, and what is currently lacking before making a purchase. And be intentional with the creation of communication guidelines and expectations as these are critical to success in a hybrid world which lacks the context previously obtained in the workplace.
As the world continues to find itself in the thick of a major reckoning of what it means to be a good employer and a good employee, L&D can become a major player in transforming the corporate landscape by implementing technology that allows for the experiences and connections that happen in person to occur asynchronously. The bottom line is that companies want the same level of productivity, connectedness and engagement that the in-office experience brings but they need to meet employees where they are now: That’s the key to attracting and retaining great talent.