Digital Acceleration: How to Support Crucial Upskilling of Remote Workers

The COVID-19 situation has triggered a massive wave of accelerated digitization. Businesses have had to adapt quickly, using this period of time to plan—or rethink—staff skill acquisition in order to maintain team engagement in transformation programs already underway.

Because if employees are to develop new skills they have to engage with the process. To achieve this, training plans must be given new meaning and skill acquisition must not be seen purely as a training issue.

If a department wants to successfully upskill its teams, it needs to engage them in a variety of ways, questioning both the methods used and the employees themselves, all the time taking into account the specific needs related to management, materials, digitization and internal communications.

The crisis has therefore revealed new challenges in terms of remote skills development and the best practices needed if it is to be achieved. This was the underlying situation when the Inside Success Lab, the first think tank dedicated to business transformation, met in June to discuss matters. We learned a great deal during the meeting, and here we want to share it with you, and help you to reignite and/or maintain your remote teams’ sense of engagement.

1/ Impact of the Crisis: Time to Focus on the New Challenges of Remote Skills Development

Maintaining and accelerating transformation programs

➔   Some businesses have kept their transformation projects going during the crisis, concentrating primarily on staying connected with their employees, particularly sales teams.

●      Goal: ensure that sales teams continue to assimilate the knowledge they require in order to carry out their tasks and to receive all the information they need in order to remain operational and not waste any time once business starts to return to normal.

●      Means: businesses who did this significantly increased content creation and sharing, and strengthened their training paths.

➔   Other businesses took the opportunity provided by the crisis to accelerate digital transformation by:

●      qualifying client data and accustoming sales teams to doing things digitally,

●      using and adopting tools, which had sometimes encountered a certain amount of resistance prior to the crisis,

●      transforming performance processes by offering a choice of training options within compulsory pathways (e-learning for core training modules, webinars for more advanced).

Remote Skills Development: Factors to be Taken into Account

●      Remote working has resulted in an overall increase in employee productivity, largely because no time is spent commuting and there are fewer interruptions.

●      Supporting staff and integrating new employees has required a different approach, particularly in terms of learning the company culture.

●      E-learning is often seen as a type of obligation or command, entailing significant costs and resources—yet the success rate for e-learning projects is estimated to be only 25 percent.

●      “Standardizing” individual learning is highly criticized: companies have realized that employees need to acquire new skills at their own pace, in a continuous manner, and with personalized learning paths and support—all of which is possible with digital technology.

The crisis has shown that being able to choose how and when they work on acquiring new skills is a real plus for employees, similar to what they experience in the outside world. Remote working has allowed people to regain a sense of freedom with respect to how they use their time. Businesses need to accept this and give their staff guidance and support with their learning, acting as managers and project managers and giving them “free space” in which to do it. The crisis is going to cause companies to rethink remote working. The challenge will be to find the right balance between working digitally and staying connected socially.

Watch out, however, in case the resumption of more normal operations causes workers who continue to work from home to be out of sync with those who go back to working on site/in the office. A hybrid mode of operation could help reestablish the group equilibrium and will create opportunities to provide post-crisis guidance and support.

2/ Best Practices for Supporting Remote Skills Development

●      Establish routines that incorporate shorter, but more regular, exchanges, so that they become a predictable feature of the working week.

●      Measure the impact of the training provided and set skill acquisition objectives that are personalized both by profession and by individual case.

●      Link skill acquisition objectives to operational objectives (implementation, quality, agility, productivity) and business objectives (performance, customer satisfaction, ROI, etc.). This will bring employees meaning and transparency, enabling them to take responsibility for their own progress and engage in the process in a more natural way.

●      Foster engagement by providing numerous sources and levers: sponsors, mentors, content sharing (short infographics, videos, articles on best practices, etc.), discussions within the employee community, games, challenges, micro-learning, quizzes, etc.

●      Break down learning programs into themed mini-pathways, so that individuals can assimilate them in their own way over time.

●      Get managers involved in their team’s skill acquisition.

3/ Pitfalls to be Avoided for Successful Skill Acquisition

●      Limiting skills development to solely the learning part: it should include implementation and mentoring as well.

●      Imposing any kind of one-size-fits-all format for skill acquisition.

●      Delivering one-shot learning opportunities, with no long-term support or continuous action plan.

●      Delivering generic content that has not been customized or adapted to suit different occupational populations and their practices, and has not considered on-the-job needs.

To sum up, the accelerating use of digital technology during the crisis, the emergence of new challenges and increased awareness of employee needs have led to the following observation: successful skill acquisition must be personalized, measured, meaningful, agile, and actively and continuously fostered! Employees must be free to choose the pace and engagement lever(s) that will guarantee their acquisition of the skills required.