Remote work has been around for quite some time, especially in industries where employees can perform their work with just a computer and an internet connection. It allows businesses to access a larger pool of potential talent and increase productivity and retention rates, as employees focus more on their performance and develop a better work-life balance.
Of course, the picture is not always as rosy as it might seem. Remote work comes with its specific set of challenges, including communicating information effectively across technologies and time zones, tracking employee performance, creating a cohesive company culture, or fostering social engagement among employees.
The number of people working remotely was already on an ascending trend, and with the restricting measures taken by governments around the world to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, the numbers have skyrocketed. Businesses are scrambling to find immediate solutions to ensure business continuity through technology.
In a pandemic, having a job that can be performed from the safety of their home makes remote employees lucky, even if they don’t always feel that way. Many employees who are new to remote work are struggling to adapt to working from home, often in spaces that were not designed for working (the kitchen counter, anyone?) — all the while juggling extra caregiving responsibilities and other worries.
We’re living in challenging times. However, work must continue — and so must learning at work. Professional learning and development (L&D) do not become less important because employees work from home. On the contrary, the job of L&D departments is crucial in supporting and easing this sudden transition to remote work.
Since we’re “#InThisTogether,” L&D professionals have their own challenges to overcome. Here are some ideas on how to approach three of them:
1. Fostering a Cohesive Company Culture
In these uncertain times, it’s nice to have a safety net to fall on. Organizations that already had a strong company culture built on trust and that encourages knowledge-sharing will have a smoother transition to remote work.
Employees and managers who already trust each other will find it easier to extend that trust in the online world, where face-to-face interaction and impromptu meetings can’t be as common. Likewise, people who are already accustomed to supporting their co-workers’ work and sharing their knowledge will adapt to the online communication more quickly and will continue to collaborate almost undisturbed.
A strong company culture is a key piece of the puzzle of adapting to remote work, one that will help with related challenges. If an organization’s culture is weak, it will be obvious for all decision-makers, and after this period is over, its mending should become a priority. Now, however, L&D professionals should focus on developing the company culture by designing training that supports building trust and sharing knowledge sharing among remote employees and managers.
For example, you might create modules to train leaders on how to keep everyone up to date, how to set expectations and performance goals, or how to establish communication rules and channels. For employees, you could target where to find information, how to communicate with colleagues or how to make remote work actually work for them.
2. Making the Most of Online Learning Technologies
Technologies that support training come in various shapes and sizes, but an learning management system (LMS) is a cost-effective solution that meets employees’ learning needs whether they work in the same space or they have to keep their distance.
A cloud-based LMS can enable L&D departments to create and distribute training materials, enhance the learning experience through the use of gamification or interactive scenarios, personalize it for each employee through adaptive learning and feedback capabilities, track learner progress, and assess the results of a training intervention. What’s more, because it’s on the cloud, everything can be accessed securely online.
Besides training, an LMS can support other business functions that are especially important right now. For instance, the communication and collaboration features of an LMS enable everyone on the team to work and interact online within the same platform. Most LMSs also integrate with third-party tools such as videoconferencing and document management, etc., making it a central hub for many work-related activities.
3. Ensuring Continuity of Learning
Professional development has climbed high on the list of reasons people join and remain with a company. Many jobs, and many industries, are highly competitive, and employees know that learning makes them more valuable.
Due to the coronavirus, we are all spending more time at home. Fortunately, online learning can happen at home. From learning a new language to learning a new business skill, there is nothing stopping people from learning a new skill that will help them grow professionally or personally.
As a learning and development professional, it’s important for you to support these initiatives. Face-to-face courses with an instructor are out of the question. So are many trade shows and other professional get-togethers. As with anything else related to remote work, the solution is, of course, online. Whether you have the resources to create courses, collaborate with external subject matter experts (SMEs) or just search the web in for relevant online courses, ensuring the continuity of learning for remote employees will pay off.
The global pandemic has disrupted the lives of many people, in multiple and intricate ways. Businesses, employees and L&D professionals have to navigate both old and new challenges and design new processes that will meet the needs of both today and tomorrow. One thing is certain: People will continue to learn and develop long after this global health threat is history.