How workplace design impacts on learning

How workplace design impacts on learning

How you tackle learning in your workplace environment will depend on a number of factors. Whether you have a culture of listening and asking questions, regular forums to share knowledge or learn new skills from team mates. Perhaps you have a coaching or mentoring programme in place, or support team members to transition from team to team, so knowledge is kept in the business while people are regularly encouraged to explore new skills and responsibilities.

More formally, you’re likely to have professional development opportunities in place so your team can access learning for role relevant skills or qualifications. So how might the physical design of your workplace impact learning opportunities within your business? Think about how your workplace has changed with more people working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic. Are you still learning from your colleagues in the same way, or have you explored different ways to tap into workplace knowledge?

Adapting your workplace to accommodate different learning styles

When was the last time you heard “this is the way we do things here?” This traditional approach to managing teams is a relic from another age as businesses are more concerned these days with attracting and retaining good staff, by keeping them engaged and challenged, and monitoring their health and wellbeing. A tried and true technique to developing a happy and engaged team is lifelong learning. But when you have a diverse group of people, working remotely, or in a hybrid mix of remote and onsite working, how do you ensure you’re appealing to everyone’s different learning styles and that your team communications are hitting the mark? We’ve taken a look at the four most common learners.

1. The Student – Visual and Verbal Learners

These learners want to listen and look at information. Powerpoint slide decks and a presenter taking them through information are ideal. They’ll want to take their own notes and refer back to key information later on. They will flourish in a face to face presentation or a remote workshop, and will want the slide deck to access afterwards.

2. The Independent – Visual and Non-verbal Learners

These learners learn best on their own, in a quiet environment, and don’t want to be distracted by meetings or nearby colleagues chatting. Online learning is ideal for these learners – you just need to be available for questions once they’ve taken information on board.

3. The Conversationalist – Auditory and Verbal Learners

Informal conversations are how these learners learn best. At the water cooler, over a coffee, they need to chat through an issue to understand the next steps. These learners love background noise such as music, or office banter and hate it when the office is too quiet. They won’t read lengthy emailed instructions, so best to chat through learning opportunities with them, or check in on their progress or understanding in person.

4. The Hands-on Learner – Tactile and Kinesthetic

These learners like to ‘play’ with a new tool in order to learn it. They have a problem solving attitude where rather than reading instructions, they’d rather jump in and have a play. They can appear bored or fidgety during a formal presentation as they just want to get hands-on and experiment with the learning you’re delivering. Providing these learners with a calm work environment where they’re encouraged to explore can mean you’ll have passionate new users who can help get other types of learners in your team on board.

In a workplace sense, it’s helpful to have a variety of learning spaces available when people need to take on new information – quiet individual spaces, noisy, creativity encouraging team areas that encourage chatting, asking questions and co-designing solutions. It’s also clear that offering your team different ways to learn will also ensure you get the best buy-in from your team – a company presentation, the ability to chat and ask questions afterwards and play with the new system/tool/concept in a dummy or test environment are great options to accommodate all learning styles.

 

Informal versus formal learning

The 70:20:10 Learning and Development model is important to understand for people managers. The concept is simple – the majority of your work-based learning is on-the-job. 20% happens through social learning (your relationships with colleagues and chatting with friends). Only 10% happens in formal training or professional development.

With 90% of learning being informal, the formal learning component provides us with strong foundations on which to base our informal learning, theory and facts. Add liberal doses of experiential learning (on-the-job training) and social learning, and you’ll have engaged, informed employees.

A challenge for businesses in an increasingly remote and hybrid working environment, or distributed teams, is nurturing opportunities for informal learning. We’ve talked about online watercooler chats in previous articles where the casual, drop in chat about your weekend and work queries in an informal way, can be recreated in an online manner.

Striking the right balance between endless Zoom meetings and meaningful online workshops that educate and support people in their roles (think Upskill Thursdays with a BYO lunch remote presentation by one of the team on the key challenge for the week).

When you do have the team back in the office – perhaps make a point of ensuring the whole team is onsite at least one day a week. That way you can use that day to check in on your team individually, troubleshoot issues in person and take your team through any upskilling or knowledge sharing as a group. By making this day a more informal work day – a chance to talk through issues and support the team, the rest of the week is free for focused work time and learning away from colleagues.

If this is a direction your team is interested in taking, make sure your workplace environment supports informal team chats and inspirational spaces for creative problem solving. Think acoustics, colour theory and biophilia principles to take your workspace from practical to optimal.

Reduced opportunities to learn by osmosis

Have you started a new job in the last few years and needed to be onboarded remotely? That first day at a new job has always been about meeting your team mates, being shown round the office, sitting in on meetings and working your way through the shared drive to read key documents. Businesses have had to rethink ‘first days’ and even the ‘first months’ as remote work has limited opportunities to shadow a team mate or learn by osmosis.

Where informal learning is undertaken by talking and connecting with a colleague, osmosis learning is learning through observation. Sitting next to someone who does a similar role to yours enables you to ask endless small questions, but also watch how they navigate around a system, answer their phone calls, connect with clients, how they respond to challenges in a meeting environment.

We now recognise the importance of allowing people to learn from their colleagues in an ongoing, informal basis. As much as 20% of our workplace learning could be from observing our team mates, if not more, and teams that feel like they’re learning new skills together are more successful.

The advent of digital communication tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams has helped with asking those small questions (questions that don’t quite warrant an email). But would you stop by a colleague’s desk when you’re in the office, if they’re wearing noise cancelling headphones? That’s where collaborative workspaces come in – inspiring, creative, open spaces where people can gather informally to work and chat, demonstrate thinking on a whiteboard, and leave the people at their desks getting their focused work done.

The challenge of noisy, open space offices and remote work have meant that businesses are needing to be more intentional about their workspaces. Today’s work environments need to consider proximity of their employees – to allow work to get done efficiently, but also to provide opportunities for questions and observation. Workspaces also need to have intentional spaces for people to gather and interact.

Creating intentional collaborative spaces and encouraging the team to connect on certain days or times of the day, changes the office from a practical space to work in, to a place of cooperation and connection. And who wouldn’t want to come to an office that feels like a community, rather than a place you have to go to if you want to get paid?

Another way to improve osmosis is to provide a buddy system for new employees, or people transitioning to a new role or team. Open questions and the freedom to observe can help people get up to speed quickly, and can be managed in a remote scenario as well as when people are in the office.

It’s clear that workplace design will be unique to each business, the culture of sharing and learning within the company, and the people that work there. What will work well for some businesses, won’t work with the teams or management styles of other businesses. The key is to be adaptable, listen to how your team wants to work, and create opportunities for ongoing learning, collaboration and connection. Importantly, workplace design should be employee focused (how do your team want to connect and interact with each other), not driven by what the senior management team thinks would be the right layout or ‘vibe’.

Successful businesses are those with engaged, happy employees. The people they work with, the work they do, the opportunity for professional and personal growth and the physical environment they work within all support employee satisfaction. How can you better support the satisfaction of your team?

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