Engagement

Shifting to Hybrid Work: 3 things learners need in a post-covid work environment

Does anyone remember the expression, “Two weeks to slow the spread?” It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when we all thought we’d go back to pre-pandemic life as usual. Over the course of the past 9-12 months, it’s become increasingly obvious that office life is unlikely to ever return to “normal.” Countless companies have set dates for their employees to return, only to push those back as the latest variant emerges or a surge in infections impacts a significant region. Conferences and events have been scheduled, rescheduled, canceled, brought back, and moved online. We’ve all settled in to expecting the unexpected and living with uncertainty while adapting to a hybrid work environment.

Forward-thinking companies have shifted their efforts to building a hybrid work environment that allows the business to be responsive to whatever nature throws our way in the future. What hybrid work looks like will vary from organization to organization, but in most cases it means that individuals and teams will rotate between the office and remote work. Additionally, companies in many industries are increasingly relying on a contingent workforce, rather than traditional employment arrangements. 

Research and experience has shown that the evolutionary path learning has been traveling over the past 20 years will need to accelerate in order to meet the needs of a hybrid workforce. Yes, technology plays an important role, but there are more conceptual issues that will need to be considered. As you build your learning strategy, consider our top three recommendations to address the needs of hybrid learners.

1. Consistency of experience

For the most part, technology issues related to remote and hybrid work have been settled at this point. People have adopted the necessary apps and platforms, upgraded their workstations, and learned new ways of collaborating. Brian Kropp, head of HR at Gartner, recently said that figuring out the way forward with a hybrid work environment isn’t so much an issue of the right tech as it is “ a consistency and evenness-of-experience question.”

The learning industry has struggled to provide a consistent experience between in-person and virtual training for decades. The events of 2020 increased the adoption of virtual learning because it was the only way to continue developing people. As necessity is the mother of invention, companies have found all sorts of ways to make virtual learning work for development projects that were previously relegated to in-person events.

A hybrid work environment, however, throws in a whole new set of challenges. The learning modalities that will prevail in the next year will be those that can offer the same experience to learners located anywhere—in the traditional office, at home, and around the globe.

2. Sensitivity and empathy

While the pandemic escalated mental health issues for countless people, it’s fair to say that many people were dealing with these challenges long before 2020. One outcome of the pandemic is that mental health needs have become part of the public conversation, even in the workplace. Similarly, the work from home environment exposed many details about workers’ personal lives that may not have previously surfaced in the office. Parents and caregivers have been at the forefront of many leaders’ minds, but there are also countless other circumstances that were uncovered as the webcams clicked on at home.

As a result, learning leaders are seeking new ways to provide resources related to emotional intelligence, diversity and inclusion, and other soft skills. Specific interventions in those areas are needed in many organizations, but they should also become an integral part of the overall learning strategy. For a hybrid work environment to succeed, employers simply must continue to accommodate their workers’ personal needs. Recent news headlines have highlighted the damage that can occur in organizations that neglect to be empathetic to their employees. L&D has a huge opportunity to contribute in this area by taking an empathetic approach in the design of every learning intervention.

3. Engagement

The numbers vary, but reports indicate that anywhere from 25%-50% of workers have changed jobs in the past year. We’ve known for a long time that engaged employees are more likely to stick around; what’s quickly changing are the ways we go about keeping people engaged. A hybrid work environment, by nature, is significantly more vulnerable to people slipping through the cracks. Companies have ramped up their efforts to measure engagement consistently, and L&D groups have deployed a slew of interventions designed to help managers combat the factors that lead to disengaged workers.

Investing in employees by developing their skills is a tried-and-true way to increase employee engagement. That said, any initiative must be calibrated to what people really need and deployed via a program that keeps learners engaged enough to actually learn something. Sadly, most learning designed for virtual delivery doesn’t come close to the caliber of pre-pandemic events that were held in person. Those L&D groups that will continue to succeed in moving the needle on employee engagement will have to find ways to deploy learning that engages learners in the hybrid workplace—providing that consistent experience mentioned in item one.

Learning leaders may have a lot on their shoulders, but it’s an exciting time for our profession. We can make significant contributions to the success of a hybrid work environment by designing learning that supports employees in their areas of need. Our team has extensive experience doing just that. Contact us to schedule a new year strategy session.

Questions about the learning innovations that are shaping 2015?  Blueline has the answers. 

New technologies are making it possible to create incredibly immersive learning solutions at a price point that wasn’t imaginable just a few years ago. For example, a Fortune 100 wireless carrier needed an immersive simulation with integrated social media to onboard and encourage networking among new Sales Representatives. Because retail and wireless change so often and so fast, the solution needed to be easy and cost effective to update and maintain. Learn how Blueline partnered with our client to design a 3D “Level 4” simulation that could influence your learning organization’s vision for the future.

bl-changing-fast

Onboarding Sales Professionals with Online Simulation

In a previous blog, I described how we created an award winning onboarding experience for the legendary consulting firm: Booz Allen Hamilton. And in the one prior to that, I outlined our secret recipe. (If you missed that blog you may want to take a look now, because I’m going to showcase new ways to provide context, create a strong first impression, ensure engagement and fun, and reflect the client’s culture.)

Today I’d like to tell you about an ambitious “Level 4” simulation we developed. That is, it uses a gaming engine with rules and probabilities, as well as deeply pathed scenarios that mimic real-life customer interactions.

We built it for a retail client who was looking for an immersive, updatable experience for their Sales Representatives in an accurate store setting. And given the fast-paced nature of this retail space, our team’s goal was to build an experience that could be easily updated.

We developed a solution that uses a “mashup”of several technologies. It’s broken into several components which all work together to speed learner development: the Overview, the Virtual Store and the ASK System.

The Overview of the course is a 3D model of a typical retail store.  It showcases all of the devices that can be found in the stores and provides links with detailed information and videos. Facets of the store, such as the demonstration area, use green screen video of a narrator in front of rendered virtual elements to instruct on its use. Because change is constant in a retail environment, all of the devices can be easily updated or changed, and the information provided in many of the links often points to materials that exist elsewhere to simplify maintenance.

After exploring the Overview, learners are invited to navigate the Virtual Store and interact with customers. They “walk” through the environment by panning with the mouse or using the arrow keys. As they encounter customers in the store, they can click on them to begin a sales interaction. There are dozens of scenarios, each representing a different sales conversation with multiple endpoints. They focus on a range of relevant sales concepts: either a service, a detailed portion of the sales process, or the features and functions of a new product. As they interact with each customer, the learner can experience a range of up to nine animated emotional states.

Learners are evaluated on sales and customer satisfaction. Relative success in one scenario can cause other “virtual” customers in the store to be angry or happy, which affects subsequent interactions. Feedback is typically provided at the end of the interaction.

In the ASK System, we filmed and indexed approximately 100 videos of our client’s associates to support best practices, tips, and advice on selling. The videos serve as a virtual coach and can be accessed at any time via search or in response to frequently asked questions. Using tagging and scoring, the videos (and associated FAQs) intelligently arrange themselves based on rating and “relatedness” to the video that is currently being viewed.

Together, the Overview, the Virtual Store and the ASK System provide new learners with a comprehensive, risk free learning environment in which they can hone their skills. And because the content is kept up to date, learners are encouraged to return often to use it as reference and to learn about new devices and sales techniques as they are introduced.

It’s another great example of how virtual tools are creating incredibly robust learning solutions at a price point that wasn’t possible even five years ago. The world of learning is changing fast. At Blueline Simulations, we’re committed to staying on top of it, and bringing you the very latest and best technologies.

We’ve got a few more learning tricks up our sleeves. We’d love to show you, and then help you imagine the incredible levels of efficiency, engagement, retention and organizational change that are available to organizations like yours.

Data You Can Touch

How Blueline is using new “digital textbook” technology to engage learners and increase retention.

Whenever we build custom learning solutions for our client partners, most of them request some kind of pre-work or pre-read document. This usually leads to a conversation during the design process that goes like this:

“We need to create an exercise that establishes the foundational ideas and definitions.”

“But we already put that information in the prework document!”

“Yes, but we have to assume that some percentage of people won’t read the prework, so we need to get them caught up.”

Then why even give them prework?!” Hand wringing commences.

Okay, so maybe this kind of behind-the-scenes confessions of a harried learning designer isn’t so relevant to you and your world.

But what is relevant, I bet, is the need to create and deliver your key messages in a way that your people will consume, engage… and even integrate into their paradigms and behaviors.

At Blueline Simulations, we are constantly experimenting with new approaches, new technologies, and new ways of creating enrollment within organizations like yours. Sometimes we come across a new media that gets us excited. That happened just recently, and I wanted to tell you about it because I think there are some opportunities here for you.

This Is Not Your Father’s Data Dump

A big part of organizational learning is assimilating data. You know: those reams of charts and data that you need to somehow transfer to your audience’s brains. As much as we love experience at Blueline Simulations, sometimes there is a need for a “tell” approach. (Often we use the term – somewhat derisively – of “data dump.” This is where the dreaded pre-work document often makes an appearance.)

In a recent program, we dramatically increased engagement and retention of this data dump by using new technology provided by Apple’s iPad.

As you may have heard, Apple has made a significant entry into the world of textbooks. With their iBooks platform, Apple intends to revolutionize how students consume information. Apple has also released the free iBooks Author content creation tool to allow designers like us at Blueline to repurpose and design content in a highly engaging, multi-media, iPad-ready platform.

For our recent program, we created a pre-work document that rivaled the actual learning program in terms of generating participant enrollment. We delivered the client’s key content in an iBook format that included:

  • Embedded videos – from YouTube, and also TED Talks – that deliver a more penetrating look at related content.
  • Embedded graphics and charts that could be scrutinized with the iPad’s now-familiar “pinch and zoom” gesture.
  • Links that take learners to related websites, the company’s intranet, or other content located elsewhere in the document.
  • Short quizzes that allow learners to demonstrate that they have indeed internalized the material.

The game-changer here was the kinesthetic nature of the document, thanks to the iPad interface. The ability to touch, swipe, click, watch, and listen to content proved to be highly immersive. Learners, and the client, were unanimous: More of this, please.

Whenever we have an opportunity to add to our toolbox of approaches, we get excited. But the bigger opportunity here is for you. What is the key content that you need to transfer to your team in a change context? Rather than distribute another 60-page PDF document over email, what if you could deliver it in a novel medium that allows your audience to touch, move, and manipulate the content – thereby practically guaranteeing that they engage?

We’d love to show you a demo.

And if that’s not what you’re looking for, that’s okay. We have a few other tricks in our toolbox as well.

Give us a call. And let’s make some change happen in your organization.

Blueline is Celebrating our 10th Birthday. And I am a Bit Speechless.

Yes we had big dreams when we founded Blueline. But we never imagined the success and the many accolades that we have enjoyed in our first decade.  Blueline’s award-winning training solutions have been recognized by ASTD, Brandon Hall and Bersin’s Learning Leaders. Thank you to all of our clients for believing in our vision and for trusting us with the “tough” projects — the projects that weren’t simply about building a training program but were about solving a business problem.

And thank you to all of the Blueline associates who have contributed directly and indirectly to our client’s successes. I plan to dream really big about the next 10 years because now I know how capable you are.

On the occasion of this milestone, I’ve been reflecting about our business — where it has been and (even more exciting) where it is going.

Welcome to the Age of Simulation

Recently, I participated in a discussion about learning strategies with some very senior leaders from Xerox, AT&T, UPS, and Intercontinental Hotel Corporation. And it was interesting because though they weren’t able to agree on everything, there was one thing that they quickly came to consensus on: “in this environment we need to teach learners more, and faster than ever before.”

Consider that 47% of employees are going to be under the age of 35 by the end of 2013. Let’s think about that for a second. This is a brand new generation of learners with a whole different set of expectations. These folks grew up with Xbox, and they grew up with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. They grew up with Zynga and other social games on Facebook.

What’s the common theme? This group of learners expects to be entertained.

In 25 years in the learning space, if I’ve learned anything it’s that the fastest way to engage learners is through simulation. Period. And now we have this huge demographic that will not only benefit from simulation but is demanding it, because they want to be entertained, and they expect to be put in the middle of the experience.

Games, E-sims, and Beyond

Ten years ago, when I founded Blueline, we pushed the envelope by designing Blueline Blueprint Learning Visuals and classroom based simulations, many of which looked and felt like board games. These innovations speed learning and increase retention and continue to bring unique value in response to business problems that demand face-to-face interactions between learners.

About seven years ago, “branching esimulations” went mainstream in response to traditional elearning solutions that were dull and failed to engage and energize the learner. In a typical branching esimulation, the learner is faced with a challenge — often in the form of dialog with a customer or an employee — and is asked to respond by selecting from one of three alternatives. Their choice leads to another challenge and more choices, “and so on and so on” just like the old Clairol commercials. The problem has been that these simulations are hard coded, and for large scale immersive applications, expensive to build, and all but impossible to maintain and update.

Today technology has made it possible for us to do so much more, and to deliver so much more value. We are developing branching simulations based on gaming engines with thousands of nodes guided by easily updated rules and probabilities. Close your eyes and imagine a scenario in which you are interacting with a video-based character using your voice… and that you can interact with that character for hours on end in an almost life-like free flowing dialog.

Think for a minute about the potential that brings. Now, open your eyes because that’s a reality today.

Imagine what I will be writing about ten years from today!