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Hybrid working – the need for better learning experiences

Blog posts | 15.04.2021


Shaping the future of learning

A year into the pandemic and many of the dramatic shifts we’ve seen in the ways we work are developing into longer-term strategies. Moves to remote working, learning online, virtual teams and collaboration may have been an acceleration of otherwise longer-term workplace innovations, or maybe their sudden adoption shone a light on some mis-held beliefs around productivity and efficient ways of working.  Whatever the case, like any good catalyst, the pandemic it seems, lit a fire beneath business digitalisation and the question of where people work, and when. 

So what does this mean for learning? We take a look at the implications and how to take a more human-centric approach. 

Hybrid working as the new(est) normal? 

In recent months a number of big-brand corporates such as PWCBPGreggsNationwide and many others have put a stake in the ground – announcing a limited return to the office or plans for staff to work remotely on an ongoing basis, at least to some extent. And as businesses look to adopt new approaches to the workplace with varying degrees of flexibility, it seems clear that most businesses will end up with some kind of hybrid working approach where employees split their work time between the home and office.  

According to PwC’s US Remote Work Study conducted in January this year, less than one in five executives say they want to return to the office as it was pre-pandemic and 13% of executives are prepared to let go of the office for good. The same study found 87% of employees say the office is important for collaborating with team members and building relationships — which was also their top-rated need for the office.   

How remote working affects our ability to learn 

Although working from home has worked better than expected, some report that it has left many "fatigued". People do miss the opportunity to step away to talk to colleagues, collaborate or to participate in everyday activities.  

And all of this poses a real and present challenge for learning. The impact of doing everything online is taking its toll on learners, with 41% of people in the UK suffering from digital fatigue. L&D has a key role to play in addressing this and given that it’s likely the shift to digital will remain as businesses consider hybrid working and the associated cost savings, we must make digital learning more human, creating better learning experiences that are built on a deep empathy with the people that we’re designing them for. 

A number of studies have found links between social isolation and a decline in cognitive function, also affecting our ability to learn. A recent article published by Raconteur suggests that prolonged periods of remote working are depriving us of the dynamic environments we need to learn – we are experiencing fewer new experiences, which means fewer opportunities to create learning connections in the brain. 

According to Natalia Ramsden, director of cognitive optimisation consultancy SOFOS Associates, “For many, the office is a rich source of stimulation for their brains; challenges and cognitive stretch occur through work content, but also through difficult conversations, interactions with others and even the physical environment itself.”  

Next steps in learning design for the hybrid workplace 

Many businesses ramped up their digital learning in 2020 – in some cases this was a fast-forward on a move to a digital-first approach that was already underway – but largely it was a case of ‘keeping the lights on’. Businesses converted their essential learning and training into a virtual format, and they did so quickly (check out our series on The Story of the Virtual Classroom for more). Now it looks as though a complete return to the old ways of working is off the table, as more businesses consider the cost-savings by reducing the need for physical office space, so how do you reassess your learning with the hybrid workplace in mind? 

Balanced against the backdrop of cost savings and remote working, is the need for in-person collaboration and creativity. For many, creativity is at its best when teams are together, brainstorming ideas and talking over lunch or coffee, and there’s a risk this is lost when people are working from home. And a recent study by Microsoft shows that employees at home are more likely to contact current team members but less likely to get in touch with new ones. This has an impact on how knowledge and expertise can be shared across an organisation, as well as implications for wellbeing and inclusiveness for newer colleagues. 

If the physical office won’t return as it was, what space will you have access to? And how can you use this when considering your learning programme? For some businesses, we will see a complete redesign of how office space is used – with workers primarily based at home but coming into the office for specific activities such as in-person collaboration or team working. Hybrid working at its best therefore, means working from the environment that makes the most sense depending on the activity. Overlaying learning best practice on top of this means providing learners with great experiences across a blend of approaches, that includes those human touch points and experiences needed to fire new connections in the brain. 

Human experience design: start with the learner 

Just as marketing will look first to understand target audience needs, we need to take a leaner-centric approach to learning programme design. Understand what your leaner needs are, design easy to use learning that will help them, and then design experiences or support to help them practice or apply it.  

Taking the physical and virtual aspects of the learners’ working world into account, you can then align learner journeys to the digital environment your people have become used to in the last year and enhance that with valuable experiences and human touchpoints.

Adding in the ‘human’ aspect of learning is about being sympathetic to the real person at the centre of your learning and designing a better experience for them – in the hybrid workplace this will include their work environment and situation. While you might have all the tech and tools in place to enable people to learn online, a great learning programme will consider what is the right balance between online and offline learning experiences, knitting these together to find the optimal journey. It’s about considering a wide range of delivery methods and activities that give learners the opportunity to learn, reflect, collaborate with peers, re-learn, and, most importantly, apply their learning in practice.  

It will support learning at the point of need, providing timely and relevant content, not just another information dump. And while digital learning allows us the freedom to provide self-directed learning, remember that some leaners need (and in fact crave) structure. This might mean ensuring managers are better equipped to support their teams’ learning, building in touchpoints to reflect and provide guidance. This is especially important for new joiners who may be onboarded remotely – they won’t yet know who to go to for peer-to-peer reflection or validation, and with no-one walking past their desk or that they can tap on the shoulder for help, you can’t rely on a digital programme alone to provide them with the experiences they need. 

Designing learning for the hybrid workplace in some ways is no different from any other (good) approach to learning design, in that we need to develop environments that engage learners and include collaborative activities that embed that learning. We just need to make sure we consider the real world environment (and possible digital fatigue) our learners are faced with.  

How we can help 

At Kineo, we’re experts in creating digital learning solutions. We take a collaborative approach to each project, working alongside L&D teams to understand their learner audience and day-to-day experiences to ensure we build learning experiences that resonate, have real meaning in people’s day-to-day lives, tangible benefits for their own development and measurable improvement in their performance and that of their organisations.

If you'd like to discuss ways to take a digital-first learning approach fit for the hybrid workplace, whatever that might look like for you, get in touch - we're here to help. 


Shaping the future of learning

Kineo helps the world’s leading businesses improve performance through learning and technology. We’re proud of our reputation for being flexible and innovative, and of our award-winning work with clients across the world.