Ramesh Ramani explores how technological innovation is transforming how L&D can deliver to dispersed hybrid teams
They say change comes in waves. If that is indeed the case, what has unfolded in the last two years has been a tsunami. The conventional barriers that used to define the world of work haven’t just been eroded, they’ve been thrown out altogether. The shift to remote and hybrid working, the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’, the push for a four-day working week, and sweeping digital transformation – these boundary-breaking trends are changing the work environment, creating new challenges and opportunities for employers. But to conquer those challenges and capitalise on those opportunities, companies will need to change how they engage, train and develop their teams.
For many businesses, geography is no longer relevant. Remote productivity has allowed them to cast their recruitment nets far and wide, sourcing the best candidates for the best roles without restriction. Job titles have gone the same way, with businesses now hiring and promoting based on experience and skill instead of roles and resumes. What we’re witnessing is the rise of the ‘boundaryless enterprise’ – a truly global workforce that transcends culture and geography, giving rise to teams of cloud-connected digital nomads. As far as the traditional nine-to-five goes, bots and bodies have replaced bums on seats.
Yet, despite this tsunami of change, there is one constant – the need for training, learning, and development. If anything, the erosion of boundaries in the workplace has made training all the more essential, and the mechanics behind it all the more complex. Ensuring that employees are engaged and receive streamlined and consistent levels of training, learning, and development, often with oceans between them, is a challenge that virtually all businesses are now beginning to undertake.
Today’s immersive digital learning environment and delivery systems reduce context switching, the enemy of productivity and learning
By far the biggest pain point training managers will face in 2023 is creating effective learning experiences that can cross the digital boundary. That means not only adapting content to a broadening variety of skill levels, jobs, candidates, and even languages but also figuring out the technology that enables them to deliver such content in a meaningful and engaging way.
The effectiveness of delivering this form of ‘boundry-less training’ can be measured in five distinct ways – engagement, collaboration, accessibility, automation, and personalisation. Let’s take a look at each in greater detail.
Engagement: Building digital bridges
We’ve known for some time that engagement is directly linked to performance and retention. According to one recent whitepaper, companies with engaged employees outperform their competitors by as much as 202%. Troubling then, that according to one global survey, only 20% of employees actually feel engaged with their work.
The modern workforce is eager to enhance their skills and expertise to boost their job performance. More than 70% of workers say they’re willing to learn new skills or even re-train to stay employable or earn promotions. The problem is that these employees aren’t being heard and are much harder to cater to in a diverse and boundary-less environment. Some 90% of C-suite executives, for instance, claim to “consider employee needs” when introducing new technologies, yet only 53% of staff members agree.
For instance, digital training tools such as gamification, often overlooked by management teams, can foster healthy competition and collaboration between colleagues. All-inclusive tools can offer gamification along with other immersive activities such as quizzes, polls, and video messages.
Collaboration: tearing down the barriers
No employee should be an island. Learning is better when it’s collaborative. The sharing of knowledge and expertise, improved teamwork, enhanced problem-solving, and a healthy company culture, are all knock-on effects of collaborative training. When we consider collaborative training, we often think of a classroom or office environment, but the same level of collaboration can be delivered through video conferencing tools and interactive digital experiences.
What’s more, encouraging tools such as leaderboards and the sharing of information via comment sections and audio clips can make remote collaborative learning even more effective than in-person training – particularly when there are dozens or perhaps even hundreds of participants.
Embracing accessibility: training anywhere
The greatest challenge for learning managers is also their greatest opportunity. Where conventional training practices are reliant upon people being in the same place, often constricted by common language and culture, remote training that is digitally powered can break down these barriers and open the door to more talent. This digital-first advantage will be crucial as businesses adapt their learning and development practices for the current generation. Gone are the days of relentless app-switching, replaced instead by fully-integrated Learning Management Systems (LMS) that are immersive and meet employees where they are, allowing them to complete training anytime, anywhere, without interrupting their daily workflow.
With old legacy systems, employees had to complete training on their desktop computer in their offices. For field workers, for example, this can significantly hinder and delay employees getting ongoing certifications and training they need to meet do their job and meet compliance regulations. Furthermore, old legacy systems required an employee to navigate to a separate system, thereby interrupting their workflow.
Today’s immersive digital learning environment and delivery systems reduce context switching, the enemy of productivity and learning. According to a study by the American Psychological Society, context-switching in the workplace can reduce productivity by as much as 40%. Additionally, research conducted by Harvard Business Review found that employees who are regularly required to switch contexts while completing tasks experience increased stress levels and a decrease in overall satisfaction with their work.
AI and automation: a world of possibilities
Picture a world where learning and development (L&D) professionals can optimise their training programmes using data-driven AI the same way marketing teams can optimise their services for customers. For instance, AI might be able to make better course recommendations based on an employee’s performance, career goals, or style of working. And gone are the days of one-size-fits-all training. Different people learn differently, so why should they sit the same course, with the same content, delivered in the same way?
There’s not an industry not racing to mine AI applications for business. AI for training and development is no exception, and we are already seeing how it’s enabling training programmes to become more personalised, cost-effective and efficient. AI can be used in various ways to assist with training, including providing virtual assistants that can facilitate interactions with learners, as well as automating feedback with assessment tools that can provide real-time analysis of employees’ performance. Additionally, AI can create personalised learning pathways for each employee based on their specific skills and roles.
Personalisation: Especially important for a global workforce
Gallop reports that nearly 80% of employees worldwide are still not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. Engagement is measured by how much an employee feels personally invested, effective, and enthusiastic in their work. Creating more personalised learning not only holds the potential to increase the success of training programmes but improves employee engagement and job satisfaction and helps them achieve their personal and professional goals. Brandon Hall reported that 93% of companies strongly believe that personalised learning helps improve organisational performance and individual performance. But, according to Gartner, evolving employee demographics and the digital workplace mean that learning initiatives will fail to meet expectations without better personalisation. And it’s an area that L&D professionals are most eager to implement. CompTIA Workforce and Learning Trends 2020 report found that L&D professionals are most excited (58%) about emerging technologies that use personalisation and adaptive learning over other L&D trends.
AI can also help training become more personalised for training global employees of various cultures because it can help bridge language and cultural gaps. LMS systems can include National Language Processing models that can be trained to understand and respond to various dialects, allowing trainers to provide language-specific training content to reach a wider variety of people. Additionally, AI can be used to personalise content based on each individual’s culture, helping to ensure that learners receive relevant information and feedback tailored specifically to their needs and background. Finally, AI can also help facilitate interactions between learners from different cultures, allowing them better opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
The world of work may have undergone a tsunami of change, but the eroding of traditional barriers has simply opened up a new era of limitless possibility. However, to make the most of these possibilities, the need for training, learning, and development is more important than ever. The difference is, that training will need to be delivered in a way that reflects the borderless world businesses now occupy. The future of work is here, and it’s global.
Ramesh Ramani is co-founder, president and CEO of ExpertusONE