Gauging the sentiment of L&D professionals in response to Covid-19
Whilst L&D professionals continue to play a leading role in supporting thousands of tenured and new recruits to meet the demands of remote working during Covid-19, maintaining and improving competency is a completely different proposition.
If our NHS is continuing to lead the charge against the pandemic, then L&D professionals continue to be the ‘front line’ workers when it comes to mobilising, supporting, and training their colleagues in an ongoing work from home (WFH) environment.
Yet is there a real concern from some in the L&D community that their efforts are not having the positive outcomes needed to engage employees in training, sustaining in-role competency and mitigating compliance risks?
CEO of Elephants Don’t Forget, Adrian Harvey, said: “At the end of 2020, we conducted a study which was distributed to over 2,000 L&D professionals with the objective of gauging the sentiment as to their achievements, concerns, and primary issues in relation to working through Covid-19.
"Our analysis concluded that 92% of companies are now including a greater amount of digital content and virtual support in their strategies, with 84% stating that they are now offering an online knowledge store that employees can access. 65% of companies reported that the volume of self-selection training materials has worryingly remained the same or has decreased during the pandemic.
"However, just 3% of companies said that they had seen a large uptake in employees engaging in self-selection training materials online. 68% said their primary concern was that employee learning would suffer because of a lack of peer-to-peer contact. In terms of training delivery, 94% said they would now prefer to use a combination of face-to-face and digital learning in the future.
"Overall, our study highlighted three commonalities shared by the respondents: employees have not been as responsive to engaging with online materials as some L&D teams would have hoped for; there is a strong case for new models of training delivery that firms should consider for the future; and that the default training models provided by most businesses have, in the majority of cases, been ‘lifted and shifted’ online in the hope that competency, KPIs and productivity would remain the same as in an work from office (WFO) setting.”
There is little doubt that the pandemic has shifted the traditional learning and development landscape; in terms of model of delivery, monitoring productivity, and working expectations from employees. As a sidenote, in a recent YouGov survey, it was noted that 57% of people that were working before the outbreak and who intent to stay part of the workforce said they want to continue working from home once the pandemic is over, adding more fuel to the fire that L&D teams may need to look at adapting their training and onboarding processes for the future.
If this is the case then, how can L&D teams adapt to facilitate robust training models for the future that satisfies the criteria for social interaction, continued employee development, and in-role capability and productivity in a WFH setting?
To further strengthen the need for an answer to the question posed, in a pre-COVID-19 study conducted by Elephants Don’t Forget – which analysed over 74m individual employee interactions from some of the world’s best known brands such as Microsoft and Volvo – the data indicated that the average competency level amongst tenured employees was just 54%; which means that employees only really know half of what they need to in order to perform their roles effectively.
Harvey continued: “If the average level of employee competency was just 54% pre-pandemic, when employees were predominantly working in an office environment – where training can be delivered in a peer-to-peer setting and policy and conduct can be monitored – in a work from home environment, this will have a serious detrimental impact on competency levels and instances of increased risk taking.”
In a recent research paper, the subject of remote working – which polarised approaches to managing concerns raised around whether employees could remain productive and engaged from their own homes – asserted that employees deprived of a WFO environment will be less inclined to compete self-selection training, become less competent in their roles, make more errors, and pose more of a risk to organisations.
Harvey added: “In other words, removing peer-to peer learning through office socialisation will have an impact on every recruit and, over time, all tenured employees. Our study illustrates that lack of peer-to-peer learning, coupled with an expectation for employees to self-elect to training, is a major concern for L&D teams. There is a danger that employees will be less competent, but they are also far less likely to operate within the documented and trained processes, leading to falling compliance standards, potential misconduct issues, and ultimately, reduced levels of customer satisfaction.
"Regulators are becoming increasingly hypersensitive to this issue too. In the financial services sector for example, the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) Market Watch 66 Newsletter stated that risks from misconduct might be heightened or increased by homeworking, and outlined that firms need to be more adaptable to addressing the conduct concerns within the changing environment in which they operate.
"This illustrates that, for all firms – regardless of industry –maintaining and evidencing in-role competency and compliance means taking an objective look at the ecosystem of learning and development you deploy and whether it is robust enough to hold up against the issues that arise when WFH.”
However, some research has been put forward that does indicate an increase in employee productivity. Yet, one commonality these findings share is that productivity seems to be in the guise of completing tasks; what has not been concluded is whether employees are completing them competently.
For Harvey then, the future of L&D is about striking the right balance in a WFH setting by expanding the learning ecosystem. There is little doubt that L&D requires the social aspect of peer-to-peer contact, and this has been characterized during the pandemic by a new reliance on Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Search, YouTube, PowerPoint (the top five tools for workplace learning in a recent 2020 survey ).
Whilst these platforms help to alleviate the pressures for L&D teams to continue to provide social and virtual learning in a WFH setting, evidencing in-role improvement and having tangible data that illustrates that employees are engaging, learning and retaining what they need to know to perform their roles is a different proposition; one that Harvey argues can be answered by objectively examining the models used by other businesses who often combine the traditional learning models with new technologies grounded in science and human learning behaviour.
Harvey added: “I am obviously an advocate for new technology, but you only need to look at some of the major brands to understand the benefits of how effective their L&D response was – and continues to be – because of it. Microsoft, for example, have a long history of using traditional L&D methodologies in conjunction with personalised learning journeys and neuroscience; understanding the science behind how people learn, retain, and use information, and they prioritise learning through offering time and space for it both in real-time and asynchronous."
"In this respect, their model is robust enough to handle both the social element and individualised training elements required to keep employees engaged and evidence improvement. Recent feedback concluded that tech such as artificial intelligence has a prominent role to play, in just nine weeks our platform – Clever Nelly – had improved their average employee knowledge score from 59% to 82%.”
One thing is certain, the didactic model of learning and development will continue to play a vital role post-pandemic, but Covid-19 has illustrated that businesses have a great deal to learn from how employees respond to the training offered in WFH setting.
The changing nature of working in this setting illustrates that new digital technology adoption is critical, and that businesses that build and utilise stronger digital capabilities will be more resilient, emerge stronger, and have a more competent workforce as a result.