Organisations today face a multitude of challenges. Remote working, new technology, blended workforces, rapid change and the pressure to reskill are just some of the disruptors taking hold in businesses worldwide. These challenges are compounded by an underlying issue – a severe lack of alignment between learning, employee engagement and performance management functions.

This lack of strategic alignment, both in terms of technology and communications, rapidly hinders employee performance, and in turn, the success of your organisation. But all is not lost. To survive and thrive in an undeniably challenging world, we must better align our learning and HR functions to achieve sustained high performance in the workplace.

Remote working

Two-thirds of employers report increased productivity for remote workers compared to in-office workers. But that doesn’t mean that the rapid transition from the office to working from the kitchen table has been plain sailing. Learning and development teams around the world have had to adapt quickly to move learning online.

Communications teams have also scrambled to find ways to reach a fully dispersed workforce, while managers and team members grapple with how to guide and be guided exclusively via video. But how coordinated are these activities?

There is more pressure than ever to ensure that this remote experience is not overwhelming, confusing and, at worst, adversely affecting mental health. Employee wellbeing must become a priority, and HR as a function needs to work together in new ways to remove any friction or contradictory messaging.

This means working more closely and inclusively with your community of managers, who will need to make time to schedule regular check ins to ensure that employees are coping, and to provide valuable feedback on any other communications and development activities that are ongoing. Identifying and avoiding any clashes early on will protect motivation levels.

New technology

Many organisations have found out this year that their technology infrastructure has not been able to meet the demands of a fully remote workforce. There has been a panicked rush to plug the gaps with a whole plethora of tools without proper consideration over how they will be used (or abused). Without guidance, the digital noise of Slack, Microsoft Teams, email, WhatsApp and more can overwhelm your people.

So, talk to your people and find out what tools they already use and what’s getting in the way of getting work done. For instance, a second monitor can boost productivity by up to 50% for certain tasks.

Your technology should be a help, not a hindrance, so make sure you’re equipping people with the best tools for the job – and the right training to use that technology. This might be free vendor training (such as for Microsoft Office or the Google app suite) or informal learning resources created by your internal subject matter experts for more specialised programmes.

Blended workforces

One-third of organisations say that they are now replacing full-time employees with contingent workers, including part-time workers, freelancers, contractors and casual workers.

The rise of the ‘blended workforce’ has led the EU to introduce legislation to protect the rights of workers operating under ‘atypical contracts’, and with many workers themselves preferring the flexibility of freelancing, it’s up to organisations to support the varied needs of workers both in and outside the traditional boundaries of the business.

To reach this more diverse audience, you should consider implementing an extended enterprise learning solution. You can create learning targeted at all of your worker groups, with different programmes for full-time, permanent employees, freelancers and more.

Take the time to personalise the learning experience, so it is tailored to the needs and working environment. The opportunities and methods of learning that are most appropriate for your full-time account managers will be very different to your casual delivery drivers, so ensure learning is relevant and time efficient.

HR has a duty to foster a supportive team environment for everyone. Typically, the in-house workforce is viewed as the ‘team’, with part-time workers and freelancers being the ‘outsiders’. While remote working has changed this dynamic to some extent, ensure you’re including all of your workers in your communications and training efforts.

For instance, make sure they receive your company newsletter, give them access to training and record any live announcements to make them available at a later date.

Rapid change

The events of 2020 have made it impossible to plan ahead. Employees are likely to be expecting more support from their organisations and managers than ever before. We’re all scrambling to adapt to ever-changing circumstances, and HR has a vital role to play in ensuring people keep their heads above water.

If your processes are tied up in red tape, now’s the time to cut it. Boost agility by making it easier for your employees to get to the information they need. Doing things like simplifying manager approval for booking onto training courses and opening up more informal learning channels can help energise and motivate taking the necessary steps to acquire new, relevant skills that will make your people more flexible and resilient to future change.

Helping each other through cross-functional, open collaboration is increasingly being adopted to free up the flow of problem solving and new ideas. Implementing a learning experience platform (LXP) empowers everyone to create, curate and collaborate in fresh, creative ways.

This will positively change the dynamics of how your managers support their teams, and will surface innovation that could be transformational for your organisation..


Almost 750,000 jobs were lost in summer 2020 as a result of COVID-19, with a further 700,000 EU job losses predicted as a result of Brexit. This puts reskilling at the top of any HR department’s agenda. From tourism to retail and hospitality to academia, the skills your people need are rapidly evolving, and you must ensure that your employees are equipped to weather the storm.

As an HR professional, you must identify skills gaps before they affect performance and put jobs at risk, and then guide employees towards the right resources and training to help fill these gaps.

Continuous performance management is a vital part of the skills gap identification process, so that managers can keep an eye on employee performance and maintain conversations around reskilling opportunities.

Creating an intentional learning culture, whereby employees seek out ways to discover, practise and master new skills is now a mission-critical strategy.

Small, tangible goals, actively seeking feedback and reflecting on practice will help your people actively participate in their own reskilling, keeping them relevant and productive no matter what happens. The effects of automation and economic upheaval will be significant, but giving your people the space and time to build new skills will help keep your organisation competitive in these turbulent times.

Bringing it all together

Tackling any one of these five workplace disruptors will be beneficial, but the real power comes in recognising how they interconnect and addressing them all together. The key here is to prioritise adaptable processes, systems and technology that won’t hold you back.

Aligning your learning, engagement and performance workflows and processes has never been easy, but in today’s business environment it is now essential. By ensuring you put flexibility first – in your people, in your processes, in your technology choices – you will be in the best possible position to offer an employee experience that is motivating, productive and which attracts and retains the talent your organisation needs to thrive.





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Lars Hyland is Chief Learning Officer at Totara. He is a longstanding thought leader in the fields of HR and learning technology. He leads the drive for adoption of Totara’s open Talent Experience Platform, working in collaboration with a worldwide network of expert partners. Lars has over 30 years’ experience working with a wide range of organisations to build workplace learning experiences that raise people performance, productivity, and engagement.