I was particularly happy on a Friday morning, as after the full year of online communication, it was declared safe for me to visit colleagues in some of the branches and have a first-hand experience of how it feels and looks to be there for our clients every day. For the past year, during all the lockdowns and virus scare, we all had to adapt rapidly and still keep the business running and support our clients through the very difficult time.
Unlike other areas within the organization, our colleagues in the branch network were not able to utilize the remote work options at first, as online advisory and communication with clients was not the omnipresent possibility back in March 2020.
In the first couple of months of the pandemics, working from home became learning from home for many of the colleagues. All learning content was rapidly transformed into online formats so that all employees can have immediate access and use the time to either catch up on obligatory training or invest in self-development, ranging from well-being to remote leadership and home office tips and tricks.
What they told me in retrospective was that the last twelve months had been the period they learned the most, by being pushed daily to learn and adopt new skills needed to be there for clients both offline and online.
We all experienced a learning leap (apart from mastering staying safe and sane), having been forced to rapidly adapt and acquire new skills without a huge training program and detailed rollout plans. There was no instruction manual for what was about to unfold and we learned on daily basis, from how to share the screen on collaboration platform to providing advisory services to our clients from the comfort of our home or an office. We were nudged by the reality around us, learned from trial and error, realizing after a year what a difference in our skillset we have compared to year ago.
Changing to learn- learning to change
Even before the pandemics, our world has been rapidly changing, with transformation serving as the corporate mantra, only to be accelerated by the contagion that transpired, forcing us to adopt new ways of working. To adapt, we need to gain new skills fast in a way that does not add to the busy schedules, but integrated in an unpretentious way, like little pills of knowledge, ready to take them when needed.
Corporate learning has been changing for some time already, transferring more and more content online, into bite sized digital lessons, available through the apps, podcasts, videos, or blogs. Artificial intelligence or machine learning made the platforms into a sort of the Netflix of learning, with content generated based on our personal needs and profiles. Gamification has become the name of the online (learning) game, making content as engaging and fun to keep participants active through the process, with incentives tailored to their own preferences.
Variety of internal and external content was being made accessible through several clicks, with employees having the possibility to choose to log in or opt out, decision which was impacted by how captivating and beneficial the content was.
We cannot predict the future or if there is the next pandemics looming behind the corner, but we for sure can say that designing training programs to respond to a particular need, will no longer be sufficient or adequate. We cannot even predict the skills we will need in the next three to five years, as our whole industries are undergoing huge transformations and our HR functions are in the race to provide personalized learning content within an environment that offers possibilities for advancement and applicability of the newly acquired knowledge.
Coming back to my colleagues from the branch network, priorities had to be reshuffled swiftly and on that particular Friday, there were several colleagues unavailable to chat, as they had “advisory video call in progress” sign put up on their desks. Huge leap from the “do not disturb Skype status”, isn’t it?
What happens next?
After a long time of unprecedented challenges of online work, we are now longing for face to face meetings, sharing in person and bonding as teams again, but not necessarily breaking out for a day or two day long training sessions (if it is not a crash course in yoga and mindfulness J).
Knowledge comes in different sizes and formats, and even though there are promises of creativity and focus to come packaged in a bottle or in the form of gadgets, to learn new skill still requires effort and guidance from the more experienced tutor and our own self-drive to change and get ready for something completely new.
Solving an equation of how to add learning time into already busy day, battling numerous calls, online meetings, keeping up with family needs and hopefully finding some time to tend to personal needs and recharge, proves to be the one of the biggest challenges for any company.
This is the momentum we should cease and rethink the corporate learning to support people for the jobs of the future.
Learning and development teams need to think how to design and integrate learning into everyday jobs and make it valuable for individuals, teams and leaders. Time is of the essence and scaling the training initiatives to a wider audience, just in time and just in the right size and format, will either benefit or hinder the growth of any organization.
Our job as leaders is to provide the space for learning, making it integral part of the daily work schedule and not another obligation that vane in importance in the light of looming deadlines and endless meetings and calls.
We can no longer rely on training needs surveys and setting up the adequate response to identified needs. We are witnessing the widening digital skills gap, where it is no longer about a selected group of highly specialized people who need some special knowledge and skills, it is rather about equipping all our people with essential digital literacy to thrive and grow in the ever evolving labor market requirements.
Furthermore, we live in a sort of Darwinian epoch of learning, making it essential to evolve and adapt to a different echo-system of corporate environment – requiring us all to build more resilient, diverse and sustainable corporate systems.
Most people are intrinsically motivated to learn and develop skills that would help them protect from potential future shocks and keep them employable. Social and ethical responsibility of companies is to provide for possibilities and opportunities for such learning to take place, and develop psychologically safe environment, where it is ok to make mistakes, as to learn is to also make mistakes and stumble until we get it right.
We all know that learning is vital for any organization, but making it right and breaking from old habits is another cup of tea. Only in banking industry, the skillset changed tremendously over the last couple of years, only to be sped up in the last year, with the learning happening in real life, not in the classroom, deeming it much more effective.
Therefore, the secret recipe to getting learning right is to find the equilibrium between the format, speed, accessibility and love for what we do in order to get ready for whatever might await us.
Finding ourselves being able to do something we did not even think possible is the best proof that only learning will keep us getting ahead.