Learning from COVID-19: New opportunities for the workforce

After the pandemic forced organizations to find new ways of working, traditional in-office learning programs had to change too.

Written by Mind Tools for Business
Published 14 June 2021
Learning from COVID-19: New opportunities for the workforce

Some L&D teams paused formal training courses, while others didn’t. Some embraced informal learning, such as encouraging employees to spend unstructured time together to simulate traditional working environments.

Despite these changes, the breadth of content offered by L&D departments has remained the same throughout the pandemic, perhaps due to the uptick in digital content delivery and accessibility, according to our recent research.
But even one year later, the actual impact of COVID-19 on employee learning and development is not well established. Still, our research indicates that there are clear lessons that have emerged from our shift to remote work and online learning, and four opportunities in particular that can help strengthen learning initiatives and an organization’s workforce as a whole. Learning leaders should focus on these key areas to ensure continued L&D success in the future.

Opportunity 1: Supporting employee autonomy

As you might expect, working from home increases employee autonomy. By granting flexibility in their learning and empowering them to take control of their own learning, employees will be more engaged with the content, which will lead to a more substantial impact. Self-driven learning has also been reported to positively contribute to job satisfaction, organizational performance and proactive behavior.
Leaders can foster learner autonomy by offering L&D programs that allow for individual choice. Mind Tools for Business offers a learning toolkit that was designed to empower all levels of learners to develop their skills on topics of interest and necessity. Content in the toolkit covers a wide breadth of topics and is available in a variety of formats, with at least one brand new resource added each week. Accessibility plays a key role, too. Resources are available on demand from any internet-connected device to facilitate learning when it’s most convenient or needed.

Opportunity 2: Using digital to re-shape the L&D approach

When learning resources are consistently available online, workers can fit learning into their day in the least-disruptive way possible, and even integrate it into their day-to-day work. For example, if an inexperienced manager is prepping for a difficult conversation with a direct report, they can quickly access Mind Tools for Business to pull up the right piece of digital content for guidance. 
The engagement insights that L&D leaders can glean from a digital toolkit like Mind Tools for Business can help them adjust their learning strategy to maximize usage. For example, toolkit administrators can see how long each learner spends reading/viewing a piece of content, what elements of the content learners interact with the most, what content a learner views next and much more. The process of collecting and using this data is usually referred to as learning analytics.
For these reasons, the shift to digital learning content should be embraced wherever possible, even if your organization pivots back to office-based practices or uses a hybrid work model.

Opportunity 3: Increased attention to well-being

Prior to the pandemic, more than 75% of L&D teams said they offer health and well-being courses to their employees. That is already a fairly high amount. The problem that some leaders admit to though, is that they were more focused on hitting a training target, such as course hours completed per quarter or year. Post-pandemic, more L&D teams are offering health and well-being courses, and they also have a different goals ensuring the content is valuable and engaging.

Including well-being content as part of the learning mix not only shows employees their welfare matters, but may also improve their motivation and productivity. Offering the content in digital format and on demand will allow employees to access resources such as morale boosters, coping under pressure and mindfulness in the workplace at the moment in their day when they need it most. 

Opportunity 4: Encouraging virtual networking

In the workplace, networking can help build new inter-departmental connections, which can be especially beneficial for collaboration, knowledge sharing and innovation. Digital environments break down geographical and structural barriers, making it easier to network, especially with people you may not have otherwise interacted with. 
L&D leaders can use nudges to encourage employees to talk across departments. For example, a recent study found that sending daily messages that encourage a curious attitude significantly increases the networking behaviors of employees. Consider how you could implement something like this at your organization.
Breaking down organizational silos can also benefit L&D departments by making cross-functional expertise easier to access. However, it appears as though this opportunity is not being recognized. Of the 995 L&D departments we surveyed in 2020, only one in three reported that they drew on expertise across their organization (e.g. marketing, data analysts) to support learning. L&D leaders should tap into the subject matter experts they have access to and encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing across the organization.

Now it’s your turn

These are just a few of the valuable insights and post-pandemic opportunities we uncovered during our research. Download the full report, “Workplace learning from home: Reflecting on a year in a pandemic,” to learn more practical lessons for the future of work, whether your organization is fully remote, office-based or using a hybrid work model. 

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About the author

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business

Mind Tools for Business brings accessible, on-demand performance tools and resources focused on leadership, management and personal effectiveness that empower colleagues to perform in today’s progressive workplaces. Helping them build happy and successful careers and to contribute positively to the success of organizations, the world over. At Mind Tools for Business, empowering people to thrive at work has been our passion for 25 years.

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