How to Optimize Learning and Development for Hybrid Teams

Posted in Research Thoughts & Culture

“[L&D] used to be seen as interrupters back in the day. We weren’t taken very seriously. However, things have changed dramatically. What we’re seeing now is that we need to actually create learning at the speed of employee and business needs.”

That was Vanessa Tenicien, director of product strategy and operations at LifeLabs Learning, during a recent webinar …and she couldn’t be more right.

Where learning and development was often perceived as an interruption to an employee’s workflow, more and more workplaces are beginning to see the value — as well as the necessity — of L&D programs to survive in the current business climate.

Currently, 59% of L&D professionals have identified upskilling and reskilling as the top priorities of their training programs. And with well over half of employers struggling to find skilled workers, 99% of them agree that their organizations will be negatively impacted in the coming years if these necessary skills gaps aren’t closed.

And even beyond pure skills training, learning and development as a whole has become a necessity in employees’ minds. A whopping 94% of employees said they’d stay at a company longer if there is investment in their learning and development, and, in today’s environment, it’s important we retain the quality employees we have.

Clearly, learning and development is more important than ever, but now it’s a whole different ballgame because of the variable of hybrid work. We can’t just pull our teams into a single classroom like we used to. Now, we also have to juggle variables like different mediums, time zones, languages and learning styles.

To understand how we can serve our employees with the vital development they need in a hybrid work environment, our own Chief People Officer, Laura Lee Gentry, sat down with Vanessa from LifeLabs Learning to discuss the key differences in our new environment and how we can more successfully impart learning that drives change and leaves an impact on our people.

How should we approach hybrid learning differently?

With hybrid learning, some employees are remote while some are in the office. “The most important thing is that you’re intentional about the modalities,” noted Vanessa.

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⚡Be intentional

“We get the opportunity to be intentional, which is both a blessing and a curse. But what ultimately is very exciting about this hybrid environment is that we get learning that you might not have gotten in previous ways of working because now we're leveling the playing field by having people show up in ways that we've intentionally set from the beginning.”

In addition to the training content, the methods of training should be personalized:

“We're not giving our people medicine. We're not telling them what to do. We're actually listening to their needs and coming up with a solution,” continued Vanessa.

⚡Add connection

“We also need to shut off the old way of thinking that e-learning is a solitary experience and really create cohorts with a sense of belonging and a sense of connection so that you get those different perspectives on the same material we create,” added Laura Lee.

“Create learning buddies and peer circles to really reinforce that sense of belonging, that you're part of a program that has a mission. You can’t just use generic content. This can't be something that people feel like you just hauled off a shelf and delivered. You should think about how to customize the content, whether that be to different levels or different geographies.”

How can our hybrid teams make time for learning and development?

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⚡Keep your eyes on long-term goals

“First, we need to pull people out of short-term cost thinking. Because, when we think about the long-term impacts of creating a learning organization where people actually are motivated to improve themselves, it inevitably will impact the bottom line,” stated Vanessa.

⚡Incorporate microlearning

And it’s not like your people have to complete their entire training session at a single time. Laura Lee emphasized the importance of integrating microlearning — breaking your content down into more memorable and useful bite-sized chunks so your people can complete their learning during pockets of time that are convenient to them.

What behaviors should learning and development professionals demonstrate to their hybrid employees?

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⚡Keep a growth mindset

“First of all, we have to model that we have a growth mindset ourselves. Have a beginner’s mind. Even if we know a lot about something, how can we come at it from a place of inquiry for learning?” said Vanessa, “We don’t want to always present ourselves as the smartest person in the room.”

⚡Ask for, and implement, feedback

“In addition to demonstrating empathy and our own desire to grow, we also need to be accountable. We need to ask for feedback from our learners and follow through on it.”

⚡Share your personal learning stories

“Finally, we need to be intentional about sharing the impact of our own personal learning with others,” continued Vanessa. “When we share the impact, suddenly there are stakes and there is a benefit to that development objective. So get really good at sharing the impact of something, whether that's something you've learned or telling people the impact they will experience when going through the learning initiative.”

Finally, what are some small changes we could make today that would have the biggest impact on the effectiveness of our hybrid learning programs?

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Get your managers involved

“Even if it’s just voting on the name or surveying them to figure out what are the most needed skill sets that would make a big difference to your team. Make sure your managers are demonstrating a growth mindset too,” said Vanessa.

“You also need to make sure you equip your managers with the skills to coach and develop their people. You can’t assume that’s a natural, innate skill for them,” added Laura Lee. “And then you need to measure and respond.

“We have very specific questions in our engagement surveys such as:

      • ‘Does my manager care about me?’
      • ‘Does my manager encourage learning and development?’
      • ‘Does my manager coach me up to grow my skill base?’

When we see managers who are superb, we celebrate them, and, when we see managers that might be struggling based on their scores, we wrap our arms around them and help them get better.”

Celebrate your learners and training cohorts

“Shout out people who’ve completed learning milestones in some sort of company-wide forum, whether that be your newsletter, your messaging platform, etc.,” said Vanessa, “The other thing is to create special swag mementos so people can feel that pride of being part of a cohort, especially if you're piloting new material. Some folks also like to celebrate with small personal gifts that really resonate and matter to that individual. There’s a lot of flexibility here.”

“We celebrate our learners with a graduation ceremony with our CEO,” added Laura Lee. “In addition to swag like sweatshirts, we also give them a Zoom background that they can use to show they’ve completed a program.

“We also call our learners and cohorts down to the stage during our annual all-hands meeting so we can congratulate them and thank them for their time investment.”

The key takeaway

“The hybrid world isn’t going away,” says Laura Lee.

“As learning and development professionals, we’re not intruders. If you just saw the most recent research, people are lonely and depressed, and this is your opportunity to inject some fun and engagement and just something different from day-to-day work. So I think you should not only feel like you have permission, but you should be preemptive and take that as a part of the solution.“

So, how do we optimize learning and development for our hybrid teams?

Be intentional and add connection.
Keep a growth mindset, ask for feedback, and share your stories.
Get your management involved and celebrate your learners and cohorts.