Remote workforces: A roadmap for organizations making the digital transformation

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By Albert Rees, SVP & Head Of Business Consulting, EPAM Systems, Inc.

Before the pandemic shifted millions of workers from across the globe to remote work, the concept had already been embraced by a growing number of companies in some way, whether they offered several flexible days in and out of the office or one day a week. A 2019 survey from Swiss-based IMG polled a range of organizations around the world and found that a large majority provided flexible workspace policies. Among the 15 countries above the 50% threshold, the top five include the following:

  • Germany – 80%
  • Netherlands – 75%
  • Australia – 71%
  • USA – 69%
  • Canada/UK – 68%

In addition to 85% of companies confirming productivity increases with flexibility, 80% of employees surveyed indicated that, when offered similar jobs, they would opt for the one providing work flexibility if the other did not. Now, as more companies contemplate the future of the workplace with a distributed workforce, business leaders must rethink processes and culture so that working remotely is a success, not just for the short-term but for the foreseeable future.

Learning and Development (L&D) departments are critical to this transition as they provide employees with training that empowers them to build new skills and boost both individual and group performance.

Fortunately, studies show people learn best when they have to learn. And there’s no doubt the pandemic has forced their hand. Without commutes and the bustle of socialization, some learners have more time to fill, while others crave new learning as a way to buffer themselves against so much uncertainty. Shortly after remote working models began in the U.S., 60% of learners said they were more likely to take a course, and 71% said the best thing an employer could do is move courses online. That’s according to a survey from Findcourses.com, which provides resources for L&D professionals as well as individuals.

COVID-19 has undeniably expedited the need for digital transformation, especially in the L&D space, given the challenges of cybersecurity, compliance and employee well-being. Unfortunately, some companies who were behind in their transformation journey before the pandemic are feeling the pressure now more than ever. These companies have temporarily suspended in-person training and moved courses online for the duration of the pandemic. The Findcourses.com survey revealed that 57% postponed training and 44% shifted to business-critical training only. Of course, that’s not a long-term solution considering we know now that remote working is here to stay. Some training, however, such as cybersecurity, should not be put off.

A fast-paced response to new remote learning models often doesn’t account for the way people learn online, which means opportunities to improve content and delivery are missed. We know a 40-slide presentation is not the most engaging way to teach a concept—any concept, either in person or online. Simply digitizing content or moving the same material from a meeting room to a teleconferencing app can result in a poor learning experience, low engagement and ultimately decreased learning outcomes. With that, there is still a place for traditional text-on-screen e-learning and videoconferencing, but virtual learning can be so much richer. Through the strategic, coordinated use of videos, articles, podcasts, eBooks, games, quizzes and webinars, we can move beyond reactionary teaching to professional development that is relevant and future-proof.

We are constantly learning about how we learn. For example, one comprehensive study showed that microlearning, learning in short bursts, works better in some circumstances. Using remote social elements, fostering a sense of community online, can also boost engagement. The move to online professional learning offers an opportunity to revamp content that wasn’t working. To effectively transform, businesses must consider a comprehensive new approach to learning and how it is organized.

From management to the C-suite, there are multiple ways leadership can better support learning in their organization. Programs could include recognizing employees who are eager to learn, promoting and incentivizing learning, staying engaged and communicative about learning progress, and identifying growth areas for employees, including soft skills. Even with the many changes being forced upon us, we can manage the change productively. Rethinking professional learning for a new era is the first step. While it requires a perspective shift, now that we know the working world has been permanently altered, we can recognize that the improvements we put in place now will show dividends for years to come.

To make a shift from reactive to permanent change would require:

  • Supporting leadership through the development of a new learning culture;
  • Short- and long-term planning that guides organizations through a transition of cultivating a better learning environment now and into the future;
  • Converting instructor-led training to e-learning;
  • Developing new learning content (podcasts, games, etc.);
  • Curating courses externally acquired (e.g., from LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, YouTube); and
  • Deploying and customizing learning management systems/learning experience platforms for the above.

With thoughtful planning, adjustments to professional learning can provide a cascade of benefits for the entire organization, including the flexibility that digital naturally brings, which is a must-have in these times of uncertainty. Organizations that manage this transition well will be best positioned to truly transform—no matter what the future brings.

About the Author:

Albert Rees, SVP & Head Of Business Consulting, EPAM Systems, Inc. Mr. Rees brings more than 20 years  of experience in the business and management consulting industry. Prior to joining EPAM, he served as President of North Highland, leading the North and UK Region and overseeing more than 400 consultants and support people. In addition to having full P&L responsibility for the region, Mr. Rees  provided large-scale business transformation advice to numerous Fortune 100 companies. Prior to that, he served as a Partner in Accenture’s Human Performance Service Line, where he led HR business strategies, combining strategic planning, trends and technologies with business needs and creating actionable recommendations.

Mr. Rees holds an MBA from Tennessee Technological University and a Bachelor of Science in Finance from the University of Tennessee.