Are dispersed workforces disengaged workforces? Flexible and remote working offers many benefits, but do we risk losing the strong emotional bonds that connect people who work together in person? And what does this mean for learning, for performance, and for wellbeing and growth?
Before the Covid-19 pandemic, we created a gamified, interactive video solution for a client that aimed to change behaviour and reduce the risk of data loss. The solution was a huge hit with its audience. At its heart was a video drama that followed four characters through their working week. The challenge was to identify and click on the risky behaviours, the moment that they happened. It was a solo game, but people enjoyed gathering around their colleague’s desks to see how well they were doing, laughing and pointing out when they missed one of the risks. It was fun, but it didn’t just work as a conversational piece, it changed people’s behaviour. There was a trackable impact, such as fewer lost phones, better results on phishing tests, and more cleared desks at the end of the day – and this trackable impact meant the solution won awards.
The group engagement with our game illustrates that even self-directed digital modules can support social connections when designed in the right way; they can validate people’s experiences, amplify the effectiveness of learning content and embed behavioural changes.
However, we can, and should go further, especially in hybrid workplaces. By putting people first, and using technology thoughtfully, as a blended enabler to social learning, rather than a replacement for it, we not only improve the effectiveness of our learning programmes, we also contribute to healthier, happier workplaces.
‘Digital learning’ should mean more than digital content
Access to good quality content is important, but content has only ever been one aspect to learning. The process of studying alone can be isolating, even with its 24/7 flexibility. While independent study and self-reflection will always be an integral part of the learning process, we humans are social beings who learn better in collaborative environments. The rise of remote and hybrid working demands that asynchronous learning is balanced with opportunities for dialogue, coaching, and putting new skills into practice.
There are many ways in which technology can support and scale formal and informal remote social learning. Using virtual whiteboards like Miro or Mura, or the whiteboard in MS teams allows your teams to collaborate online and have all voices heard, even the quietest ones. You can:
- Bring people together in a cohort and give them an online space to connect around an action learning set.
- Use platforms such as Storytagger to help your internal experts and learners create user-generated videos that can enhance conversations.
- Create online simulations for group work.
Conversation builds social bonds
One of the greatest predictors of happiness is how connected you feel to others – and this holds for both your work and personal lives. One way to facilitate connectivity is live learning events, which are a unique opportunity to bring people together from different pay grades, specialisms, and management levels. When the event is virtual, you need to consider how you can facilitate relaxed, unstructured communication that builds social bonds, which isn’t easy.
Within live virtual sessions, it’s worth dividing course cohorts into micro-groups of 2 or 3 people and placing them in breakout rooms. It’s important to:
- Make sure you have enough hosts to move people around smoothly and facilitate conversation.
- Create activities that allow people to safely share something individual to them.
- Create a manageable timetable so that there’s enough time for unstructured, casual conversation. The type that would generally happen in a face-to-face training event, over lunch or at coffee. People value this form of interaction above all else when they’re asked to evaluate away-days out of the office.
Strengthening connections and communities using technology
Among all the recent technological advances, platforms, and tools that have been developed in digital learning, how many contribute to creating social bonds, fostering trust, and building cohesion?
We need to create coherent programmes of blended learning that provide opportunities for personal interaction. Where the self-directed learning is designed to make you feel seen and valued, because it is human, engaging and relevant.
The right learning blend uses technology to deliver consistent quality at scale and adaptive user experiences, but it also uses technology to build connections and communities. It uses technology purposefully to deliver stories and experiences that bring people together and support them, because when any group is connected through a shared vision and shared journey, they achieve so much more.
To learn more about how you can foster better connections in the workplace, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org