When front-line employees become just a face on a screen, AI can help head offices to reconnect.

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In some ways, it feels like we’ve never known more about our colleagues’ lives. Sitting in video calls with our teams, we see into their homes, meet their pets, or say hello to their kids. The line between the professional and the personal has been blurred by technology and dramatically changing circumstances.

And yet, all of this just serves to underline the very real physical distance that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced on us. That face on a screen is also a daily reminder of what we’re all missing out on: genuine, real-life interactions with our colleagues.

The new realities of a virtual workplace

We’ve lost those quick catch ups in the office kitchen while the kettle boils. Or perhaps as managers, the chance to fully assess someone’s body language as they tell us something important in a one-to-one. And all of this matters – the loss of this direct physical experience has a genuinely significant impact on our wellbeing and our behaviours.

For example, the physical space in which we have a conversation acts as a ‘cognitive scaffold’ that frames and influences the conversation we’re having. The informal setting directly influences our behaviours during that chat in the kitchen. And yet if we have the same interaction in a meeting room, we behave differently again. And differently again if we have it virtually.

In addition, virtual interactions are proven to be more tiring because our brains are working harder to identify all of the non-verbal signals we’d normally receive if we were sitting opposite each other.

Why does any of this matter? 88 per cent of employees who worked from home during lockdown in the UK say that they want to continue doing so. So doesn’t that suggest that people generally prefer these new ways of working?

It seems likely that they do. But if homeworking and hybrid teams really are the shape of things to come, then businesses – and their head office teams in particular – still need to do more to address how they are connecting with their remote employees. Here’s why.

Building a complete picture of employee needs

Understanding the needs of your employees is a critical part of delivering effective learning and development.

As a manager, you may now know the colour of a frontline team member’s wallpaper. But it’s likely that – thanks to the physical distance – you might not know quite as much about their ongoing strengths and weaknesses. When you’re only interacting remotely with your team members it’s often far harder to see precisely where they’re doing well and where they might need some extra support. 

Why? Well, there are the normal pressures of any job and the expectations you put on your employees as a manager. But in addition, remote working puts pressure on your people in ways that might not be immediately obvious. There’s the risk that they end up working longer hours, struggle to keep pace, balance home and work pressures or that they simply get more stressed.

In learning and development terms, head office teams and line managers need to be able to see these individual pain points and do everything they can in order to address them with the right support and training.

Fail to do this, and the risk is you don’t address actual learner needs with the training you deliver. Even before COVID, this was a challenge. Back in 2015, a report from 24×7 Learning found that only 12% of learners said they actually apply the skills they’ve learned from their training in their actual job. It strongly suggests that too often training just isn’t meeting the needs of the people it’s aimed at.

AI can help to bring us closer together

What’s our view on how this can be addressed? In a workplace where more managers and HR professionals are increasingly remote from their frontline teams, how do we make sure that we’re connecting with people, addressing their needs and giving them the training they require? We believe that AI and technology has an important role to play in reconnecting us all.

Our Cognito technology offers remote managers and head offices a unique overview of their frontline teams. It gives them an accurate picture of where their people are doing well, and where they are struggling.

It helps them to accurately assess learner needs and create learning and development programmes to address them directly. And crucially, thanks to its use of AI it adapts to the needs of individual team members, as they learn in real-time and shapes a personal learning experience for them.

Using AI to take a smarter approach to learning and development in this way is perfect for remote managers and head office teams, now more than ever before. According to the Harvard Business Review, organisations currently spend around $350billion on learning and development globally. The issue is that they’re finding it hard to do this effectively.

More people working remotely isn’t making the task of identifying where the L&D budget needs to be spent any easier. But we believe that the smart use of AI to help accurately identify specific learning needs, to assess progress and to bring managers and front line teams closer together can make a big difference. 

To find out how Cognito can help you to do this within your business, call us today on 01423 203 733.