The growth of communication technologies has enabled the culture of geographically distributed teams. These teams include employees working in client locations, employees working from- home, and employees working remotely. In the case of sales teams, a distributed workforce in remote locations is a necessity.
The challenges and stakes in managing a distributed workforce has increased over time. Organizations are under pressure to assess and address the training needs and aspirations of the distributed workforce, to support them reach and exceed their goals. This is presenting unseen challenges to the L&D function.
Sharing his thoughts on the challenges faced while creating a learning culture for a distributed workforce, especially the frontline workforce of an organization, Hanuman Kamma, Co-founder and CEO of enParadigmn says, “For example, talking about sales professionals, the employees on ground are under tremendous pressure to deliver numbers. Most of the time, they don't have the mind- space to learn. Also, beyond the 'top 10 cities' they don't get adequate help. As a result, we are seeing massive attrition ranging from 30 percent to 120 percent. A significant part of it is infant attrition, wherein, employees quit before they taste any success. Engaging and helping each of these individuals learn is a critical problem L&D managers are struggling to cope with. In industries like financial services and insurance, we are seeing inadequate developmental plans as a massive barrier to growth.”
When managing onsite employees, it is relatively easy to ensure that the members of your team have equal access to learning and professional development opportunities. With remote employees, ensuring this access is more difficult. A conscious effort needs to be made in order to guarantee the same opportunities.
The '’anytime, anywhere learning' allows learners flexibility. But, can the mere availability of different platforms drive the value? Can it solve the challenges in engaging a distributed workforce? We have all heard of stories of LMS platforms hitting a wall with less than 10 percent of the workforce adopting them. When employees are under pressure to perform and are removed from onsite locations, any engagement has to demonstrate relevance and help them perform.
Blended learning is seen as an obvious solution to creating a culture of learning for a distributed workforce — delivering the right training to the right people at the right time.
But there is a word of caution to be heeded. Professionals need to understand that the mere integration of different platforms is not blended learning. So, can we design blended learning experiences where the whole is more than the sum of parts?
To solve the challenges of designing effective learning for a distributed workforce, organizations need to leverage the most appropriate delivery technology and expertise, based on learning objectives with consideration of time, place, content role, and location.
Here are four ‘Blending’ rules to design an effective learning experience for distributed workforce:
Blending rule 1: Understand the relevance
This step includes ‘Need identification and solution designing.’
Before you jump into selecting the delivery mediums, understand the relevance of learning for your employees. Conduct profiling of participants and performance gap analysis. Discuss with stakeholders to sharpen the significance of deliverables. Once you identify the learning needs, learners’ profiles, timelines then work on the selection of learning technologies.
Deciding on the best learning approach to convey topics is a crucial hurdle you need to cross for your blended program to be effective. To help your training achieve maximum impact, it is required that you match the best delivery medium with the performance objective.
Steps to achieve relevance:
- Conduct research to identify areas of demand
- Identify stakeholders to consult on employees’ performance
- Identify skills and competencies needed
- Determine the mediums through which skills and competencies should be delivered
Blending rule 2: Engagement
This rule focuses on implementing the solution in the form of consumable modules designed for continuous and objective-driven learning.
As learning technologies become more accessible, a typical response is to use them all. However, just because we can be successful in creating content, doesn’t mean our participants can be successful using it. There are two points to unpack here:
1. Not all content can be readily deployed through digital platforms, content needs to be curated or new content needs to be developed, the form of the content needs to fit the medium of delivery.
2. Both content and the technology platform have to develop based on how it will be used.
“User experience” and “engagement” are imperative for the success of organizational learning. Create engaging learning solutions and experiences that enable individuals to create a measurable business impact.
Top approaches to learning engagement:
- Learning Simulation: Simulation-driven learning offers a unique opportunity to trace the complex cause-effect relationships between decisions and the results. Learners can gain confidence by immediately applying these insights in the simulations that provide their real-world performance context.
- Mobile: Offers bite-sized immersive content customized to business needs. The mobile platform can also integrate games, role-plays, leaderboards, milestones and scoreboards to engage learners. One of the key advantages of mobile platforms is that it offers personalized content, right at the time of need.
Blending Rule 3: Sync between delivery mediums
Since blended learning utilizes different learning mediums, it is essential that all the delivery mediums remain in sync and not overwhelm and confuse the learner. A poorly coordinated blended program can prove to be disastrous.
To ensure seamless movement between different platforms, orientation and practice sessions can be held for onboarding learners. These need not become a burden on your budgets. In fact, technology can be leveraged to streamline transitions between various phases of development programs with a blended approach. A session, in the form of a webinar, videos, etc., can be hosted to introduce the new phases of learning in the program. Setting up a communication protocol like e-mail or mobile app can prove to be instrumental in maintaining sync between the various delivery mediums.
Steps to achieve synchronization:
- Ensure learners can use the various learning platforms by setting up practice or orientation sessions in advance of any scheduled, formal training.
- Use virtual meeting tools for a transition session.
- Set up a communication protocol. Use email or a mobile app for any announcements.
Blending Rule 4: Connecting behavioral dimensions with business goals
Besides integrating different technologies, as mentioned, blended learning is also the realization of a holistic perspective that combines business and behavioral competencies that help towards improved performance.
Connecting behavioral dimensions with business goals can be achieved through four vectors:
- Managing Business: It includes developing business acumen and strategic thinking, cross-functional understanding and decision-making, customer-centricity, enhancing financial acumen, and executing strategy.
- Managing Self: This type of learning should include self-mastery and personal effectiveness, leveraging the compounding effect of habits, improving prioritization and developing an ownership mind.
- Managing Role: Learning in this phase comprehensively connects insights and applicable ‘action plans’ to the role of the employee – an orientation to prioritize outcomes based on an understanding of business and self.
- Managing People: It involves understanding the power of shared vision and result-oriented collaboration, understanding and handling different personalities, developing and managing high-performance teams.
Steps to improve learning focus:
- Business acumen and strategic thinking
- Decision-making, customer-centricity, and enhancing financial acumen
- Improving prioritization and developing an ownership mind.
- Self-mastery and personal effectiveness
- Managing high-performance teams
- Result-oriented collaboration