“Would you rather work from home or in the office?”
You’ve seen this debate on multiple LinkedIn polls. You’ve read surveys on the future of work in a post-pandemic era. You’ve talked about it with friends and colleagues. Perhaps your boss asked you, too, where you’d like to work from going forward, or you’ve surveyed your team. And, more often than not, the “winner” is the most flexible option: the hybrid workplace.
Organizations have started re-opening their offices, and many of them are adopting this hybrid workplace concept. They’re making room for the best of both work-from-home and in-office models.
A hybrid workplace is good for business. But it can also present new challenges to HR. There’s a learning curve to managing and training a hybrid workforce. But, with the right strategies, you can roll out effective training and provide all your employees with a quality learning experience.
What does the hybrid workplace look like?
A hybrid workplace uses a combination of in-office and remote work to meet the new norms of how and where work happens. According to recent research, this model boosts revenue and productivity.
But more than that, hybrid work reflects a move toward tailoring work to employees’ needs and what makes the most sense for them. Details of how often and when employees are in the office vary from company to company. But plenty of high-profile organizations are getting on board with the hybrid work model.
For example, Ford Motor Company has announced a new post-pandemic work policy that lets employees choose whether to return to the office or continue to work from home. Other prominent companies, including Google, Microsoft, and Apple, are rolling out similar plans.
But even with all its benefits, the move to a hybrid approach does present some new challenges. Not least among these is how to train a hybrid workforce so that all employees have a quality learning experience and equal opportunities for career development.
The challenges of training (and managing) a hybrid workforce
A hybrid workforce needs special treatment when it comes to training. Intact teams may be split into remote and in-office contingents. It can be challenging to provide both groups with consistent and meaningful training.
In addition, HR will need to turn a greater focus on supporting the tools and technology that will keep a hybrid workplace running. They’ll have to create a cohesive culture, decide how to handle onboarding, and ensure employees are up to speed on the expectations of the new workplace.
This all means developing new policies. It also means a big focus on learning and development tailored to meet the needs of a hybrid workplace and of each employee.
6 learning strategies for the hybrid workplace
To deliver effective training in a hybrid workplace, you need to adjust both the content and the delivery method. Consider the following six learning strategies drawn from the experiences of companies making the move.
1. Prioritize communication skills
The hybrid workplace can create a divisive culture if you’re not careful. Many companies are turning to soft skills training to keep everyone on the same page, regardless of location.
Communication training is top of the list for many companies. Designerwear, a UK-based designer clothing company, has found that knowing how to talk about concerns and resolve differences is especially crucial with a hybrid workforce. CEO Ben Wallington says:
“In a hybrid workplace, in-office groups have to learn to communicate and sync their activities with remote employees and vice versa.”
Your training content should reflect the communication challenges that distributed teams face. For example, you might want to train people on the messaging app you’re using or how to hone their writing skills. Crafting an email may sound like a basic task, but crafting an effective email could help avoid miscommunications, especially between team members who’re in different locations and can’t discuss issues on the spot.
2. Focus on leadership training
Managing a hybrid workforce is a challenge of its own and requires a unique skill set. That’s why many companies focus on bringing employees up to speed on key leadership skills.
Digital PR, a digital agency based in Florida, is such an example. According to CEO Zachary Hoffman, they want to support managers and make sure they have the tools they’ll need to lead in a hybrid work environment. Their leadership training centers around communication and emotional intelligence. These skills are always needed, even in the traditional workplace, he says, “but now that managers have to juggle in-person and remote employees all at once, it’s even more of a challenge.”
Leaders need to be able to communicate in ways that give employees, regardless of location, a sense of belonging. They need to be able to hold people accountable to outcomes when they can’t simply see them at work and know what they’re doing. And they need to understand and work with new levels of flexibility and trust.
3. Reduce or dismiss in-person training
Balancing in-person with remote training is difficult with variable schedules and locations. Live training sessions can leave remote employees behind. And it’s hard to be inclusive with some attending in person and some online.
Transitioning most or all of your training to your learning management system (LMS) and making it self-paced ensures equal access. It also makes sure each employee has the same training experience.
Online options also let you deliver more content more often. Keeping employees updated on changing policies or new skills for their day-to-day work is an ongoing process. When you move everyone to eLearning, you’re not limited by the risk of taking people away from their jobs to come together for training. Plus, you stay true to your promise of a flexible workplace where people can choose where to work (and learn) from.
The drawback of online, self-paced learning, though, is that employees are missing out on opportunities to interact with each other. Jessica Zhao, Chief Marketing Director at Spacewhite, an Australia-based company that creates eco-friendly, low-waste cleaning products, suggests solving this issue by creating smaller, “mixed” groups, especially when onboarding new hires: “For a hybrid workplace, a buddy system between a remote and in-office employee would be especially beneficial to help bridge the gap between these two working models.”
4. Choose cloud-based training solutions
For many companies, the transition to hybrid work also means greater reliance on eLearning. Asynchronous (or self-paced) training presents an elegant solution when you’ve got employees working across locations and sometimes timezones. It lets people complete training at their own pace, wherever and whenever it makes sense for them.
And while this sounds convenient on the employee side, it does create challenges on the admin side. Hosting one on-site workshop for all has certain logistics difficulties, but when you have to roll out different training sessions on a regular basis, customized for different groups, and track their progress, “difficulties” take a whole new meaning.
This is where a good LMS can help. In other words, a platform that can host dynamic, engaging content. And also automate and manage individual learning.
Phil Stazzulla, founder and CEO of SelectSoftware Reviews, an HR tech review site, says his team relies on their training platform to support their learning strategy. “A good LMS allows you to control the learning content. This means that you can create different learning paths for remote vs. on-prem employees.”
By tracking previous performance, evaluations, or changes in departments, they can automatically assign relevant courses through their LMS. This way, the training platform does the heavy lifting of managing employee progress and removes the burden of remembering to send out new training material or reminding employees to complete a course.
Along the same lines, Mike Grossman, CEO of GoodHire, an employment background check platform, highlights the importance of using the right tech when training a hybrid workforce.
“The primary issue with training and development in a hybrid setting is that employees don’t have the same level of access to course content.”
For example, those working in the office can call upon resources like their supervisor, their peers, or even data stored locally on office computers. This puts remote workers at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to mastering new skills and learning effectively. This creates imbalances between the two groups of employees.
Luckily, these days, there’s little that can’t be accomplished remotely. The solution, Mike says, is to make sure all your training material is cloud-based. “By making information available regardless of the location or device of the user, employees can expand their knowledge without barriers.”
5. Customize content for each group
You may also find value in customizing content for remote versus co-located employees. Where an employee works from will affect how they do their job, and you can help them learn the nuances of their role with tailored training.
For instance, online builders’ retailer EasyMerchant creates different learning modules for office versus remote employees. According to Stacy Kane, the company’s business development lead, “the modules should be created to understand the challenges faced by each group.”
So, for example, training for remote workers may include specific content around what’s needed to provide quality online customer service. Or, how to deal with distractions at home. Likewise, training on workplace hazards might be relevant only for in-office employees, whereas cybersecurity training should be a mandatory course for remote team members.
In any case, the key is to adapt your content to ensure everyone gets consistent and meaningful training and decide whether it makes sense for some courses to be exclusive to only one group.
6. Make room for interaction
When people are working in different locations and using different processes, the culture can start to feel disparate. In a hybrid workplace, there’s the risk of proximity bias—employees form stronger relationships with people they see every day, and therefore, favoritism or cliques can poison your company culture.
You can help reduce polarization by making training a place where people interact and build relationships. Building unity has been a foundational principle at the Frank Recruitment Group, a global IT staffing firm. President Zoë Morris says,
“By finding ways to get people connected, you erase that ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ culture between those based in the office and those in other locations.”
You can boost interaction by setting up discussion threads dedicated to talking about and clarifying the training content. Or, include collaborative learning activities and group projects that get people talking.
Even investing in a messaging app and encouraging people to create groups based on their interests and have casual chats can make a difference. It’ll help improve the working experience, but as Zoë adds, “chances are employees will learn a lot from each other this way.” Because when you build in interaction during the day-to-day, you help create a feeling of team and belonging that will strengthen a hybrid work environment.
Adjust your training to strengthen your hybrid workforce
Asking your teams and deciding whether to transition to a hybrid workplace is a top concern these days. But designing how you’re going to train your teams in that case, shouldn’t be an afterthought, either.
It’s not just about the operational aspect of it—i.e., choosing online training so that everyone gets access from anywhere. What your training will include and how you’ll engage your learners will play a big part in building a successful hybrid workplace.
This new way of working requires new skills, like stronger communication abilities, shifts focus to results and flexibility, and creates new needs when it comes to trust and interaction between coworkers.
To address all these new challenges, you need an agile L&D program. One that takes into account employees’ current needs and provides them with useful skills and knowledge.
So, after checking in with your teams about whether they want to work from home or in the office, there comes another equally important question, to ask yourself this time:
“Is my training program ready to cater to a hybrid workforce?“