20 August 2020

How will learning and development evolve as we come through the pandemic?

People sitting around a screen in work environment

Nearly six months on from the biggest shift change in people’s daily work routine some of us continue to work from home, while others are making a return back to the office.

While none of us know what is around the corner, it is inevitable that we will continue to blend home and office working.

It is not just office workers though who have been affected. The economic impact of the pandemic has forced organisations to bring forward future scheduled changes to infrastructure and resources. Take IAG for example, parent company of Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia. They have been forced to accelerate the decommissioning of their older airline fleets impacting the pilots and cabin crew who operate them. A pilot friend of mine was looking forward to spending the last few years of the Boeing 747 Classic ‘Jumbo’s’ operational life when all of a sudden they were decommissioned almost overnight forcing him to embark on a month-long re-training schedule to transition to the Boeing 787 fleet.  So, all of us no matter our age or profession, are having to embrace new ways of communication and learning.

The impact of remote working on learning

There is an interesting dynamic around how people learn and their preferences in terms of styles and behaviours. Most of us at some point in our careers have completed some form of personality or learning styles assessment, whether it be Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Belbin’s Team Roles, or Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles or any of the other numerous variations on the market. I am a strong believer that as in life, people grow, change, and develop their preferences, so these are not set in stone but equally these may also impact on how we perform and contribute in the new world of work.

Where perhaps in the past a certain style or preference did not support an individual’s ability to contribute in a face to face meeting or discussion, online discussion forums have allowed them to excel as the ‘playing field’ has been levelled with the introduction of online meeting etiquette and the ability for all ideas and questions to be heard equally.

Conversely, this may have the opposite effect on individuals who revelled in face to face interactions but now feel less empowered in an online discussion forum where the physical energy and inter-personal cues and responses may have been removed.

Either way, the ability to learn and embrace change will be crucial in an individual’s ability to develop and progress in the next normal. Change has happened on an unthinkable level and those organisations who were either trying to facilitate or introduce these changes through technology such as Zoom or Teams will have used this situation to their advantage and those are the ones that will continue to grow and thrive.

Like Personality and Learning styles there are also the different generations of employees and how they reflect on the world they work and live in whether they be:

  • Generation X: 1965 to 1980
  • Generation Y / Millennials: 1980 to 1996
  • Gen Z: 1995 to 2015

The ability and speed that individuals either embrace or expect technology to support their learning and development varies, millennials often being referred to as living their lives through technology and social media, therefore, adopting new technology more quickly.

Remote working offers increased opportunities for learning and development

While people will often focus on the negatives of the pandemic and the impact on lives physically and mentally, it has presented an enormous opportunity to businesses and individuals alike, as the often talked about but rarely comprehensive implementation of remote working has come to fruition. All the organisations and businesses promoting such a shift will have revelled in this transformation and reflect on all the previous marketing and academia articles predicting this as the future of work.

Individuals now have access to employment and learning opportunities that were previously out of their reach. Google, Twitter and Facebook are all high-profile organisations that are embedding remote working as a standard option. So, in theory my long-term goal of working in my current field remotely from the Algarve in Portugal, is more achievable. Likewise, organisations who were previously located near to the required skill set of individuals for their business such as Silicon Valley, can source talent from anywhere in the world.

Managers and businesses will need to learn how to manage and support their people based on their skills and output and not on physical presence. Likewise, individuals can develop their learning via the use of remote online learning such as Future Learn or UDEMY. Our traditional universities and their expensive real estate overheads may become irrelevant and will need to reinvent themselves to enable them to support future learning requirements.

The opportunities created and the extent of the impact of the pandemic could not have been envisaged and perhaps for some these opportunities are still hidden behind the human cost and financial impact. However, when that dust settles and the economy bounces back, the workplace will look and feel very different to before and that’s what we all need to realise, and embrace this once in a lifetime change that has taken place.

Graham Johnson

Graham Johnson is a Senior HR Consultant with People First and is responsible for working with customers and partners to help them provide a return on their investment in both their HRIS such as People First and the associated harder to quantify benefits to their employees performance, engagement and subsequent enhanced productivity levels. Graham is a Chartered Member of the CIPD and holds a Post Graduate Diploma in HRM and an ILM Level 7 Post Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching and Lead

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