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How can businesses recover from lost employee development opportunities?

Donna Stephenson, Commercial Development Director - Office of Soffos

Throughout the past twelve months, the remote work environment has been something of a mixed bag for firms as far as employee training and professional development is concerned.

From communication breakdowns amongst dispersed workforces, to delayed training courses and unimaginative e-learning tools, organizations have had to grapple with a number of teething problems. Adjusting to new procedures has naturally had a spill-over effect into their ability to support staff career progression: 39% of UK businesses recently surveyed by Soffos stated that they have struggled to make time for training, while similar numbers (36%) have generally found it difficult to train and develop employees when they are not based in the office.

Now, with the limitations and benefits of remote work much clearer, it is high time that business leaders begin evaluating their employee development schemes in line with the future of the workplace – or risk losing out on talent. Significantly, a separate study of over 1,235 UK employees found that one in five (22%) would consider leaving their job in the next 12 months if their employer does not invest more actively in their professional growth.

One of the best ways any company can show support for its employees is to empower them by bolstering their development. With this in mind, here are a few considerations to bear in mind…

Investing in digital infrastructure means more proactive learning
Firstly, businesses must address some of the more glaring issues associated with working from home setups – and for many, this has been the lack of occasion for collaboration, coupled with poorer organizational communication. Indeed, over a third (38%) of employees have lamented the missed opportunities to learn from and collaborate with colleagues while working from home.

Although this does not need to be the case with adequate infrastructure and procedures in place, it can be easy for employees to forget that they are working as a part of a team, or a wider organizational culture. When we work in our own individual “bubbles”, this can lead to crossed wires and miscommunication, as well as the inability to stick to all-important plans for upskilling. In many cases, businesses will have postponed or cancelled their training until these initiatives are able to take place fully in person – but with more individuals showing a preference for flexible working practices beyond the span of the pandemic, this will no longer suffice.

Instead, business leaders should look to up their investment in digital platforms that actively encourage – not just enable – collaborative training to take place in remote settings. Gamified learning portals, for instance, make practical activities like training more compelling, and using it appropriately can boost participation rates in online courses.

For less geographically centralized businesses, work must be done to deliver a cohesive and focused training programme to sharpen employees’ sense of emotional engagement. Platforms that use push notifications to actively prompt employees to engage with new knowledge will encourage them to keep up to date with their training, rather than letting these plans fall by the wayside. Enterprise applications of virtual reality (VR) headsets meanwhile can bring an element of peer-to-peer learning to the hybrid working model, with younger employees sure to benefit from greater collaboration with peers and mentors through real-time guidance.

With communication more scattered in the hybrid working environment, it is also high time to split training programmes into more manageable chunks that can be completed in smaller phases. Microlearning is the order of the day, with modern platforms able to provide short training sessions that don’t require a full day’s attendance at a seminar or conference. An important added benefit is that employees can easily fit short 10- or 15-minute sessions in and around their daily responsibilities when they want to brush up on their knowledge of a particular subject.

Particularly with state-of-the-art AI-powered solutions coming into play, individuals will be able to pick up where they left off when they last engaged with digital learning materials, with the platform keeping up a consistent line of enquiry until they have demonstrated a full understanding of the topic at hand. Although many of these technologies are still in the nascent stages, as these programs have the ability to learn continuously, this means that there will be no question that is beyond their remit in the years to come: employees will be able to pose questions and receive clear and succinct answers at any time and place. Meanwhile, the self-directed nature of AI-powered learning solutions means that individuals are expanding their knowledge and skill set out of interest, rather than obligation – a key element of successful lifelong learning.

Thankfully, as 43% of the organisations surveyed by Soffos state that they plan to invest in artificial intelligence to deliver more advanced employee training within the next 12 months, the future of learning and development (L&D) looks set to be more pre-emptive.

Finding solutions that provide actionable business insights
As companies scrambled to leverage eLearning solutions to solve the operational challenge of delivering training remotely, many have been disappointed with the effectiveness of the chosen platforms. In fact, a third (33%) of employees say that the tools offered by their employer were too generic to help with their professional development.

To remedy this, organizations must therefore look beyond solutions that simply provide run of the mill knowledge towards those that can provide sophisticated data analytics to curate custom-built training schemes for each employee. Platforms that have the ability to provide comprehensive business intelligence can be extremely valuable in this respect. Not only will they enable administrators to discover and act upon granular insights, such as individual progress and employee metrics, but they will also equip business leaders with the resources they need to fill identified knowledge gaps.

Positively, the majority of UK businesses (52%) intend to invest in data analytics over the coming year, to allow them to better understand the strengths, weaknesses and needs of employees. Through these insights, business leaders will be able to more easily motivate members of staff to upskill and re-skill, as well as assess performance against job-specific competencies and core company values.

Ultimately, while businesses have faced some stumbling blocks throughout the pandemic, most will now be in a position to reassess their ways of working and make up for any lost development opportunities. In many senses, now that many of the technological and structural barriers that prevented remote work for so long have been torn down, the opportunities are endless for the future of remote L&D.

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