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Building Virtual Learning Organizations

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Joshua Varghese Thomas,HR Manager

Engaging millennials during the new normal is a huge challenge for most organizations. It becomes even more daunting for organizations like us who are known for our fun work environment. Today's vibrant generation tends to get easily frustrated during WFH mode. Earlier, it was convenient to socialize with our peers during a pool ride or a quick bite at the cafeteria. Enjoying the fun hours, chit chats, weekly football matches, and daily carom games were among the few things we loved at work, which look far from reality now. The new social distancing norms tend to make us more prone to isolation, burn out, and depression. Also, there is a dangerous tendency to feel disconnected from the organization. Here comes the need for innovative ways to keep our employees engaged and in line with the organization.

The Right Employee Engagement Initiative: Though there are a lot of innovative employee engagement initiatives, it is significant to identify the right strategy that fits the organization's culture. Building a virtual learning environment is one such strategy that fits our work culture. Out of the many modes possible for creating this environment remotely, the most effective one is building virtual peer learning groups. We implemented this by splitting the team into small groups of individuals with common interests or common areas of work. Implementing these learning groups virtually in social media apps can be quite tricky because it requires the initiation of the participants to make it a success. 

We have implemented by grouping individuals with common areas of work. It is ideal to choose the most proactive person inclined to learning as your point of contact. The purpose is to assist them in the initial implementation and to keep track of the progress. As a thumb rule, it would be better for an HR person not to interfere in the group activities as long as it is active. Employees should feel that they are not under the scanner.

Forming the Habit: Building the habit of learning is the next daunting task. As suggested by Mr. James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones break down your learning task into atomic habits. The first step to create this would be to schedule a recurring calendar invite by someone in the group. It helps to set the social norm that learning sessions should happen every week. The calendar invite motivates everyone to be ready for future meetings. Instead of being rude and creating a tough situation, it would be easier for someone to attend the session and plan other activities accordingly.

Sense of commitment: The next step would be to infuse a sense of adherence by creating a learning plan sheet. A person feels committed to preparing for learning sessions after documenting future session details in the plan sheet. They can suggest topics to their seniors or suggest cross-learning. As weeks go by, the confidence of the group increases because they can look back and be proud of the sessions taken. As the months go by, it becomes a habit that nobody wants to give up.

Building learning networks: Before lockdown, we were restricted to three learning sessions every month in our seventy member organization. Now we can produce more than ten learning videos and forums every month, not only by leaders but by all. Creating learning videos has helped many to improve their confidence in public speaking. It is ideal to have it short, say 15 to 20 min, on a simple topic. The topic could on some recent challenges at work or the latest trends. It helps you to open to a network of new learning possibilities within the team.

Maintaining social networks: Successful peer groups make sure that they have informal conversations before and after the sessions making it a time sought after for all. Despite the remote work mode, the participants of these groups appear to have a better connection. It helps them to coordinate in a better way. They feel free to ask for help and also to assist others. Active groups seem to complain less about isolation and are more engaged at work. Also, being in line with core values makes them connected with the organization. It does not replace the fun workspace we enjoyed, but it does help us to tide over the temporary disappointments. 

Linking with Performance Management System: Linking learning programs with performance reviews is one of the significant aspects to makes everyone realize the importance of learning at work. It also helps us to keep track of the learning progress in line with the organization's goals. 

And this brings us to an important conclusion that more than business partners, HR needs to step in as strategic partners with a holistic view. It expects us to create opportunities amidst challenges to keep the employees together and in line with the organization's objectives.

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