Flexible learning

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The conversation about flexible working has been amplified and more focused since lockdown. The discussion has been centred on working from offices but this misses 2 other key factors in flexible work.

The first of these is flexible hours. The lockdown showed that people were able to work at times that suited them. The commute became seconds rather than hours and people were (and still are) ready to work earlier and finish later. This flexibility to work around childcare, other responsibilities and personal preference should be factored into conversations with people about when and how the job is done.

Working hours are a direct result of work location; if you travel to a place to work, the hours need to be within the parameters of the availability of the working space. For skill workers, there is less flexibility in location – the work needs to be done in a workshop, studio, factory, etc, – but knowledge work may, in many cases, be done anywhere. The key restraint is the need to perform synchronous tasks – meetings, planning, etc – but the availability and use of online tools has set aside many of these hurdles.

The second, and more often ignored factor, is flexible job design. The Taylor Review in 2017 identified that:

A commonly understood spine of employability skills could also form the basis for conversations between employers and employees about job design, on the job training and appraisal, all with the aim in mind that every job enables people to develop their future employment potential.

Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices

The conversations about job design need to happen now. The time is ripe now for the input driven and measurement by hours of effort culture to be disrupted and replaced with skills based and learning supported outcome focused work.

Including flexibility in job design is hard though; management capability is stretched in terms of both capacity (span, remote contact, governance, etc) and ability (skills, aptitude, awareness, etc).

From a learning perspective, the progressive learning providers and functions will understand that learning needs to be designed around flexible locations, flexible hours and flexible design.

In the book Purple Cow, Seth Godin stresses that disruptors and market leaders will not be focusing on the majority – this market is still coming to terms with online learning as a goto ahead of face to face events. The target for the learning functions should be the innovators and early adopters.

In your organisations, seek out the people, teams and functions who are trying new things. Chase down and celebrate like rock stars, the people who are integrating learning into flexible work. Look for the improvements in productivity from those who have built learning into the flow of flexible design.

For vendors, talk with your clients to test how innovative they really are. Investigate their 6-month, 12-month and 2-year plans for the future. Are they REALLY bought into flexible working as a concept in 3 parts, or is it simply people doing more from home?

I talked about the end of the beginning a while ago and recognising the flex you need to build into your organisations is a core element of this. If you want help to understand it in your organisation and learning function, get in touch to see how I can help.

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