Training and Development: A Valuable Tool in the Return-to-Office Push

As employees transition back to working in the office, HLW’s Evan Rusinowitz explores the benefits of improving post-pandemic talent development.

[Capital One, London, HLW] Capital One employees engaged in a training session in their multi-purpose room, featuring a variety of seating options and equipment.
The Great Resignation of 2021 signaled to employers that they will need a new approach to attraction and retention in post-pandemic times. The abrupt switch to remote work in 2020 precipitated a decline in employee morale. Many felt unmoored from their work culture, operating without a sense of their value to their employer or clear professional development goals. But after two years away from the office – no more lengthy, crowded commutes or wasting weekends on household chores that could now get done during work hours – many people prefer to continue working remotely (free snacks are no longer enough of an enticement). For employers looking to get employees back to their desks, mandating an in-office presence without proper motivators can cause resentment. So, how might employers inspire a stronger desire to return?

In evaluating incentives, it is important to take a step back and consider what has been challenging about the transition to remote work over the past two years. While many workers have been able to adapt daily tasks and jobs to the new normal, training and development opportunities have been difficult to replicate virtually. This suggests a prime opportunity for exploration that benefits the employer and the employee. A recent survey conducted by TalentLMS and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 76% of respondents would be more likely to stay with their current company if employers offered continuous training. And a global survey conducted by Randstad Workmonitor found that 88% of the employees surveyed would participate in a learning and development program if their employer gave them the opportunity.

Improving post-pandemic talent development will provide a variety of benefits at both the organizational and employee level, including:

  • Providing employees with a reason to come into the office
  • Boosting employee morale
  • Developing a deeper connection to the organization
  • Accelerating natural upskilling within the organization
  • Alerting employees to in-house resources and experts

Given this retention benefit, it is important to look holistically at training and development, evaluating not just cultural, but spatial and technological considerations, as well.

[Google, New York, NY, HLW] An open, multipurpose space reflecting a casual, collaborative culture.

CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS

Every workplace has a culture. Being conscious about the culture an employer wants to promote will require careful consideration of all decisions that affect the workplace. Consider these three questions to successfully foster the relationship between company culture and employee training and development.

  1. What is my company culture / what is the culture my company aspires to? Being able to answer this first question will help inform the kind of development program and training environment that works best. A 2019 Glassdoor survey found that over 77% of survey respondents considered a company’s culture when applying to a job, and 65% of employees cited their current company’s culture as one of their main reasons for remaining at their job. Being unable to define company culture puts employers at risk when it comes to employee attraction and retention. In a highly competitive market for top talent, employers should address this question thoughtfully.
  2. How can I manifest my ideal company culture through training and development? A company’s approach to training and development should reflect the culture they seek to encourage. It’s not enough for an organization to say that they are committed to training and developing their staff, it needs to be embedded into the company culture. This commitment should start at the top. Educate managers about the importance of developing younger talent and proper training methods. Encourage employees to pursue development opportunities both within and outside the organization. Consider developing a mentorship program or providing stipends for continuing education.
  3. How can you use training sessions and development programs to enforce a culture committed to upskilling current employees? A recent LinkedIn study reported that companies that commit to training their existing workforce for internal mobility had an average employee retention tenure of 5.4 years, which was almost twice as long as companies that didn’t promote internal mobility. When employers invest in an existing workforce, they preemptively combat the effects of the Great Resignation and avoid treading into the competitive market for new talent. Instead of fighting for job applicants in a competitive pool, consider upskilling current employees and promoting within, or training employees for a different role that might better align passion and aptitude.
[Comcast, New York, NY, HLW] A multipurpose space with a variety of seating arrangements to support a range of meeting styles and comfort levels.

SPATIAL CONSIDERATIONS

Space is the physical manifestation of your workplace culture and is an integral tool in supporting your commitment to training and development. Consider the following three questions when evaluating how successfully a workplace achieves training and development goals:

  1. What kinds of settings in the office promote training and development? Learning can take place anywhere: a small table adjacent to workstations could be enough to support desk-side training sessions; huddle rooms can be used for small training sessions away from the work area; break-out areas near larger training rooms can be used for splitting up employees into workshop specific topics; larger multipurpose rooms can support a range of group sessions. Think beyond the traditional classroom model and create spaces that are flexible and accommodating for a variety of session types.
  2. What kinds of furniture, tools, and design elements would support training and development in these spaces? After determining the spaces to prioritize for development, these spaces should be equipped with the tools employees need most (e.g., whiteboards, comfortable seating, or natural lighting). Remember, these spaces generate value, in part, because they offer employees resources that they can’t access working from home. If the office doesn’t support training and development in better ways than the virtual environment, these spaces won’t provide enough of an enticement for employees to return. It is important to ask employees, what makes a comfortable learning space? Additionally, consider furniture that can be easily moved and reconfigured, which will make the space more supportive of a variety of training formats.
  3. Might training be better served off-site? It is possible that office space is too constrained to provide the type of training and development necessary. There are a few solutions to this. Many corporate office buildings have shared, reservable conferencing facilities. Coworking spaces offer options for short-term office space rental. Consider researching more targeted courses for employees to take together at third-party providers. If all else fails, remember that part of the goal here is to encourage employees to return to the office. Even if suitable space for large gatherings is scarce, there may still be tremendous value in simply getting teams together in-person.
[UPS “Campus of the Future,” Parsippany, NJ, HLW] Technology activates the spaces shown above, from Wi-Fi that allows employees to work away from their workstations to seamless screen connectivity that promotes collaboration.

TECHNOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Though the goal is to encourage the return of employees to the office, technology will be necessary in bridging the distance between the employees still working remotely and those in the office. Consider these technology-related questions in revamping the approach to training and development:

  1. What new technologies do I need to stay competitive? It seems every day there’s a new tool released that has the potential to make work more efficient. These tools can be new hardware (e.g., VR Goggles, tablets, and new types of copy/print devices) or new software (e.g., organizational tools like Monday and Asana or collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Miro). The fact that the average age of the American workforce continues to rise places even more emphasis on the need to upskill employees with new technologies; however, while these tools offer great efficiency and automation potential, they may also come with a steep learning curve.
  2. Is my workplace technologically equipped to host training sessions? While the ultimate goal is to host in-person training sessions exclusively, the first goal of the post-pandemic office should be “remote equity,” or making participation in work-related gatherings equally easy for in-person and remote workers. Meeting rooms, training rooms, and multipurpose rooms should be equipped with technology that supports hybrid meetings. Technology is often the critical enabler in the delivery of a positive training session experience. Enhancing video-conferencing technology can enable employees who cannot attend in-person to take part in trainings; recording the sessions for future reference also supports employees’ training goals.
[Confidential Client, New York, NY, HLW] The multi-purpose room above is technologically equipped, features flexible furniture, and maximizes utility through a divisible wall.

CONCLUSION

For a successful training and development program, it is vital that the direction reflects both the desired culture of the organization and the will of the employees. Online surveys and curated focus groups are a valuable first step in taking the pulse of an organization. A deep dive evaluation of a company’s space and technology toolkit can also help shape the training and education environment. To reinforce company culture and foster a sense of community among employees, it is best to bring staff together in-person for training and development. Whether that happens at the office or a third-party facility will be determined by an assessment of needs and the resources available.

The previously mentioned conducted by Talent LMS and SHRM also found that survey respondents who were dissatisfied with the training currently provided by their companies felt it would be more effective if it were:

  • (50%) more relevant
  • (40%) more up to date
  • (37%) more easily controlled
  • (28%) broken into shorter sessions
  • (27%) more social

Today’s employees want an engaging and motivating development experience, rather than the traditional lecture-style sessions, which can be a much greater challenge programmatically when they’re executed virtually. Repeatedly, studies show that a path to growth is one of the biggest determining factors in long-term talent retention. Free snacks continue to be a nice gesture, but are they commute worthy? If the goal is to encourage increased presence in the office, a closer look at a company’s training and development program is a great place to start.

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