Flexible working demands a training strategy rethink

Assumptions about the effectiveness of training programmes need to be challenged as remote and flexible working patterns become more widespread, says Samantha Caine. And there must be a place for face-to-face sessions.

Businesses have done well to embrace the demands of their workforces, creating more comfortable working environments and helping to provide a better work-life balance. While adapting to these challenges may enable organisations to reduce staff turnover and attract new talent, there are risks for businesses that fail to revamp their training strategies in the new environment.

Communication by the Government might be at the heart of the issue, DPG said, as 63% of the 1,000 managers polled claimed they had never heard of the apprenticeship levy.

Flexible and remote working policies don't only benefit the workforce. Businesses are also recognising the need to offer more flexibility and fluidity to better serve the requirements of their customers, with round-the-clock service and manufacturing helping them to increase efficiency and meet demands.

For HR and training managers, this has created a requirement for training strategies that not only equip people with the skills they need within the standard working environment, but also the ability to adapt to new, flexible ways of working without diminishing performance standards.

The sustainable training strategy

Digitalisation can be leveraged to develop an approach to training that is as flexible as today's working patterns. There has been plenty of debate over e-learning eradicating the need for face-to-face training. Although e-learning can support businesses in adopting more resilient and efficient approaches to employee development in dispersed workforces, one of the seven principles of human learning is that study is enhanced through socially supported interactions.

Face-to-face workshops allow people to network, fully engage and focus on a particular topic and the chance to discuss their own challenges, collectively finding solutions together. It is this type of interaction that is crucial in the development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner's sense of self. The answer then is an approach that blends face-to-face workshops with online training that takes place when suitable for the individual.

Such an approach should include virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games, business simulations, one to one and group sessions. As well as being better for the employee, this approach enables organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to reflect technological advancement and changing market environments.

A study conducted by the US Centre for Digital Education found that 73% of educators who utilise a blended learning model observed an increase in learner engagement. It is clear that e-learning is becoming instrumental in professional training for new behaviours and skillsets, but it yields the most successful results when deployed as part of a blended approach that incorporates face-to-face learning elements too.

Beyond blended architecture

While the blended approach is likely to yield the best possible results from a workforce that is entitled to flexible working opportunities, there are other measures that should be put in place. For a start, trainees must be made accountable. Gone are the days when trainers simply ticked registers at the beginning of workshops. It's important to make sure development activities contribute to the performance management process and that successful reviews are linked to the completion of the training activities that have been identified in advance.

Working and training remotely can entail a degree of isolation that has a negative impact, even with face-to-face training available. This makes it important to create support networks that can be facilitated through rooms, and to consider how individuals will access the topic expert for clarification or further input.

Recording and rewarding progress must also be considered. Line managers should be tasked with assessing whether this new bite-size, continuous approach is working and how it might be tweaked. It should be clearly communicated to training individuals that even when they are working on a training activity under their own steam that it is just as important as attending any face-to-face programme, and that as well as being useful to them their development is also valued by the organisation.

As we embrace flexible working and, almost by default, training, we run a real risk of making learning a solely individual activity. This is because it's easier for us to find solutions that only concern one person at a time. At the very least there are less technical challenges and less hassle in co-ordinating diaries. However, it's easy to underestimate the power of group learning, sharing ideas, learning from the experiences of others and receiving feedback from peers.

In a world of flexible working where people are working in increasingly isolated conditions, it's essential to make collaborative learning a priority and to recognise the benefits of bringing people together for both the business and the individual.