The COVID – 19 pandemic made possible the impossible, as organisations had to think beyond existing norms and adapt their business continuity plans to the need to work from home. The potential for remote work and its success varies, based on the industry and kind of work. Some industries like It, finance and education could comfortably shift to remote working, while it was nearly impossible for others like the medical industry, where surgeries or complicated tests needed to be performed onsite. This was also true for the manufacturing industry, where production came to a halt due to the pandemic.
As every industry began shifting at least some parts of their work online, the crucial element of 'seeing and learning' became diluted, as employees were now unable to reap the benefits of vicarious learning and real-life mentorship. However, successful business leaders were quick to fill this vacuum with tech-enabled, immersive, and personalised L&D frameworks that equip employees with the skills and knowledge required to adapt quickly in a rapidly changing workplace.
As we enter a post-pandemic era, it is becoming increasingly clear that returning to old ways of working is highly unlikely. According to a study by Zoho Corporation, 95% of Indian businesses are not planning to abandon WFH for at least 2 more years. In what is now being referred to as Workspace 4.0, there is increasing acceptance that the definition of a "workspace" goes beyond a physical office. Learning and development, amongst a myriad of workplace practices, was dramatically altered. Not only were organisations reminded of the acute need for well-designed L&D programmes, they also experimented with various ways of taking the same online.
Taking Upskilling Virtual
While learning and development is at its best when the entire team is under one roof, an online, instructor-led model works best in a virtual environment. This enables learning sessions to be delivered to larger masses, as there are no constraints on numbers, classroom infrastructure etc. These sessions can further be recorded, enabling the creation of learning assets for reuse. This equips the organisation with learning material that can be made available to various project groups when the need arises. As L&D took a virtual route, change was observed not just in processes but also in team collaboration and workforce mindset. Self-paced learning increased, and companies could also drive soft skills, leadership programs and technical programs by connecting our employees from different locations onto a single platform. This enabled employees from centres across the country (and the world) to connect and collaborate effectively, promoting cross-cultural adaptation and learning. The learning terrain was smooth, and several barriers in classroom training slowly faded. There was widespread acceptance of online, instructor-led learning, blended learning and portal based learning using learning paths and journeys.
Aside from a shift in L&D processes, top priority skills too changed for most organisations. There was an increasing realisation that success did not just depend on ensuring that employees are well equipped to handle the business needs of the present. Rather, any successful L&D structure must also have systems in place to predict future demands and train the workforce accordingly. In several cases, a digital skills gap became quickly evident, with sudden increase in the pace of tech adoption necessitating the inclusion of critical technology and data concepts in learning programmes. A 2021 LinkedIn report revealed that digital fluency topped the list of priority skills to build in India. Skills in analytics and digital software too assumed newfound importance. Soft skill training too adapted to the needs of the new normal, as the inculcation of the interpersonal skills, problem-solving abilities and self-confidence needed to navigate remote working assumed priority.
Hurdles In The Path
The ushering in of Industry 4.0 technology that limits the need for lab infrastructure or production lines is a boon. However, this also brought the challenge of training the workforce in a manner of working that was relatively unknown until then. For instance, in ground-intensive sectors like industrial automation, the workforce needs to connect to devices, access remote systems and execute projects. Often, enabling access to the necessary devices is in itself a challenge, further intensified by the increased load on the organisation's IT systems.
Aside from technical challenges, communication challenges too existed. In several cases, the continuous feedback loop that existed in physical settings broke. Business leaders were learning to trust their employees with increasing autonomy, and employees were adapting to the increasing responsibility to shape their learning paths. The right combination of organisation-driven and self-paced learning yields the best results in this regard.
WFH served to be both a boon and a bane for organisational upskilling. A kay message across the board is that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for a successful WFH culture. While some industries could seamlessly switch to remote working, others had to build entirely new systems, implement new hardware and software solutions and train their employees to operate in entirely new work structures. More than anything, key learning has been that organisational upskilling holds great potential to make or break an organisation, especially in times of crisis. A scalable, flexible and resilient business can only be built if employees are equipped with the right skills to quickly adapt to changing industry needs. From digital skills occupying utmost priority to new, tech-enabled systems for implementing L&D programmes - upskilling has taken on a new form in the post-pandemic world. Tapping into the benefits of these changes and implementing strategies to overcome obstacles will allow businesses to create a happy, confident and productive workforce.