How to Ensure Your Learning and Development Efforts Adapt to Hybrid Work

To make the most of hybrid work, organizations must reimagine their approach to learning and development in support of their teams.

Hybrid Work is Here to Stay: How to Ensure Your Learning and Development Efforts Adapt to This New Reality

More than a year into the pandemic, one of the seismic societal shifts we’ve experienced increasingly looks like it is here to stay: that is the move toward hybrid work models.

Whether that means you come into the office once a month, once a week, or several days a week, the reality is that alternating between working in the office and working remotely is becoming the working model of choice for many employers. And employees by and large seem to be embracing this new reality.

According to a recent survey by Envoy, nearly half of employees report they want to continue with the flexibility of a hybrid work environment. Most striking was the finding that approximately half of the survey respondents claimed they would likely look for another job if they could not work remotely at least some of the time.

Over the past year, we’ve seen numerous examples of how employees and employers have learned to not only adapt but to thrive in a distributed work environment. The workforce has risen to the challenge and clearly demonstrated that it is far more adaptable than we’ve historically believed possible. In fact, we’ve adapted in ways – and at a speed -­ that is quite remarkable. Even those organizations that insisted, prior to COVID-19, that they would NEVER allow remote work have discovered that it can work and that there are some surprising benefits.

But pivoting to hybrid work for the long run is not simply a matter of telling employees to come into the office a couple of days a week. Rather, it involves a whole new way of engaging, communicating with, and developing talent. When done right, it is an opportunity to turbocharge your workforce through the breadth and the quality of the learning and development (L&D) that is provided to them.

Organizations that do this well will be at a real competitive advantage, but you can’t just repurpose what you’ve historically done for L&D and expect it to work in a hybrid world. Because the nature of hybrid work is so much more dynamic, so, too, must L&D efforts. The following are three considerations to help get you there: What you offer, how you offer it, and how that relates to employees’ needs throughout their careers.

What you offer

While many organizations had already been using online learning platforms prior to the pandemic, those platforms will become integral to developing hybrid employees going forward. Whether you build it yourself or use existing tools such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera, etc., technology will play a more central role in developing many of the technical and functional skills that serve as the core of the knowledge worker’s toolkit. The good news is that our collective experience adopting many of these technologies over the past year has served as a crash course in rethinking how we connect with other people, learn new skills, and collaborate with others. Now, we need to formalize that experience for everyone and make it an integral part of L&D offerings.

There also maybe needs that weren’t a part of your suite of offerings prior to the pandemic, but which have become an integral part of the employee experience. For instance, our collective experience with remote work has brought a more holistic focus on the importance of wellness. As the lines between our personal and professional lives have blurred, employees need more tools to support their personal wellness, and the empowerment to do so. Thinking about wellness as a business imperative and providing L&D support through programs addressing a broad suite of wellness issues can help organizations improve the effectiveness of their workforces and help retention. If your organization is experiencing stiff competition for talent, a robust set of wellness-focused programs can help you be “that place” where wellness is an integral part of the employee value proposition.

How you offer it

In many ways, the hybrid work environment opens new channels to train and develop employees. There are the tried-and-true in-person approaches, but now we also have a multitude of ways to connect virtually. Many types of training can be particularly effective when done virtually: development of specific skills, technical knowledge, etc. These lend themselves to asynchronous types of learning.

Other types of learning are more effective when done in groups (either live or virtually). Examples include training a team on a new product offering or convening a “Lean” project team for the first time. These types of group learning ideally combine aspects of asynchronous skills development with live, real-time group sessions. The goal is to not only help teams practice what they are learning together but to build stronger interpersonal relationships, which can often be more challenging in a hybrid work model.

Similarly, cohort-based learning can be a great way to develop leadership and managerial skills. Cohorts not only build and strengthen networks across an organization, but they also create a community of professional and personal support as these tightly knit groups move through their careers together. We have found that the most effective structure for developing cohorts is a blend of virtual and in-person learning, conducted over a series of months. This provides participants with the opportunity to apply what they have learned within their work setting and reflect on those learnings alongside their colleagues.

Mentoring programs can play an important role in overcoming the isolation and difficulty in networking that can arise from hybrid work. L&D leaders can creatively use mentoring programs and internal social networks to satisfy the craving for connections between people in various parts of an organization (in various locations across the country and globe). Those one-to-one mentoring relationships, whether as peers or senior-junior pairings, can become an important component in keeping employees feeling engaged, valued, and supported.

Finally, when thinking about the mix of delivery models you can use to support a robust learning model, don’t forget the importance of asking and testing. Actively engage with your employees to discover how they’re experiencing their learning. What’s working well? What could be better? Experiment with different approaches and use each of those trials as a source for your L&D teams to help craft and deliver learning opportunities that are valued by your employees and show a tangible impact on organizational performance.

Think about the career lifecycle

The traditional concept of climbing the career ladder is becoming a rarer experience for many people. Flatter organization structures and shorter tenures mean that career trajectories today are peppered by lateral moves that provide opportunities to develop new skills while offering more breadth of experience, even if the ultimate destination is not necessarily clear. That might mean moving laterally across product or service teams, shifting between areas of functional expertise, or moving from a function to a task force, for example. Each of those charges carries with it a need to either refresh an existing skill, learn a new one, or expand one’s expertise. That need is amplified when working in a hybrid model, as workers will need to adapt to each of those changing contexts.

A highly dynamic hybrid work environment may actually offer MORE opportunities for people to advance through a lattice-like career path. In a sense, hybrid work has helped to level the playing field, particularly when it comes to geographic barriers. Employees are not automatically “left out” if they are not sitting at headquarters.

L&D teams can support these new careers paths by offering a diverse range of training and support programs that not only address the traditional needs of moving up the organizational ladder, but the unique needs of lateral moves, temporary project-based assignments, and working effectively in a distributed work environment.

As organizations begin the transition from the pandemic to whatever “post-pandemic normal” is next for them, many of us will be juggling remote and in-person work for the foreseeable future. There are many reasons to be optimistic about what hybrid work has to offer, such as the work-life balance that can be achieved if we learn to cleanly separate “work time” from “personal time.”

To make the most of what hybrid work offers us, organizations must reimagine and reconfigure how they approach L&D in support of their distributed teams. Considering how quickly and effectively so many organizations made the shift to remote work at the beginning of the pandemic, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the possibilities of hybrid work models. The key will be to make those changes intentionally, with forethought, and weave them throughout the fabric of the organization. L&D is an integral part of that fabric.

Bob Biglin
Bob Biglin is CEO of The Center for Advanced Emotional Intelligence, an executive coaching and organizational consulting firm that works with senior leaders to enhance their leadership capability and build thriving, sustainable organizations.