Virtual L&D

Virtual learning and development deepens company culture

People and Culture

In the past six months, organizations have taken the kind of digital leap that normally takes years to achieve. Across sectors, remote workplace policies have become normalized and in some cases a permanent fixture. In fact, more than half of business leaders (54%) say they plan to “make remote work a permanent option for roles that allow it," according to the PwC US CFO Pulse survey from June 2020.

In turn, businesses are moving quickly to get their employees access to the skills, tools and infrastructure they need to maintain this new mode of operations. During the first weeks of the pandemic, digital learning and teaming tools like Zoom and Webex saw a record spike in users. Streaming and digital event platforms have also seen a surge in interest as events and seminars have moved online. And self-paced learning platforms, such as massive open online class (MOOC) provider Coursera, have watched enrolment skyrocket.

The rapid-fire adoption of these technologies and tools requires companies to invest in corporate learning and development (L&D) by upskilling employees so they can tackle new tasks, or reskilling them to take on an entirely new role. The virtual environment has emerged as one of the best ways to do that.

The importance of closing the skills gap

As the digital era continues to unfold at an accelerated pace, there is a simultaneous widening of the skills gap. Company leaders are rightfully worried that this skills shortage will hurt their businesses in the short term, but could render them obsolete in the long-term if left unaddressed.

Although the pandemic didn't create the skills gap, its far-reaching implications have widened the gaps and amplified the demands. According to the 2019 Closing the Gap Survey of 600 human resource leaders by Wiley Education Services and Future Workplace, nearly two-thirds (64%) of those surveyed saw a skills gap in their company and 42% said that gap was making their company less efficient. For instance, back in July 2019, Amazon announced plans to invest $700 million in training to reskill a third of its U.S. workforce.

Customer support is a perfect example of the urgent need for upskilling and reskilling. Grocery stores moved employees from the floor to online order fulfilment, while contact centers are pivoting employees to different customers or teams to meet increased demands. TELUS International reallocated team members from travel and hospitality brands that were seeing a decline in business during COVID-19 to support brands that saw an increase in business like gaming companies.

As workplaces and job roles continue to shift, virtual L&D is likely to play a growing role in engaging employees and arming them with the skill sets needed to continually raise the bar on customer experience delivery.

The age of virtual learning

Nick van Dam, an internationally renowned expert on learning innovation and the director of the IE Center of Corporate Learning Innovation, recently conducted a survey of 60 CLOs and senior L&D leaders.

His findings point to an accelerated shift towards virtual channels. For instance, he discovered about 40% of organizations surveyed have already started converting their in-person programs into virtual programs, and 68% “expect that leaders will attend virtual leadership programs."

“During this time, we see a fantastic opportunity for (L&D) leaders to recreate the learning experience, to make it more specific to real-time needs, and more creative, innovative and engaging," explained van Dam in a press release announcing the report. “Leaders will need to develop more agile and nimble working styles. And L&D functions will be required to accomplish more with less resources."

L&D is evolving from an employee training program towards self-directed methods which enable employees to learn when it's most convenient for them. Teams can use micro-learning to add skills in small, concentrated doses. Micro-credentials, or badges, help managers identify which employees have elevated their skill sets. It's a gamified approach to learning that makes the process more enjoyable and easier to follow.

Virtual reality (VR) is also playing a growing role in L&D. In a study of VR designed for soft skills training, PwC found that “what took two hours to learn in the classroom could possibly be learned in only 30 minutes using VR." In addition to helping increase the pace of learning, VR was shown to increase the learner's confidence in their skills.

Collectively, online learning, micro-learning, gamification and virtual reality can be used to help businesses improve their employees' soft skills and quickly translate those skills into their interactions with customers.

Supporting L&D is cost-efficient, financially and culturally

According to statistics from the World Economic Forum and Boston Consulting Group, the cost of reskilling is approximately $24,800 per person in the United States. Money well-spent when you further consider that it can cost six times more to hire individuals with the requisite skills versus building them from within.

But there are other important considerations alongside the financial ones. Investing in virtual L&D helps boost employee engagement by showing employees they're valued and that the organization is willing to invest in them and their careers.

Employees have shown that they want to learn. And further to that, they want to be engaged about learning and want to feel like their skills matter. LinkedIn's fourth Annual Workplace Learning report found a third of Millennials would be more interested in learning if it was recognized by employers. Three-quarters of employees even said they'd stay longer at a company if there were more skill-building opportunities. And yet, only 45% of employees said they strongly agree that their organization cares about their overall well-being (career, social, financial, community and physical), according to a poll from Gallup.

The fact that fewer than half of employees feel this way suggests that investing in a learning culture and recognizing employees for the work they've done to build new skills can be a powerful corporate culture differentiator.

Building an L&D blueprint

Learning and development, as well as a corporate learning culture, can be powerful tools for boosting morale and promoting normalcy and business continuity. Research has shown, though, that doing it successfully is about more than just giving your team the ability to learn.

It's also about putting together a strategic skills map to identify current and future needs. It's also about constantly evolving your L&D program to reflect changes in consumer behavior and their demands and preferences. Customer support agents, for instance, need to be able to work alongside AI-powered analytics platforms in order to deliver highly-customized and consistent customer experiences.

Employers that prioritize L&D today, will no doubt reap the rewards of tomorrow with a knowledgeable and tenured workforce and a corporate culture and infrastructure in place to sustainably meet future needs.

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