Remote learning has come of age and will outlive lockdowns

Closing the skills gap should be top of the industry agenda and that demands embracing the opportunity for learning.

Richard Breeden

managing director, Econsultancy


In the new lexicon that evolved during the Covid-19 global healthcare crisis, words like ‘lockdown’, ‘furlough’ and ‘pandemic’ came into common parlance – as did ‘remote’. Meaning to have little connection with something or to be distant, this word was suddenly central to our lives – in particular, our working lives.

For huge swaths of the population, in jobs cutting across all industries and sectors, remote working became the overnight norm. Logging onto a computer was required for every aspect of work: video conferencing was a daily occurrence; the computer screen was the closest we got to our work colleagues.

But day-to-day work wasn’t the only thing we had to adapt to our locked down lives. Socialising, conferences, networking and training all had to be carried out remotely if they were to happen at all. What is interesting now is how lockdown learning has evolved, how attitudes toward remote training and development have changed, making it an accepted – even preferred – form of improving employees’ skills.

So, no matter how the rest of our working lives change – permanently remote, hybrid or full-time back to the office – access to training and upskilling is essential for ensuring our workforces are future-fit. Now is the time for businesses to update the way they develop their staff – not only for the benefit of the current workforce but to appeal to new talent as well. Skills gaps have been exposed by the pandemic – and the companies that want to protect their future growth, know that these gaps must be addressed.

Research we did with 1,100 marketers found that 96% of respondents said that ‘upskilling the workforce through virtual training’ was either critical or important and 64% of marketers had pursued some type of learning during lockdown

Richard Breeden, managing director, Econsultancy

Remote learning for all

By embracing remote learning this is more attainable than ever and both managers and employees have proved receptive. For instance, research we did with 1,100 marketers found that 96% of respondents said that ‘upskilling the workforce through virtual training’ was either critical or important and 64% of marketers had pursued some type of learning during lockdown – 40% of which said it was training core to their job, 39% focused on a new skill relevant to their job while 31% pursued education in something unrelated to their current role.

Some of the changes that have taken place during lockdowns will persist. At a time when new skills have been most needed, people have a new level of comfort with non-classroom-based teaching. And blended learning allows for a mix of in-person and remote teaching to provide the most appropriate setting with the maximum flexibility and ease of access.

Closing the skills gap

The pandemic has exposed many organisations to the reality of what skills they have lacked – often in the areas of digital and ecommerce. And anyone involved in marketing knows that it is essential to understand how these disciplines are integral to so much of a marketer’s work nowadays. No matter what vertical market people are working in – from FMCG to financial services, retail to pharmaceuticals – digital marketing and ecommerce skills are core areas of expertise.

The beauty of blended learning is that you can combine live training with on-demand sessions, giving people the broadest access and variety of learning.

Identifying what a business needs in terms of upskilling can be daunting and one of the ways we’ve tried to ensure that training meets a specific business needs is with our Digital Skills Index (DSI). This helps diagnose and benchmark training requirements, ensuring learning is tailored accordingly.

Remote working may have briefly stymied training and development for some organisations, but as the world has picked up its pace again so too has the need for upskilling. And training brings so much more than just new skills, it motivates employees, builds engagement and increases productivity – all of which mean it helps drive greater return on investment (RoI). Companies that rate highly in employee training have staff attrition rates 53% lower than those with less of a training focus (LinkedIn Global Talent Trends, 2020). If you want to find and keep the best people, you need to offer them the best training.

As we enter the Autumn, we are all still having to live with a fair degree of uncertainty as to how the pandemic will play out and what level of restrictions may be imposed. What we can now be sure of is that remote learning is possible and often desirable. The pandemic has now shown educators and business leaders that there is an alternative when it comes to training. It’s possible to be taught by the best trainers and tutors remotely, employees can upskill outside of their day job and education and training can be cost effective – making it accessible to more people. When professionally crafted, it can offer classrooms, workshops, roundtables and surgeries that are as effective online as in-person. 

Future success will belong to the businesses that are able to quickly adapt and meet the ever-changing needs of their customers and that will inevitably involve ongoing training and development.

Guest Author

Richard Breeden

managing director, Econsultancy, Econsultancy


Richard Breeden is Managing Director of Econsultancy part of the Xeim Group, Centaur Media plc. Richard has more than 20 years' experience in eCommerce and business transformation in numerous B2B and B2C sectors. He has held leadership roles at Ascential plc, DMGT plc and Universal Music Group, both in the UK and Middle East. He also founded the eCommerce retailer EBTM plc in 2005. Richard has an MBA from Imperial College Business School.

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