How to Keep Newly-Remote Workforces Learning Continuously

COVID-19 is a challenge unlike any of us have faced before, and that includes HR leaders: the largest global remote working experiment ever attempted is now underway.

New polling indicates that up to half of US workers have now transitioned to working from home. That’s more than double the fraction recorded in the last official US government survey in 2017-2018. In absolute terms, this shift comprises over 30 million people in the US alone.

62% of employers globally may indicate they have a flexible working policy in place, but there are differences between maintaining a flexible policy and transitioning an entire company to remote work. This is particularly true with regard to learning and development (L&D) initiatives: one of the most difficult hurdles HR must now face is the loss of a shared space for teams to learn and build new skills.

As the co-founder of Sharpist, I speak to HR leaders about this challenge every day. While each company’s culture is unique and requires a tailored approach to drive learning, there are a few common strategies that can benefit people teams in organizations of any shape or size:

1. Ensure progress is measured and communicated frequently.

One of the historical pitfalls of L&D is the inability to quantify measurable impact. In its absence, initiatives like team leadership seminars and offsites end up seeming like “just more work” (or worse, “just free lunch”) to participants, and like a distraction or frivolous investment to management.

Here, a digital approach to remote learning presents an opportunity. HR can finally do away with the paper printouts and colored markers, and start looking at hard numbers to justify the success of L&D initiatives. I recommend tracking and reporting the following three metrics:

  • Goal attainment. Not only is it possible to track and measure learners’ progress toward goals, but it’s also critical for overcoming the perception that the L&D initiative is a luxury.
  • Learner satisfaction. Just as importantly, are the learners bought-in and engaged with the progress they’re making? Staff happiness means staff retention.
  • Manager & peer feedback. It’s possible to capture this digitally, too; furthermore, it validates that progress isn’t just being made, it’s making an impact.

On our platform, the three most popular goals learners are working toward are Work-Life Balance, Leadership Skills, and Communication. With a proper digital framework in place, it’s possible to track progress on these or any others they set together with trainers.

2. Make time for learning by setting guardrails against overwork.

One of HR’s biggest barriers to driving L&D is simply securing time and space for it. It might be tempting to believe that remote teams will be more empowered to learn independently without management breathing down their necks, but this is a false assumption. New research shows remote working frequently leads to longer workweeks, as the borders of office hours are more easily blurred.

HR’s best way forward here is to ensure that digital learning becomes a habit. That means designing programs with frequent and brief learning tasks outperforms half-day or full-day multi-module monoliths. Our data shows that 5-minute tasks completed every few days is optimal for ensuring growth remains a continuous mindset, rather than an occasional diversion.

3. Promote a growth mindset by celebrating champions of culture.

With lots of teams now distributed remotely, it’s tempting to let customs and traditions that recognize internal champions of culture fall to the wayside. After all, HR has more pressing challenges to worry about, it’s harder to keep track of individual wins, and everyone’s making the best of a tough situation.

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However, it’s more important than ever that proper recognition is given to cultural leaders. In these challenging times, management should devote time in its all-hands conferences to celebrating heroic efforts, and give those who set an example a platform to share how they’re coping and contributing.

They’ll be remembered for it, and they’ll be empowered to share their perspectives on personal and professional growth more broadly to motivate colleagues. Their stories of success are key to preserving a strong shared company culture.

4. Use tech to give your L&D programs a personal and human touch.

Employees who have just undergone a dramatic change at work, like a shift to working remotely, often find themselves presented with a new and unfamiliar set of hurdles to overcome. For HR teams, it can be difficult to adapt initiatives on the fly to keep pace with a fast-changing landscape and uncertain future.

But the tough truth is that our industry simply can’t afford to take weeks or months to prepare L&D initiatives anymore. We need a faster, more adaptable, and more personalized approach.

Nowadays, organizations like MIT Sloan Management Review are leading the way in digital modular learning content. Paired with face-to-face video sessions with human trainers, their online resources can be deployed to address the issues that are top-of-mind for learners in the moment, and help HR drive personalized learning at scale among workforces.

This not only helps learners push the business forward; it drives engagement and company loyalty by showing that HR is truly in touch with their needs and fears. And in the unprecedented times we find ourselves in, that’s never been more important.

Fabian Niedballa is the cofounder and Chief Operating Officer of Sharpist, the digital ecosystem for personalized learning & development. Prior to founding Sharpist in 2018, Fabian served as Head of Sales and Supply Operations at travel experiences booking platform GetYourGuide. Fabian hails from western Germany and holds a Master of Science from Bocconi University.

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