The impact of remote learning has been regularly questioned in recent years as it becomes a familiar occurrence in organizational learning and development (L&D) practices. As many people began working from home out of necessity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations quickly developed new ways of supporting their remote employees in their learning to satisfy changing needs. These were often viewed as temporary, or “until things return to normal,” policies that gave short-term solutions to employees in need.
Fast forward three years and the debate of remote versus in-person learning only continues to pull in more leaders, who then become the subject of studies aimed to either garner support for or unanimously dismiss remote learning. The theme of many dismissive studies in favor of in-person instruction is the same: remote learning hurts organizational culture and, thus, leaders must choose one or the other. The misconception of culture versus remote learning undermines the benefits remote learning brings to organizations when done correctly.
There are valid concerns surrounding remote learning’s impact on culture that leaders must recognize and address when setting the organization up for success. In one study, they found that remote employees feel less supported than their in-person peers in certain aspects, such as office politics, prioritization and communication. A key finding of the study was that “when remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84% said the concern dragged on for a few days or more.” This significantly impacts remote employees’ work and, through a training lens, negatively affects their capacity to learn and develop. These are major organizational concerns, and it makes sense for leaders to consider terminating remote work or learning opportunities, thus bringing people back in person to better experience their company culture. However, there is a clear middle ground that nullifies the false narrative of culture versus remote learning.
Leaders can make sustainable long-term options for remote learning based the short-term solutions implemented in the early stages of the pandemic. A key thought to integrate into the design process that supports this is that “remote” does not equal “isolated.” If an organization solely focuses on asynchronous learning options, such as eLearning in a learning management system (LMS) or “read when you can” policy updates, they are isolating remote learners and hurting the connections that build their culture. Instead, learning leaders can introduce modified synchronous learning opportunities by hosting virtual roundtables or interactive presentations that bring employees face to face through a screen. These people-forward activities, alongside the necessary asynchronous options, enhance the learning experience across the board while simultaneously bringing employees back to the culture of the organization.
Another way to avoid disengagement in remote learning is to use people’s desire to win when creating a culture-centric remote learning plan. The Peloton at-home stationary bike offers a prime example of this. According to Slate, a large factor of success for Peloton has been “simulating the experience of gym classes and communities with virtual group sessions.” Fitness classes inspire people to get to the top of the leaderboard, and Peloton has capitalized on this with a remote program aimed at friendly competition. Learning leaders can take a lesson from this — create excitement for learning that spreads to all employees and rewards the most active learners for their involvement. This is often referred to as the gamification of learning and is crucial to a remote learning plan that supports organizational culture.
To summarize, the misconception of organizational culture versus remote learning is dangerous to organizations looking to develop their talent through the changing business environment. The all-or-nothing approach to in-person versus remote learning alienates employees and can deter them from participating with the culture of the organization, meaning leaders must approach the topic with adaptability. By introducing a blended learning strategy of both independent study and virtual group sessions, organizations can support their employees and culture without displacing anyone not physically present. Furthermore, these options should gamify the learning experience and drive employees to friendly competitions with their peers, regardless of their location.
When organizations engage remote employees through learning, they mitigate the risk of isolation and maintain their culture without ever pitting the two against each other, avoiding the common misconception that culture can’t exist alongside remote learning.