Competitive Advantage

Insights from eCom Scotland into Making Flexible Working Work

Linda SteedmanDunfermline (SCL), These days - thanks, in part at least, to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic - people in all sectors of the economy are learning to cope with such concepts as remote work, home office, teleworking, hybrid, and flexible work arrangements. Consequently, organisations now need to develop strategies and systems to support this workforce, including providing appropriate technology and redesigning work processes.

Linda Steedman, chair of the digital learning and assessment specialist at eCom Scotland, believes that for private sector firms to maintain a competitive advantage and for public sector organisations to provide value for money for all their stakeholders, employers must make some changes. For one, they must instigate systems to provide mental and physical well-being support for their dispersed workforce, but they must also provide for this workforce's acquisition of new skills to meet the demands of the new workplace.

"As organisations operate in this 'new normal', with more remote (hybrid) working, the key pressures on learning and development (L&D) professionals will be to ensure that these remote workers are continually upskilled to meet the challenges of the new normal," Linda argues.

To meet this challenge, L&D professionals could find it helpful to use digital badges as a key part of their strategy. Digital badges, along with licensing and certification, form part of the "micro-credentials portfolio", which provides recognition for those participating in any form of structured informal learning. These micro-credentials, based on assessed proficiency - rather than time spent learning - widen adults' learning horizons.

"Using micro-credentials, especially badges, gives employers - and L&D professionals overseeing the learning process - leverage to improve, motivate, and engage students in the learning process," said Linda. "Moreover, it helps create common principles and frameworks with verifiable outcomes for employers. It also helps learners stand out against their peers, as well as builds the organisation's brand for valuing learner achievements. Finally, it demonstrates what being 'digital' in the 'new normal' brings to all stakeholders."

According to Linda, "The last five years or so have seen the rapidly increasing use of micro-credentialing, including digital badges, with eCom Scotland alone delivering over one million open badges to learners in client organisations since 2015.

"If you need to upskill your organisation's workers, including a micro-credentialing strategy in your workforce planning should pay dividends - particularly in light of the current digital transformation that's taking place in the modern workplace - for all an organisation's stakeholders, including the organisation's leaders, learners, and L&D professionals.

"Furthermore, it appears that flexibility is an important skill to master in today's world of work, whether it means having the ability to overcome stress or being able to adjust to changes quickly," she added.

"Being flexible can help people avoid being overwhelmed or stifled by change, not least because those who're flexible have an increased ability to direct their development and personal life rather than being passive participants. This flexibility allows people to adapt to change, manage the unexpected, and- importantly - stay employed."

eCom, whose suite of digital learning and assessment products is available via G-Cloud 12, the UK government's framework for cloud-delivered ICT goods and services on the digital marketplace, believes that one way to address these issues while embracing flexibility is through making high-quality career development-related learning opportunities available online 24/7.

According to Linda, "Making learning materials available via, for example, the eNetLearn learning management system (LMS) on a curated or self-directed basis helps improve workers' awareness of what's available to help them develop their knowledge and skills," she said. "In addition, making access to these materials available online extends these materials' reach and accessibility, especially during these unprecedented times when classroom-delivered learning activities are curtailed.

"In addition, accessing learning via eCom's LMS, eNetLearn, eliminates the travel and subsistence costs associated with more traditional learning delivery methods. This helps to make learning in this way more 'eco-friendly' and makes a major contribution to an organisation's learning becoming a 'green, net zero' activity."