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Leadership development and the modern, mobile workforce

February 11, 2020
Borderless Leadership

The “modern workforce.” (If we were talking in person, I’d be using my fingers to make air quotes.)

It’s hard to read today’s business news—and vendors’ press releases—without stumbling repeatedly on the term “the modern workforce.” Or variations such as the “modern workplace” or “modern workers.” For example, this morning’s Google results include:

  • Trends in the Modern Workplace
  • The Changing Shape of the Modern Workplace
  • The Modern Workplace is the New Normal
  • How the Modern Workplace Dulls Creativity

But what is the modern workplace? Who is the modern worker?

In brief, the modern workplace refers to the new normal which includes:

  • Younger tech-savvy workers—Millennials and even younger generations of workers, who will comprise 70% of the workforce by the year 2025
  • Work anytime—workers want flexibility in term of when they work their 40 or so hours a week, rejecting nine-to-five norms
  • Work anywhere—workers today expect to be “untethered” no longer having to show up daily to a corporate headquarters
  • Work on any device—smartphones are now just small computers, and tablets with attachable keyboards replicate laptops; workers want to use what they want to use which increasingly means organizational support for “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies

The Mobile Learner

The most important trait of the modern workforce when it comes to leadership development is probably the mobile aspect.

I’m currently writing this article from my home office. Last night I was working on it from my smartphone just before watching my son’s basketball game. I’ll probably review and upload it to Forbes tomorrow when I’m flying 30,000 feet in the air to meet with a client.

IBM estimates the global mobile workforce will reach 1.87 billion by 2022. And this isn’t only the digital native generations (though they are certainly in the lead demanding this working opportunity).

We no longer talk about our office; we talk about our workspace. It’s not just about telecommuting from home. Our workspace can mean a different desk every day in the office, or the desk at home, or the table at the coffee shop, or small tray that pops out of our airplane arm rest.

And today, people expect to bring their own device and connect via laptops, tablets, and smartphones.

Digital transformation, for leadership development professionals, largely means: how can we deliver leadership development as effectively outside the office as when they are in the office?

And recent data suggests we still have a long way to go. According to the Association for Talent Development’s (ATD) 2019 State of the Industry Report, only 11% of total training hours are taking place in live and synchronous virtual classrooms.

Mobile Learning Challenges
When it comes to supporting mobile modern leaders, there are many obvious challenges.

Without classroom cohorts and table-group activities—not to mention lunches and breaks—how can leaders come together as a team? How will they bond with one or two other leaders who can sustain their engagement during tough times?

How can you make remote training as interactive as face-to-face training?

Even with the use of live video-based conferencing tools, time zone differences can hinder collaboration and get in the way of scheduling group learning opportunities. Have you tried to schedule a webinar that everyone can attend live? Sheesh.

How can you tell if your mobile learners are achieving the learning objectives?

What about digital security? The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model means your organization no longer controls which phones and computers your employees use, and more importantly, can’t control what they put on these devices. If you’re teaching a generic coaching model you might have little at risk. But what if your effective feedback role-plays include references to confidential selling skills or product information? Is your training program suddenly a target for industrial espionage or investigative reporters?

Questions for Leadership Development
The solutions to the above challenges are beyond the scope of this one article (but will begin to appear in future articles). And specific solutions will of course depend on your particular organization. To get you started on your own team’s transformation efforts—as it related to mobile workers—consider the following action items:

1. The Data Security—working with your internal IT department, develop data security and privacy standards that your eLearning vendors must comply with? What personal identifiers will your department collect on learners? What activity and outcome data will your track? Will you require SSO sign-on? Will you require conformance to EU GDPR standards?

2. The Mix—for leadership development most likely some amount of in-person training will be required. But how much? How many hours or days of classroom time will be required, and how much can be done remotely?

3. The Hours—what is your department policy on learning outside of “normal” working hours? If you’re a global company are you breaking any (European) laws regulating work hours? Should you offer podcasts that can be consumed during the morning commute, or is this an intrusion on personal time?

4. The Pull-Through—so much time and money is invested in the training part of leadership development, but what about the reinforcement and application? How will you reinforce leadership knowledge and behaviors to remote distributed workers?

5. The Personalization—modern learners want learning their way (like everything else). Does that mean for every key topic you will commit to supplying it as live video conference, podcast, transcript, book summary, or other media? Which topics should have multiple modalities and which should not?

Key Takeaway
Mobile first is the mantra of today’s modern workforce. Companies are capitalizing on the trend to attract and retain employees and improve business results. Employees want training and development delivered in a new way and expect mobile learning options. It’s time for leadership development professionals to act—your CEO wants you to embrace the digital transformation of your department.

By Kevin Kruse

Source: Forbes

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