COVID-19 has irrevocably changed the business landscape and as Australia starts to formulate a new model of work, one thing has become clear; the role of learning and development (L&D) has transitioned from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’. According to a recent Linkedin Learning report, there was a significant spike – 130% increase- in the amount of time employees globally, spent learning on the Linkedin Learning platform. That’s an additional 4.8M hours- equal to 454 years- of learning since the pandemic was declared on March 11. Furthermore, the report also asked L&D professionals if their CEOs were active champions of L&D initiatives and 70% said yes. In comparison to the number of CEOs that considered this a priority just seven months ago, there’s been a drastic 159% increase. So, why the dramatic uptake in learning initiatives? And more importantly, what has caused the shift in attitude from L&D being an aspirational goal, to becoming a necessity?
Through forcing everyone to adapt to new ways of working, the pandemic has been able to demonstrate the importance of learning. Before covid, many employees didn’t know how to properly set up a home office, teleconference, formulate a virtual onboarding program, or transition events to an online platform. Ultimately, investing in L&D helps to cultivate resilience and adaptability in an organisation, which is something that businesses require in order to grow and develop post 2020.
What Topics Will L&D Focus on Post COVID-19?
- Stress & Wellbeing
While organisation’s were aware of the positive impact mental health had on their workforce prior to the pandemic (in terms of both employee morale and overall productivity), COVID-19 has emphasised new dimensions of mental health that workplaces now have to consider. With everyone migrating to remote work and having to adapt to strict social distancing restrictions, many workers have reported feeling nervous, restless and depressed. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, since the start of ‘lockdown’ in April, two in five (41%) working Australians have felt restless and that everything was an effort and one in six people (17%) have felt the need to seek professional help due to growing levels of depression and anxiety. The reasons for these heightened levels of anxiety and depression are due to a number of compounding work factors:
-Feeling isolated from managers, colleagues, and support networks
-Changes to work demand- either experiencing higher or reduced workloads
-Limited control over their job
-The blurring of boundaries between home-life and work-life
-Poor environment conditions (for example, a limited internet connection or lack of space for a proper workplace)
While the combination of remote working and social restrictions have triggered heightened stress levels for many, they are also things that for the foreseeable future are sticking around (in some capacity). So, employees need to learn to adapt to their new working situation and develop tools to overcome these negative feelings weighing on their mental health and negatively impacting their work productivity. This is where an organisation’s L&D resources step in. According to Linkedin Learning, 10 times as many learners watched courses on mindfulness and stress management during April, compared to February this year. Meanwhile, 69% of L&D professionals said that supporting mental health and wellbeing has become a new part of their role since COVID-19. As organisations start to move forward and realise the priority being placed by employees on mental health and wellbeing, we will start to see it play a bigger part in the organisation’s L&D curriculum, particularly in regards to mindfulness, stress management and resilience.
- Productivity & Time Management
While multiple research has been conducted on the productivity levels associated with working from home, this research didn’t factor in a pandemic. Many employees have found that since the start of covid they’ve felt more distracted while working from home. This could be because of obvious tangible distractions like having to look after or homeschool children or sharing the same work space as partners or housemates who are also working from home. Alternately, it could be due to more intangible reasons like a lack of stimulation and motivation. Several studies have proven that face-to-face interactions can help foster creativity and inspiration in workers through the ‘swapping of ideas’ or knowledge sharing that is easily facilitated through physical interaction. People have also started to identify with Bill Murray’s character from ‘Groundhog Day’, finding each day blends into one when they don’t have a change in scenery to symbolise the transition from work to home. This has meant many struggle to remain focused or keep to a schedule.
With a significant portion of employees working from home for the first-time, Linkedin Learning has found many individuals searching for ways to better manage their time and remain productive. Even veteran remote workers are looking to acquire new skills to work effectively in this unprecedented environment. According to L&D professionals, keeping employees motivated and productive has been one of the top five learning challenges of this year, and a key focus going forward. Like starting any new task, the more knowledge we have prior to performing the task, the better equipped we’ll be in performing it well. Consequently, many organisations are providing their employees with tools like online resources on productivity, educational videos on setting up an at home work space to minimise distractions and mindfulness exercises to help break up the day and restore focus.
- A Commitment to Ongoing Learning
While upskilling- investing in learning programs which aim to develop an employee’s skills and capabilities- has always been a key priority for L&D professionals, many believe it will take on more importance as businesses move forward and adapt to changing market demands. Suddenly Australian airlines can’t operate domestic flights and Qantas has had to stand down over 400 employees. Retail workers have had their hours cut down in half and organisations across the country have had to restructure their business models. Because of this many individuals have had to switch to completely different roles to stay employed; roles that they may have no prior knowledge or experience on. This was the case for VP of Global Learning & Development at Telecommunications company Verzion Lou Tedrick, who had to work out what to do with all of their company's retail staff when they were forced to temporarily close all of their retail stores. Lou and her team decided to provide the necessary training for each affected staff member, so that they could learn the skills required to be redeployed to other areas of the business like customer service and telesales. Amazon did a similar thing with their own staff, reportedly spending $700 million to upskill about a third of its workforce, according to a McKinsey report in July.
This changing landscape has reminded L&D professionals why upskilling is so important, as it allows a business to remain agile and adaptable during significant periods of change. A commitment to ongoing training and development of staff is therefore vital in helping businesses overcome environmental challenges and exploit them for their benefit, rather than allowing them to be the cause of their demise. Ian Cook, vice president of people solutions at BC-based company Visier suggests that the best way to do this is to focus on training that aligns with an organisation’s business goals rather than training for jobs and functions. This year we have witnessed the lifecycle of many different roles end and this could continue as we try to rebuild our economy. Consequently, Cook argues that it makes more sense to orient learning programs towards a company’s key objectives like product innovation and creativity rather than a specific job like broadcast scheduling which could potentially be made redundant through automation. Career expert and psychologist Suzie Plush also recommends organisations to focus on developing an employee's transferable skills; the human-based skills that don’t relate to the technical components of a particular role but are core-competencies that are required across all jobs. Examples are skills like emotional intelligence, adaptability and empathy. These types of skills according to Linkedin, are vital to the future of work because one, they can’t easily be replicated by technology and two are required in all jobs, so having a workforce that possess these skills ensures they can always provide value to the company.
Learning & Developing at Design & Build
With change occurring not just in our industry, but the industries we recruit for, Design & Build have made L&D a priority and focused on developing our own customised model, where each consultant’s potential is addressed and evaluated. The aim first and foremost, is for each consultant to be able to identify any gaps in their skillset- skills that they feel are integral to further develop their career (not just for the role they perform now) or skills they aren't confident that they've harnessed yet. Once identifying the gaps in an individual’s knowledge, developing their skillset becomes ten times easier because training efforts can be focused. If a person feels confident in their ability to empathise with clients for example, but struggles to embrace changes in their routine, the L&D department can focus on strategies and methods that can improve adaptability; especially considering adaptability is a transferrable skill and can provide value in any direction the individual wants to take their career.
Once consultants have identified the areas the areas they want to develop, the next issue becomes training. Research has proven that each person has a preferred learning style, whether that be visual, auditory, kinesthetic or reading/writing. To ensure we can efficiently train our consultants and accommodate all learning styles Design & Build incorporate a blended learning approach. This consists of:
- Knowledge sharing- where a consultant who specialises in one skillset or knowledge base, demonstrates their learnings to the greater team. Not only is this a cost effective strategy for the business, but research has indicated that it's also great for fostering employee engagement and innovation within a company.
- One-on-one coaching - this occurs with the learning and development team and provides consultants with a chance to deep dive on specific areas or work scenarios they wish to develop.
- Educational resources (including books, webinars and courses).
Ultimately, this year has thrown us many curveballs across all areas of life and work, and there are still many unknowns for how businesses will navigate the next few years. However, as reflected in Linkedin Learning's latest survey, the best way businesses can prepare for these unknowns is through investing in their learning and development resources. L&D can help cultivate resilience within an organisation's employees and foster innovation, allowing workers to find new ways to thrive in the workplace of the future.