Many Australian organisations have responded to the downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic by seeking to reduce costs—but where do you streamline in order to remain competitive and adaptable?
It’s tempting to curb spending on professional development for your remote team, but we’d argue that now isn’t the time to do away with learning. Remote working may not be a short-term arrangement—it could conceivably be required for the next 6-18 months ahead.
You don’t want your team’s knowledge and skills to stagnate over that period. Business leaders championing new ways of working, need to focus on building the skill sets of their employees in order to adapt to industry changes while also thinking about evolving their organisation’s learning culture. In particular, promoting a culture of learning and innovation as a core aspect of agile development practices.
Whether your team is agile or not, keeping productivity and performance levels high while your employees work remotely will hinge on nurturing talent.
If you expect your business to not only survive, but emerge on the other side of COVID-19 stronger, you’ll need a team that’s capable of innovating and taking on new and changing roles because they never stopped learning and improving.
Why is a culture of continuous learning critical to remote work?
A continuous learning culture is characterised by an organisation where employees can learn—and apply that learning—in order to innovate, experiment with process improvements, and adapt to new roles.
When you support people to learn and develop, they’re more ready and willing to stretch themselves. That leads to increased productivity and engagement, innovative solutions, better quality products and services, and more satisfied customers.
Continuous learning helps to create:
→ Employees that are fast learners, flexible, and resilient in the face of disruption, who can quickly respond to the changing demands of a dynamic economy.
→ A C-suite capable of embracing technological innovations and weaving these into the daily business processes of the company to reduce costs and wastage, and drive up productivity and profits.
→ An organisation that’s better equipped to harness new ideas and leverage them to develop solutions—products and services—for their customers.
Research has shown that companies with a strong learning culture are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period of time.
In a remote working context, supporting continuous learning becomes even more important.
A harmonious remote team is dependent on a strong culture—when face-to-face interaction is removed you need to work harder to communicate, build connection, and boost morale. Feedback loops also become more important in remote teams—because you’ve to work harder to see and understand what’s happening day-to-day.
A remote learning culture where workers are encouraged to learn (both formally or independently), conduct experiments, and share their findings with each other, helps to keep everyone motivated, aligned, and agile.
Internationally recognised HR thought leader Josh Bersin argues that “the fastest-growing companies of today create highly empowered teams; they promote people based on their expertise and relationships; they experiment and iterate on products and services; and they use top-down leadership as a form of alignment, not a form of control.”
Investing in your people is never a waste—but now, more than ever, your people are your only true sustainable, competitive advantage. Now, more than ever is the time to invest in and embed a culture of continuous learning.
Leaders should embrace and promote learning and development opportunities across their remote workforce, ensuring that a culture of continuous improvement naturally flows throughout their organisation.
What does a remote learning culture look like?
Preparing your workforce to successfully work remotely for the long haul requires training them to be more engaged, more adaptive, and more experimental.
It’s important to model curiosity and development behaviours at the management level, give employees the opportunity and time to learn, provide constructive feedback, and encourage knowledge-sharing as a form of teamwork.
These are some of the behaviours and activities that will make the biggest difference:
At an individual level – Individuals need to be supported to perform daily tasks in a way that increases learning and knowledge, such as:
→ Channels to either ask for help or find out answers independently.
→ Working (remotely) alongside experienced employees to gain knowledge.
→ Experimenting with new/alternative approaches to work.
→ Ownership of self-directed training—allowing people to choose what and how they learn, within reason.
At a team and organisational level – Teams and organisations must embed continuous learning into the culture. Favour holistic approaches that shape the whole team’s capacity to adapt to changes and remain current with the latest practices, such as:
- Team training that develops a common language, skills, and approaches.
- Role modelling by top management through involvement in learning and demonstrating vulnerability (e.g. sharing learnings gained from failures).
- Establishing digital spaces and opportunities for people to share what they learn with one another (e.g. learning circles, knowledge channels on messenger apps, playbacks, lunch and learns).
- Bringing in external coaches to make sure new knowledge results in new skills and behaviours.
- Trusting and challenging employees with ‘stretch’ projects, promotions, and varied responsibilities.
- Offering development opportunities to employees at every level and ensuring learning isn’t age, gender or job specific.
- Include learning centred on personal wellbeing as well as professional skills.
- Recognise and reward employees for contributing to a learning culture.
Support learning while working remotely for improved agility.
If you don’t emphasise knowledge-sharing and learning, you risk inhibiting growth, letting processes become outdated, and permitting poor performance from your remote team.
It pays to foster a continuous learning culture even as you shift to remote working if your goal is to stay innovative, customer-centric, and profitable. Your remote teams must be able to expand and hone their skill sets in response to a changing environment, market trends, and new developments.
Businesses managing their teams using agile principles have an inherent advantage because learning culture is inherently agile. An agile mindset is about adapting to customer and industry needs though iterative work, fast delivery and high-quality outputs. Experimentation, learning from mistakes, and feedback loops are part and parcel of agile practices—which lines up with a continuous learning culture.