Designing for Workplace Learning

Lauren Della Bella

Are you familiar with Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends report? The annual study provides insight into the top 10 trends businesses believe are prevalent in the management, growth and development of their employees. Deloitte has five years’ worth of data on the topic, in addition to vast representation across industries and localities; in fact, more than 10,000 businesses in 140 countries participated in this year’s survey.

While there are certainly themes that emerge year over year – such as the influence of technology, social media and an intergenerational workforce – I found myself drawn to data on workplace learning.

In the last two years, 83 to 84 percent of business respondents ranked workplace training, development and learning as either important or very important. With the adoption of new work methodologies and technologies, the importance of workplace learning has assumed an even greater role in corporate culture.

Professional Development Drives Company Culture

The results of the Deloitte study underscores an important fact: Employees consider professional development opportunities to be amongst the most important drivers of employee engagement and workplace culture. Consider that workplace learning isn’t just a way for employees to improve their skills; it is critical to an employee’s own view of his/her value to and role within an organization as a whole. A business which invests in its workforce demonstrates the value it places on its most important asset—its people. Professional development shapes company culture, and vice-versa.

Not to mention, a corporate learning program is an important factor in attracting and retaining talent, especially as the workforce begins to skew younger with the retirement of Baby Boomers. Employees are choosing jobs based on the learning opportunities a company offers. A Gallup Poll released in 2016 showed 87 percent of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities,” as important in a job—only 69 percent of non-millennials said the same.

Design Thinking for Employee Development

Intuitively, we understand that when you put two or three people who work on similar tasks near one another, they will learn from each other. But what about intentionally designing learning into that arrangement, rather than leaving it to happenstance?

There are many ways to intentionally tackle employee training, learning and development. In my view, the best place to start is understanding where learning will occur. It’s important to envision the spaces and places where training will happen—taking into consideration individual needs, learning methods, and program design—and how those spaces will impact effective employee engagement.

That’s where Design Thinking comes in.

Design Thinking is a methodology for solving complex problems and delivering solutions. I like how Fast Company described it back in 2016: “In its most effective form [Design Thinking] is a process, an action, a verb not a noun. A protocol for solving problems and discovering new opportunities.”

Design Thinking follows a nuanced yet simple premise: Define the problem, ideate many possibilities for solving it, refine and prototype potential solutions, and execute against them. Architects, designers, engineers and scientists have been following this process for years. And it can be applied to employee development and workplace learning programs, as well.

For example, many corporate workplaces have evolved from “cubicle farms” to more open environments, with an emphasis on smaller workspaces and more common areas. This encourages in-the-moment opportunities for learning—collaboration, engagement and interaction—and helps employees learn one-on-one or in small groups.

But there’s also an opportunity to use architecture to improve larger workplace learning programs. Design Thinking takes a step back and considers the benefits of one-on-one, small-group and large-group learning. It considers multiple teaching methodologies, the implementation of technology, and active and passive instruction design. Through Design Thinking, a large common area can become a pantheon for professional development, with movable walls and furniture, flexible work stations and the right infrastructure to facilitate large-group learning and seminars.

SHP follows this process every day; we acknowledge many inputs and turn them into actionable recommendations that will increase the flexibility and longevity of the buildings we design. So, we know a thing or two about how Design Thinking can be applied to learning in school, in leisure and at work. Applying Design Thinking to intentionally create space that fosters employee learning is the next logical step for companies which are designing, investing in and implementing professional development programs.

Do you work at a corporation that is intentionally using design thinking to meet employee learning in the workplace? Have you seen successful examples of how businesses can incorporate learning into everyday workplace tasks? Tweet us your comments!

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