Missing that spark: New hybrid working world affecting employee learning, team spirit and creativity as we head into 2021

A new survey by Actus, the UK provider of the award-winning Unified People Performance Platform and HR Uprising Podcast, has uncovered a number of prevailing concerns for employees. These centre around lack of opportunities to collaborate, connect and learn as informal face-to-face interactions are restricted due to Covid-19 enforced remote working.

Their research carried out in October 2020, before the second lockdown showed that a substantial 63% of respondents were not expecting to return to the office full-time for the foreseeable future. As the novelty of sustained remote working wears off, the long-term effects of sporadic in-person interactions with team members are starting to appear with virtual working potentially inhibiting informal learning, engagement and creativity.

Can this be addressed by formalising learning?

It seems that formalising learning is quite a long way from enabling a learning culture with 45% of respondents considering training to be simply ‘tick-box compliance’ and only 5% describing their culture as having a sophisticated 70/20/10 approach. When asked whether they had a learning culture in their organisation, 79% selected the option of ‘not really’ or ‘only in pockets’. The results show that companies are yet to have effective (remote) learning management systems in place that can accommodate for the flexible face-to-face and virtual world they are now inhabiting.

Missing colleagues stifling creativity / challenges looking ahead

Looking ahead to the next set of performance challenges in a semi-virtual world, most respondents highlighted ‘a lack of informal collaboration/contact with fellow colleagues affecting information sharing or creativity’ (63%) and ‘a lack of team ethos/spirit’ (60%) as the two most pressing concerns. Unsurprisingly, these responses are joined by nearly two thirds (65%) viewing ‘isolation & disengagement’ as the biggest obstacle that will come with the new hybrid world of work. Factors involving the more pragmatic side of working life were less of a worry, with 22% apprehensive about disjointed availability/working hours, 26% concerned by a loss of productivity or focus, and 35% fearing a lack of talent visibility would affect their development and career progression.

An adaptable future?

Despite this, more than two thirds of HR and Learning professionals surveyed (68%) stated that ‘remote learning’ would be a key area of focus and challenge over the next 6 months for their organisation, with 61% also selecting ‘employee engagement’ as a close second. In addressing these challenges, only 16% opted for recruitment/onboarding as their key focus/challenge. This resembles a push to solve problems through more effective remote learning systems, virtual team collaboration and augmenting employee engagement, rather than recruiting new members to the team to fill in the gaps. When asked what methods might work best in overriding these areas, the significantly most selected answer was ‘regular company virtual briefings’ (60%), followed by ‘recognising and encouraging time spent learning’ (44%) and ‘wellbeing mentors or buddies’ (39%).

“These results demonstrate a clear concern by employees for their learning, training, and development, with employers not able to implement pre-existing formal training development programmes as we enter this new flexible semi-virtual world,” said Lucinda Carney, CEO of Actus Software.

“However, what is equally revealing is just how much people are missing their colleagues and the creative ideas that emerge from informal interactions. There is a clear need for organisations to have a people performance platform in place that can both provide effective remote training and enable colleagues to interact both in-person and virtually. This can then also help address any engagement and/or wellbeing concerns they may have.”

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