Remote employees spend a quarter less time learning than office workers, study finds

But L&D practitioners say a total return to the office isn’t the solution, instead urging employers to focus on inclusivity and technology to boost development equity

Credit: Damircudic, RLT_Images/Getty Images

Experts are calling for L&D practitioners to focus on learning delivery inclusivity after a recent study found remote workers spend 25 per cent less time on career development than their office counterparts.

The study from WFH Research, which surveyed more than 2,400 adults who were able to work from home, found that workers in the office spend around 15 additional minutes each week undertaking professional development and learning activities, as well as 40 more minutes a week mentoring others and 25 additional minutes in formal training.

Whilst Sarah McAreavey, people, development and learning manager at Reflect Digital agreed that “being in the office can have a significant impact on learning” and there are some types of learning “that can only be in the office” she said organisations have a responsibility to aid the development of all workers.

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McAreavey said: “Remote workers not accessing learning and training needs to be a focus for the organisation to encourage inclusivity and equal opportunities. Many learning platforms allow for personal learning via online services which makes this inclusivity easier.”

Steve Lanigan, co-founder of e-learning business Academii, agreed workers shouldn’t need to return to the office en masse for workplace learning to be effective.

Instead, he suggested HR and L&D teams need to consider how to make learning effective for all structures of work. “The evolution of the workplace has been occurring for quite some time, and with the lack of office-based working impromptu conversations, ideas, and decisions are clearly reduced, so retaining agility is a critical element whichever way a company chooses to operate,” he said.

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“Therefore a greater focus on collaboration, agile ways of working, and embracing new technology becomes critical factors for L&D and, more broadly, in organisational design.”

However, adapting learning to all types of workers could face opposition, with CEOs of big corporate companies including JPMorgan, Chase & Co and Morgan Stanley having made headlines for preferring workers to be on-site to aid development.

Furthermore, additional research from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the University of Iowa and Harvard University, revealed that working in the same building has an outsized impact on the workers’ on-the-job training, and this increased further for younger workers.

Yet McAreavey believes that promoting knowledge exchange between more experienced workers and younger workers will benefit, and adds this doesn’t necessarily need to be done in person. “[The business] can schedule times for the two to meet either virtually or in person,” she said, adding that buddy systems and incentivisation can also work.

In fact, for learning and development activities to be successful, Academii’s Lanigan believes that organisations should focus on embedding responsibility for L&D outside of the function and building out a strategy and culture that is regularly reviewed.

He said: “A cohesive strategy to capture knowledge, standardise the training content, ensure it is engaging to both new and experienced colleagues, and regularly review the materials at all levels and in all departments is key to successful companies.

“When we see this as a culture, it tends to lead to success with a shared ethos and collective drive towards organisational goals.”