Reinventing Learning in a Remote Workforce

Adjusting the 70/20/10 professional development model, perhaps closer to a 50/25/25 model. This could utilize the same technology that ushered in our new era of work and create more achievable benchmarks for in-person coaching.

An employee’s professional development has long thrived on face-to-face settings, whether through on-the-job training from more experienced professionals or informal conversations at the water cooler.

The traditional 70/20/10 model that backs these mentorships reflects a primarily in-person workforce and suggests that 70 percent of learning occurs through on-the-job experiences, 20 percent through coaching or social interactions, and 10 percent through formal training or education. However, COVID-19 and increasing uncertainty have altered both the workplace and the role of coaching in professional development, shifting from in-person to asynchronous and digital. The disruption of these crucial coaching relationships has left employers and employees alike wondering how to rethink the professional development framework in a way that suits the modern workplace.

As the 70/20/10 model becomes less compatible with a quickly evolving workplace, companies must assess how to adjust their strategies to maintain the efficacy of training programs, foster relationship-building, and improve talent retention. The answer might be something closer to a 50/25/25 model, which could utilize the same technology that ushered in our new era of work and create more achievable benchmarks for in-person coaching.

Technology’s Role in Apprenticeship: Inhibitor or Innovator?

On-the-job learning opportunities have been significantly reduced as more employees work remotely or endure disruptions to their regular work routines. In a remote or even hybrid environment, building skills that typically advance one’s career trajectory has become more challenging. Coaching relationships usually require face-to-face interaction, making replication increasingly difficult for a virtual, asynchronous workforce. Substitutions of small talk at the beginning of virtual meetings in place of informal conversations and coworker mingling in the office have more significant implications on learning and development than we may realize, as it has reduced opportunities for organic mentorship.

Although technology has largely hindered these in-person experiences, it also can prompt employees to be more intentional with the coaching relationships they seek or lead. The distance technology has created between us needs to be bridged carefully with social interactions that encourage mentorship without feeling forced, which is no simple feat. Regular check-ins, senior leadership interacting with junior employees, or company-wide virtual-friendly activities are all positive approaches to supplementing coaching that occurs more naturally in on-the-job environments. Technology is also the only way that a splintered, multi-time zone workforce can still find ways to connect and collaborate, allowing employees in any location to participate in a mentor-mentee relationship.

Supporting the Informal with Formal Training

Learning and development opportunities before the pandemic often involved a fierce commitment of time and sometimes physical attendance. Thankfully, translating formal training into a digital format has given more people more access, creating a world of new possibilities for virtual learning. The pandemic also forced many to brush up on their technological skills, resulting in a workforce primed to jump into appealing digital opportunities more comfortably. As a result, many high-quality virtual learning and development programs act as a solid supplement to informal on-the-job training across industry sectors.

Technology as a training tool also can aid in addressing social justice components of an organization’s ESG (environmental, social, and governance) commitments. For example, with less focus on office space and proximity, recruiters can pursue much more diverse talent spread across a more extensive range of geographic regions. In addition, virtual learning and development provided by employers has opened the door to more individuals who might not otherwise have had equal access to professional development opportunities for various reasons, such as disabilities, caregiving obligations, or home office expenses.

Shifting Priorities in the Reimagining of Professional Development

Maintaining a learning and development program that fails to consider how the work environment has changed in the last few years is a serious detriment to a program’s overall efficacy. As companies navigate a tight labor market and the impact of layoffs, prospective hires receive mixed signals about what their role might entail and how much it might change alongside business priorities. The ability to navigate uncertainty in a position is an increasingly necessary skill for employees as markets continue to be unpredictable.

Proper investment in an effective professional development program will have results that echo across departments and title levels. At a junior level, attracting the next generation of workers is crucial as the war for talent rages on. Learning initiatives also often cue up successors from senior levels up to the C-suite, as on-the-job learning allows candidates to be close to the business they are preparing to lead. Having a robust training program communicates that an organization cares about its employees’ professional aspirations and values them as a vital asset, which both attracts and retains talent.

The 70/20/10 model still has merit, but ultimately it must reflect the reality of the workplace. Whether a company operates entirely in-person, remotely, or somewhere in between, employees may appreciate the flexibility and inclusivity of a 50/25/25 professional development model. Fine-tuning an educational approach has always been closely intertwined with identifying desired growth areas and commitment levels. With the past few years’ dramatic effect on the workplace, leveraging technological improvements is the most powerful way to ensure your workforce can continue to grow, develop, and thrive.