If you haven’t embraced the “new normal” yet, it’s time to face reality. The workplace will never be the same. Learning and development (L&D) professionals are tasked with providing relevant and engaging learning experiences for a distributed workforce at a time when the stakes have never been higher. Employees are leveraging the current economic climate to job shift, look for increased flexibility and potentially change careers. At the same time, organizations are rethinking their team structure, revising projections based on supply shortages and demanding high performance from employees at every level.

How Will the Way We Define the Work Environment Impact Our Approach To L&D?

Many work environments are no longer defined by the physical aspects of an office building. The blurring of lines between work and home has become seamless, with employees switching between project and home tasks throughout the day, enabling them to increase efficiency and productivity.

Team member demographics also continue to shift as companies hire global talent to get the best of the best and utilize contractors to make the most of their resources. According to Gartner’s “9 Future of Work Trends Post-COVID” report, “32% of organizations are replacing full-time employees with contingent or contract workers as a cost-saving measure.”

As we plan for 2022 and beyond, consider the following when designing for the blended workplace:

    • When creating training programs that will include contractors, what additional information might they need to fully understand and act upon the concepts covered in the training?
    • How inclusive is your training strategy? Do all employees feel as though they are part of the group, or do some feel like outsiders, due to their employment status?
    • Have you considered how to manage on-site employees who may want to attend a virtual training session as an in-person group?
    • How might you adjust your training plan to accommodate for global team members who are located outside of the home-office time zone?

When March 2020 hit and the U.S. moved work and school into the virtual space overnight, L&D teams had to scramble to come up with a new plan. Not only did they have their existing training programs (many of which were planned for in-person environments), they now had an entire workforce that needed training on how to maintain productivity and manage teams in a virtual office environment.

How Has Our Approach To Learning Shifted as a Temporary Situation Turned Into Lasting Change?

L&D is tasked with creating learning that can be delivered online or in person, asynchronous, but also allowing for discussion, topic-focused and highly relevant for each role in the organization. Let’s look at some strategies we can implement to guide planning moving forward.

Strategy 1. Plan for Multiple Delivery Methods: Why limit a learning experience to only online or only in person? People need options. Recently, my team created a 20-minute eLearning that could be easily converted into a 60-minute face-to-face session with a facilitator. The content remained the same; we simply tweaked the flow and some of the activity directions to allow for face-to-face discussion versus online interactives. We knew at the beginning of the project that multiple delivery methods were desired, and we planned the design accordingly.

Strategy 2. Take Learning Out of the Classroom: For large-scale training initiatives, don’t limit content to the classroom (virtual or physical). Identify your key points and create a communication plan for sharing them before and after the training. Get creative with how and when they can be embedded into other communications or events in the organization. For example, if your organization has recently changed to a new learning management system (LMS) and you need to get people up to speed on how to use it, identify two or three key messages and then send them out in a catchy video and post it on your company communication platform. Perhaps host a Q&A session with your chief learning officer about the new tool. This will raise awareness of how to use the tool, drive people to the training event and generate higher adoption rates.

Strategy 3. Rock the Virtual Live Events: Sometimes it’s just easier to get everyone on a video call. Whether learners are in the office, at home, on the road or an ocean away, communication platforms are now a part of the typical workday and can be quite useful, especially when time is tight. But if you are going to go this route, especially if you have in-person groups logging in together, you must be able to keep their attention. Content alone will not keep people engaged. Consider the following:

    • Have a facilitator who is different from the trainer. People get tired of hearing the same voice the entire time.
    • Use your virtual meeting tools: polls, whiteboards, breakout groups and meaningful chat activities help to keep people focused.
    • Require video on for all participants and regularly switch between slide view and gallery view. People want to see each other when engaged in discussion activities.
    • Do not go more than one hour without a break. Give your learners time to check their email, to message a co-worker, to get up and walk around. Build this into the schedule and communicate it in advance so learners can manage their expectations.
    • Add a competitive element. Conduct a pop quiz, give points for speaking up or providing input through chat, add in something fun to give learners a quick brain break.

Strategy 4. One Time Does Not Fit All Zones: Chances are your organization has expanded its talent search to include new hires who are outside of the physical office time zone. Additionally, many workers have taken advantage of flexible working hours to better accommodate family needs. Working nine to five has changed to working sometime between the time you get up and the time you go to bed. L&D must now consider offering multiple times for synchronous training events. If your attendance numbers have dropped in the last year, consider reaching out to your learners to find out what barriers are preventing their participation.

Strategy 5. Consider the Expanding Learning Audience: The gig economy began before COVID, and it has only gotten larger as a result. It is becoming more common to hire contractors for extended periods of time as opposed to hiring them on as full-time employees. This strategy helps organizations manage costs during the ebbs and flows of their business. A potential flaw in this method is that these “outside employees” are often not privy to organization initiatives, particularly within L&D, and therefore they miss out on key information that will help them better collaborate with their internal partners. As we continue into 2022, it will be important to include all who can benefit from the training, to ensure that workflows remain efficient, consistent and productive.

How Can We Leverage L&D to Turn the Great Resignation Into the Great Retention?

In the current economy, employees have the upper hand and are on the lookout for better benefits, more opportunity and potential for personal growth. While salary still plays a role, the truth is that no one wins when it becomes just a numbers game. Employees who get starstruck by a big jump in salary may quickly find themselves disappointed if the culture of the new workplace leaves them feeling underappreciated. As L&D leaders, we play a key role in helping our talented team members feel valued, to identify opportunities for growth and development and to know that they are part of a company who truly wants the best for them. To do this we must:

    • Support our team members throughout their careers: When an employee is promoted, what are we doing to ensure it is a smooth transition? Onboarding is not just for new hires. Work closely with your HR team to determine the key skills that will be needed in the new role and create a structured learning plan to help that team member succeed.
    • Be proactive in showcasing talent: What best practices do you see in your organization? Who is creating these, and who else could benefit from knowing them? L&D doesn’t have to have a monopoly on learning — how can we enable high performers to share their expertise across the organization?
    • Reduce ambiguity: We’ve had two years of uncertainty and people are tired. How can we work with our leadership teams at all levels to increase empathy, promote decision-making and encourage transparent communication?
    • Utilize upskilling and reskilling as a key retention strategy: According to a recent Korn Ferry report, 75% of surveyed employees who plan to stay with their current organization for at least five years cite “opportunities for learning and development” as a key factor in their decision.

L&D has an opportunity to increase the value we provide to organization stakeholders by embracing these challenges and renewing our charge to always put the learner first. The “new normal” is here to stay, and who knows, we might just be all the better for it.