Why is rethinking collaborative social learning vital in a hybrid world?
HR Director |General business

Why is rethinking collaborative social learning vital in a hybrid world?

Collaborative social learning has always been vital for employee and organizational development, innovation, and gaining a competitive edge.  However, the way we approach peer 2 peer collaboration has changed due to COVID and the introduction of hybrid work. And so has the nature of social collaborative learning.

Why should this be a source of concern?

While you offer your team members a variety of tools – for both task completion and collaborative work, as well as learning and knowledge exchange – they might be too overwhelmed with digital, cognitive, and emotional workload to use these tools for engaging in peer 2 peer learning the way they used to. No wonder – they don’t have the headspace and might be in a constant fight-and-flight mode.

With the above in mind, here are a few arguments that I believe might convince you of the need to rethink your collaborative social learning approach in your transition journey to a remote-smart/hybrid workplace.

Why is rethinking social collaborative learning vital in a hybrid world?

Argument 1: The knowledge continues to soar exponentially while the half life of knowledge continues to decrease significantly

Knowledge becomes obsolete faster than ever before, which is especially risky for companies without real-life interactions and limited organic learning opportunities. The assumption here is that groups and companies are only innovative and agile if they ensure smooth peer 2 peer collaboration and continuous learning in the flow of work and, through that, the synergy of their talent (their joint, diverse knowledge, and experience). This is virtually impossible without social collaborative learning practices in place.

The half life of knowledge doesn’t spare leaders either. In our more and more specialized and complex organizations, hardly ever are there subject matter experts with knowledge of all the areas they oversee. Hence, they can’t always help their team themselves. That’s why they should have the comfort of leveraging the skills and knowledge through continuous cross-team collaboration.

Argument 2: Maintaining employee engagement of digital nomad generations  is a challenge worth rethinking sooner than later

The most common reason for voluntary leave among Millennials and Gen Z is the lack of development opportunities, especially learning from their more senior peers and leaders. As mentioned above, even if you give them access to a variety of communication and collaboration tools, including social learning platforms, they may have no space now to take advantage of them.

Needless to say, in times of increasing talent scarcity and Millennials and Gen X taking over the workforce employee engagement through continuous development is critical to business. Therefore, it’s imperative that you look at the tools you already have and reconsider how to enable employees to use them actively by creating a supportive, individualized social learning environment, making space for – and rewarding – peer 2 peer learning.

Argument 3: Less time and exposure to learning with and from others in a remote/hybrid work model erodes team’s social capital 

Already back in 2019, Josh Bersin and Marc Zao-Sanders proved that employees were experiencing an increased work overload, with most employees carving out no more than 5 minutes to learn each day. Bear in mind that these numbers, as modest as they are, were calculated for a pre-COVID reality. Since then, the situation has only worsened.

5 minutes for learning

We can especially see the detrimental trend take its toll on companies that were caught off guard and were forced into remote work overnight. Many of these organizations conducted their learning & development activities through classroom learning practices and scheduled training well ahead of time.

Without adjusting their collaboration and learning activities to the remote/hybrid work model, they risk having their people experience longer working days, more meetings, and an increased synchronous and asynchronous communication workload. This leaves them less cognitive space for intentional learning.

Simultaneously, with a remote workplace induced, rapid increase of synchronous communication, the time and space for spontaneous, ‘just in time’ peer to peer learning and knowledge exchange has decreased drastically if not  supported and rewarded.

How to start rethinking it?

How to start rethinking collaborative social learning?

  1. Before you start designing the digital ecosystem supporting social collaborative learning, evaluate your organization's learning culture maturity level. Do people feel psychologically safe to ask questions, learn from mistakes, question the status quo? Are continuous peer 2 peer learning and knowledge exchange promoted actively and rewarded? If so, do company leaders walk the talk? Is mentoring others or engaging in social collaborative learning an integral element of your career path? Is constructive feedback taking and giving expected and fostered? Do teams have regular, transparent retrospectives? These are just some of the questions worth exploring and answering. 
  1. If you have or are about to invest in a collaborative social learning ecosystem, consider how to (re)design every day collaboration so that people have the space needed to engage in peer to peer learning. Also, make sure that it does not add on top of their drastically increased digital exposure. To begin with, move as much as possible to asynchronous communication and collaboration, ensure proper curation of knowledge and reliable, easily accessible single sources of truth.  
  1. When evaluating the business impact of these endeavours also think about the so-called lost opportunity cost i.e. what is likely to happen if you don’t  rethink your  approach to collaborative social learning? It is not just about the easily quantifiable leading indicators (such as employee engagement pulse check results) or lagging indicators (such as turnover) after all.
  1. Before you take a stab at points 2 and 3 above, make sure to collect insights on current, natural collaborative learning habits and bottlenecks. You can do it via active surveying (somewhat prone to subjective perspectives) or, better still, via  organization network analysis through tools such as Network Perspective, that will capture team level data on your employees' ways of working, workload and collaboration patterns. It can also provide you with valuable, actionable insights directly applicable in your transition to an effective hybrid workplace designed with employee engagement, continuous learning, and wellbeing in mind.

Final remarks

Social collaborative learning is absolutely critical to maintain high team engagement, innovation, and competitive edge of the company. It also helps reduce the turnover among employees from the Millennial and Gen Z generations, who value growth and peer 2 peer learning over other work-related motivators. (Re)considering your approach to collaborative social learning as soon as possible is surely worth the effort.

The few tips I shared above on how you can go about creating more development opportunities for your team, and so, ensure their higher engagement in the new hybrid reality, are just to start you thinking. If you’d like to learn more, reach out or leave a comment.

If you’re interested in learning how you can measure peer-to-peer learning, we also recommend taking a look at how we approach the subject at Network Perspective.

November 3, 2021

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