Is Your Work Environment Bad for Your Employees’ Skill Proficiency?

Fostering professional growth is an important responsibility employers have today – but their work environments don’t always reflect that. What do these environments look like?

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By Adam Etzion, HR Analyst @ Gloat

November 9, 2020

Modern enterprises understand that fostering professional growth and continually providing new career opportunities is an important responsibility employers have today – but the work environment they create, both digitally and in the office, doesn’t always reflect that.

So what does a skill-growth-friendly work environment look like?

According to the World Economic Forum, by 2025, 50% of the workforce will require reskilling. And while having the right learning and development tools to help with this reskilling effort is important, there is another, oft-underestimated factor in this equation: having the right work environment.

Think about it. Put a novice wood-worker in a well-organized woodshop, with the various saws, mills, planes and drills they’ll need to use all neatly laid out and grouped by function and workflow, and the environment has already done most of the work towards teaching them relevant new skills, getting them acquainted with the tools of the trade, and showing them how they’re used in the crafting process. Put an experienced woodworker in a messy shop, on the other hand, and even if she knows exactly what tools she needs to get the job done, she’ll use up a lot of her energy just trying to find the right instruments, before she even starts working on the project.

The woodshop example is a very vivid one, but this principle holds true for every work environment out there, physical and digital alike. So when you’re considering reskilling, the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Is my ‘woodshop’ lending itself to teaching new skills, or is it getting in the way?”

But there’s another, equally critical question decisionmakers ought to be asking as well: “Which new skills will my workforce need to learn in the coming years?”

To answer both of these questions, we first need to understand what the skills the future will require from organizations will be – and then, what kind of environment will be best suited for their learning and development.

Future Skills

As we move from craftsmanship to automation, many of the skills that were once the foundation upon which productive enterprises were built are becoming obsolete. In their stead, a new kind of skillset is needed.

Automation didn’t just change the tasks people do; it’s fundamentally changed the way we think about what tasks are. Managing and working in an increasingly automated environment frees up time for people to consider the big picture and to think about “meta”-tasks and workflow, essentially shifting employee responsibilities from “how” to “what” and “why.”

Additionally, as the pace of technological innovation continues to pick up, new tools become available at an exponential rate while others quickly fall out of use, and learning how to use these new tools at a relevant pace is becoming a skill unto itself. To manage these new questions and professional requirements, a meta-skillset is needed. It’s no longer enough to just become proficient in one tool or ability; employees need to learn how to learn new skills, quickly and accurately – in light of organizational needs.

So what kind of environment allows for this kind of learning and upskilling?

An Experience-Saturated Workplace

To develop a skillset that complements a constantly shifting technological and economic landscape and take broad, strategic organizational needs into account on a regular basis, change and dynamism on an organizational scale need to be an integral part of an employee’s work environment.

That means that employees should not only be used to shifting perspectives in light of broad company goals, but should actually be routinely encouraged to step out of their comfort zones and try new things in new contexts, to keep their skillset pliant and expanding.

How can companies shape an environment that promotes all of this? There are several ways to do go about it, including non-permanent seating arrangements which encourage moving and meeting different people – but in large organizations, implementing an open-space floorplan simply won’t cut it.

In fact, while physical office space can serve an important role in this undertaking, it, too, is becoming obsolete. Most of the time employees spend in the company is spent in digital spaces, be they email and messaging apps or dedicated software. With COVID-19, some employees’ interaction with their workplace may be entirely digital, so it’s important to make sure the digital environment employees interact with is working for you – and for them.

But how can you bring new experiences and growth opportunities to your employees?

Looking at Opportunity Marketplaces in a New Light

We’ve explored the concept of the Talent Marketplace in various other posts, but the advantages we’ve always talked about were from a growth perspective, both organizational and employee-centered. But there’s an angle we’ve yet to expound upon: the Talent Marketplace as a learning experience.

Yes, Talent Marketplaces have the ability to tie into L&D services through career pathing tools, but we would like to suggest that the basic employee experience of using a Talent Marketplace that’s intrinsically linked to the needs of the company as they arise in real time is, in and of itself, a meta-learning experience; one that fosters the right kind of meta-skills employees will need in order to deal with a constantly shifting future.

As employees move from one project to another they don’t only gain a better understanding of the organization and its needs – they develop an intuition for using new tools in ways that are meaningful and helpful to their designated area of responsibility.

This kind of learning can only be achieved through a responsive, adaptive Talent Marketplace – and while L&D tools have the potential to bolster specific skills or bridge specific gaps in the use of specific tools, it’s only with a robust, opportunity-saturated environment that the meta-skills of the future can be mastered.

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