Gautam Tambay talks about culture, AI and the challenges of engaging remote workers
Many employees are anxious about their professional futures. The rapid development and adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) has created widespread fears of job displacement, the persistence of hybrid work has fundamentally changed how employees interact with their colleagues, and the global economy is becoming more competitive all the time.
People teams are responsible for addressing these concerns by preparing employees for the evolving global economy and building a healthy company culture.
L&D programs have never been more important
With widening skills gaps, relentless technological advancement, and growing employee concerns about their job prospects, L&D programs have never been more important. These programs need to be capable of fully engaging employees, which means addressing their unique needs and personalising the educational process with a human touch.
At a time when employees are spending more time interacting with technology and less time working with colleagues directly in the office, establishing a human-centred culture is critical for improving employee engagement and preventing feelings of isolation.
One-size-fits-all training isn’t up to the task of preparing each employee for the future of work and sustaining the human connections that employees need to flourish. The L&D professionals who construct upskilling and reskilling programs upon a foundation of human engagement will put their workforces in a much stronger position to adapt and succeed in 2024.
Make training more focused on the human
One enduring feature of the modern workplace is the shift away from face-to-face encounters with human beings. Although many companies are ordering employees back into the office, McKinsey reports that in-person attendance remains 30% lower than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees are demanding greater flexibility in how and where they work, which suggests that hybrid work is here to stay. While there are benefits to this transition (less commuting, lower overhead, etc.), a lack of human contact can take its toll on employees.
A recent survey found that fully remote and hybrid workers have an increased risk of anxiety and depression symptoms than in-person workers. 64% of executives reported that remote work negatively affected employees’ mental health in 2022, while 73% said workers were feeling isolated. L&D programs are an excellent way to address these feelings, as long as they allow employees to interact with real human beings. These programs should always be centred on learners – the skills gaps they’re working to address, their career objectives, and so on.
Approaches to the human connection
There are several ways HR teams can make L&D more human-focused. For example, a cohort-based approach in which employees learn alongside their colleagues will help deepen relationships, build a sense of community, and drive cross-functional collaboration.
One-on-one mentorship is also critical to keep employees engaged and motivated, improve L&D completion rates, and personalise learning experiences. By making employees feel like valued members of the team, L&D leaders can address feelings of isolation and burnout while working toward a more educated and adaptable workforce.
Present AI as an asset rather than a liability
Although many employees are worried that AI will replace them, 87% of executives “expect job roles to be augmented, rather than replaced, by generative AI.” People teams need to actively address this disconnect, as the perception among employees that they will soon be made redundant by AI can lead to severe drops in morale and productivity. Considering all the ways AI can make work less monotonous and more creative, L&D professionals should show employees that it offers tremendous opportunities.
Employees are of two minds about AI – while 49% say they’re concerned that it will take their jobs, 70% say they would be willing to “delegate as much work as possible to AI to lessen their workloads.” However, 70% of employees also say they never use AI, while a majority say they don’t believe they’re prepared to work with it.
It’s clear that L&D leaders have a lot of work ahead of them to prepare employees for the workplace of the future – one that’ll be significantly transformed by AI – but it’s also clear that employees are eager to learn.
Three-quarters of employees say they’re “ready to learn new skills or re-train to remain employable in the future.” This represents a significant opportunity for HR teams to simultaneously develop more innovative and productive workforces while meeting employees’ professional needs and aspirations.
Building a company culture that puts human connection first
It’s no secret that companies are facing an employee engagement crisis. Gallup reports that just 23% of employees are engaged at work, while 60% can be defined as “quiet quitters”, being psychologically disengaged from their jobs. The same report found that employee stress is at a record high, while a 2022 survey reports that 58% of American employees say work is the primary source of their mental health challenges.
Trends like the permanence of hybrid work and the adoption of AI can either exacerbate or alleviate these problems. “Engagement and culture” were at the top of quiet quitters’ list of changes employers could make to turn their companies into great places to work – both of which can be improved with human-centred training. Over two-thirds of company leaders say remote and hybrid work have “impeded employee training and development,” but this doesn’t have to be the case.
Human-led training can be provided that’s relevant to each employee’s needs and goals, regardless of where they happen to be in the world. As the demand for online learning grows, L&D professionals need to remember that there are plenty of ways to humanise these experiences – from one-on-one sessions to group discussions.
The pandemic reminded us that we crave human connection, and providing opportunities for these connections is crucial in an era of AI and hybrid work. Key elements of engagement are the perception that someone at work “seems to care about me as a person” and “I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.” L&D professionals must be capable of providing these opportunities in a way that makes employees feel valued as individuals. The impersonal training currently offered by many large companies and LMS providers isn’t sufficient – employees need a more personal and human approach.
While all the changes taking place in modern workforces can be intimidating and alienating for employees, HR teams can help them adapt by giving them the skills they need in a way that embraces them as unique human beings.
Gautam Tambay, co-founder and CEO of Springboard