The end of a fiscal year is usually a time to reflect and forward plan. However, the close of FY20 is anything but usual. It presents an interesting new benchmark as we pass the three month mark in the COVID-19 pandemic.
While we navigate a significant health crisis, the Coronavirus is accelerating one of the biggest business transformations in decades. And in Australia, a profound economic impact is anticipated post-JobKeeper and other government subsidies in September.
How have pre-existing trends and predictions played out this year? And what is the impact of the pandemic against this backdrop?
It is anticipated that the rapid changes and socio-economic impact from these unprecedented times will create a New Normal.
We provide key insights and strategies for leaders to plan and future-proof their L&D plans in 2021.
One immutable fact is that the digital imperative is now much more urgent than it was prior to COVID-19.
Whereas Work-From-Home (WFH), previously thought of as a somewhat futuristic view of the workforce – has shot to the top of the list – almost defining what is now referred to as The New Normal.
There is no turning back. A new way of working has arrived, and organisations will never really be the same again. At least not for years to come.
Incredibly, 94% of organisations are changing their L&D strategies in light of COVID-19, according to the recently released COVID-19 L&D Research from Fosway Group.
And 82% report that demand for digital learning has increased from senior stakeholders, whilst 71% have experienced an increased demand for digital learning content from learners themselves.
Josh Bersin, a thought leader on the topic of the future of work, recently met with several of the world’s leading HR executives in a webcast. Each concluded that the COVID-19 crisis has not only disrupted their respective organisations, but it has created, what Bersin is calling, the ‘Big Reset’.
These leaders were unanimous in their prediction that rapid changes taking place will last for years to come.
Firstly, it’s worthwhile to look at some of the clear positives emerging from this crisis, prompting a changing work order:
- Agility – Bureaucracy is out, and budgets have been cut. A more streamlined organisation working at a faster pace has emerged.
- Humanity – An ability to focus on more sustainable growth, both environmental and human, with predictions that we will see a world with greater human connectedness.
- Simplification – Over the past ten years of growth, we have created complexity and lots of overhead. In L&D terms, we have tended towards adding more, never taking anything away. Tightening budgets now mean doing more with less and cause us to question cumbersome and unnecessary processes.
As we look forward to this next period, how can Australia’s CEOs, HR leaders and L&D practitioners really reset their organisations to take on this profound and sustained change?
We see four key trends driving a reset:
1. The Digital Imperative
In Bersin’s webcast, many leaders noted how their multi-year digital transformations were suddenly accelerated to just a few weeks. Suddenly all of the moving parts of systems, tools and enablement platforms – needed to work well and in synchronicity.
They described the pace at which this was being rolled out almost in military terms: ‘mobilising for this crisis’. And the automation of jobs through digital was an essential part of this.
David Wilson, CEO of Fosway Group observed that, “from the types of solutions that L&D teams are finding the most successful, to the ways people are now choosing to learn – some of which have been talked about for years, under the guise of ‘digital transformation’ – have happened almost overnight.”
Even so, the key to the Big Reset is in making the digital workplace thrive, albeit in a human way, according to Bersin.
His observation is that in this current state, we are collectively arriving at the ‘end state’ of digital transformation. “Working from home is pushing us to the edge,” says Bersin. In essence, we are learning on the fly how to make individual jobs and roles meaningful, productive and enjoyable online.
But it takes more than merely mastering video conferencing. We need to build a set of rules, practices and cultural norms that let people work remotely.
Rather than just overlaying more tech and tools, the focus should really be in making remote work a positive experience, more productive and satisfying for every employee.
The tools are getting better by the day. And even extremely immersive tools such as VR can be produced and deployed remotely.
According to Bersin, “every decade or so there is a crisis that pushes learning on to the next level – this is one of those. It’s going to advance online learning by another order of magnitude.”
“The tools all work well,” notes Bersin, “and you just have to pick the ones you want.”
However, according to Forrester Research PandemicX survey of Australian workers, only 54% believe their organisations have the technology resources to support working from home.
“Every decade or so there is a crisis that pushes learning on to the next level – this is one of those. It is going to advance online learning by another order of magnitude.” – Josh Bersin
If there is one profound area defining The New Normal, it’s remote working.
2. Remote Working (WFH) Is Bigger Than We Think
A whopping 95% of IBM’s workers are currently remote, and the trend holds true for most of Australian enterprises at the moment.
A recent study by Qualtrics reveals that 77% of all workers in Australia and New Zealand are currently working from home, with just 12 continuing to work in an office.
By contrast, consider that as recently as 2010, just 6% of employed Australians had some form of regular teleworking arrangement.
This is a significant change. And not simply a technological issue where employees need to learn how to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
It is a fundamental shift involving time management (juggling children, family members) and learning to collaborate – and learn – remotely.
There are some positive outcomes from this new environment. Through our shared experience, both good and bad.
As we blend home and work, paradoxically, we are experiencing a greater sense of ‘connectedness’ amongst team members.
People are coming together to genuinely share, care and listen to each other.
With this, a huge increased focus on empathy and care for employees’ lives outside of work, personal productivity and well-being have already been felt in organisations.
The Qualtrics study indicated that mental health challenges of the situation are negatively impacting 45% of workers.
Several studies have shown working from home for extended periods can leave employees feeling socially as well as professionally isolated.
“Working from home is pushing us to the edge. We’re arriving at the ‘end state’ of digital transformation.” – Josh Bersin
The reduction of interaction and knowledge sharing has been a key barrier to the take-up of working from home. From an L&D perspective, that knowledge transfer, particularly from SMEs within the organisation, is a crucial piece.
How can we make it work:
Organisations can increase the success of working from home.
According to Libby Sander, Assistant Professor, Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, more regular communication works, particularly by leveraging video conferencing well.
This can help ensure knowledge is transferred and social and professional isolation is reduced.
Within ITC Learning, for example, we shifted all of our operations to remote – no mean feat when you consider we have many clients who we support end-to-end with personalised training sessions, tech support, content development and design work.
We are now focused on helping organisations facilitate their own WFH strategies while successfully engaging learners in the flow of work, no matter how remote. For example, we are bundling desktop and cloud-based authoring tools along with extensive content libraries and even VR. It’s all secure and WFH-friendly.
3. Rapid Reskilling
Even prior to COVID-19, historically low unemployment rates and a long period of business prosperity had led to a worker shortage and a tremendous focus on reskilling as a result.
Fast forward to the early months of 2020, millions of workers worldwide were laid off as the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered entire industries. Yet, some grew – healthcare and online retail come to mind.
The pandemic created an urgent need to make labour shifts happen much more quickly.
A great example – and one with some valuable learnings – is Sweden’s national airline, SAS.
According to the Harvard Business Review, a consortium of private companies and organisations in the public sector made a challenging shift happen in a few weeks.
When SAS decided to temporarily lay off 90% of its cabin staff, the group mobilised with a short training course that would shift these medically trained employees over to roles as support workers in the healthcare sector.
The learnings from this initiative demonstrated what we all know on some level, and that is that a crisis can galvanise stakeholders and drive fast innovation.
Enter the untapped potential of rapid reskilling. Typically reskilling is considered a lengthy process requiring extensive selection, training and certification.
Now however, businesses must much more rapidly identify needs and pinch point those categories of workers who are available and have skillsets related to the required profile – eg. Sweden’s flight attendants with basic medical training in stressful situations.
And finally, determine which specific skills are essential and can be taught fast.
4. Learner-Centric Engagement
There is a changed culture at the top of organisations. Leaders are focusing on empathy. A Willis Towers Watson study shows that an incredible 63% of HR professionals believe their organisational culture has improved and 55% of employee experience has improved.
As Bersin has said, this crisis may be the best thing that ever happened to employee engagement.
Leadership development and succession in Australian organisations will be a particular focus. Supporting leaders, teaching them to manage remote workers, resilience and giving them time to focus is already critical.
“This crisis may be the best thing that ever happened to employee engagement.” – Josh Bersin
Strategies to leverage video and more immersive experiences for onboarding and reskilling employees, along with applying more effective storytelling methods – including using your own SMEs – will play a role in upping the engagement ante.
Ultimately, Bersin points out that it is time to recalibrate and focus on growth – albeit in a different fashion.
Towards the beginning of COVID-19, companies were at the very end of an economic cycle and were focused on hyper-growth at all costs. When actually sustainable growth and practices are the better long terms strategies for companies.
So, we will go back to growth with a different mindset and approach, so as to achieve it in a reasonable way while taking care of people and customers at the same time.
There is definitely an emergence and emphasis on leadership. HR has a huge role to play, and are the heroes in most companies right now and ongoing during this reset.
Sources: Fosway Group, Josh Bersin, Bersin Deloitte April 2020, Forrester Research Asia Pacific Global PandemicX Survey, HCA Mag, Libby Sander, Assistant Professor, Organisational Behaviour, Bond Business School, Harvard Business Review June 2020
Recommended Viewing From ITC Learning
- To set your organisation up for learner-centric engagement, we recommend reviewing recent case studies from production company Transition Associates, which shows how easy it is to use interactive video and VR to significantly lift engagement, impact and measurable effectiveness – particularly during COVID-19 – and how VR can play a key role in a blended, immersive or micro-learning strategy.
- And for how to make your eLearning more like Netflix, check out our Hollywood Hacks: 4 ideas for affordable, professional-quality video learning content, for practical tips and tricks on how to create a more immersive learner experience.
- For more on the opportunity to bundle all-in-one Lectora desktop and cloud-based authoring tools, eLearning Brothers’ extensive content 120+ million stock library plus CenarioVR – everything you need to easily optimise engagement in the flow of work, no matter how remote. Contact us here.