Smart Working in a Modern World

Debra Marsh
By Debra Marsh
Excedo blog in 2020 & Beyond Feb, 2019

The proliferation of machine learning, AI, and chatbots, has generated much interest and excitement - and fear. Will these technologies replace the needs for humans? Will jobs be lost? I don’t think so. I believe that those who are open to change and are willing to adapt to a brave new world have nothing to fear from the fourth industrial revolution. Dire warnings of smart machines causing mass unemployment are no different from the scaremongering of earlier technological upheavals such as the advent of steam power and electricity.

Out in the real world, the truth is that businesses are facing a major talent shortfall. For those hungry to acquire new skills, the rise of the robots actually means that the world is their oyster and new opportunities will open up.

Human skills such as strategic planning, communication, creativity and the ability to turn data into actionable insight are still irreplaceable and, consequently, more in demand than ever. But the growing complexity of today’s workplace and the central part played by technology in many traditional roles requires a new, smarter approach to both working and learning.

Employees need to learn continuously to ensure that their skills stay relevant. Add globalisation into the mix, with its requirement for effective, multilingual communications between teams from different cultures, and the true scale of the task becomes apparent.

With so much focus on new technology, businesses have tended to focus on teaching employees how to use these new tools, rather than exploring how they can transform long-established cultures of working and learning by making them smarter and more effective.

Yet that’s what they must do – and urgently – to ensure they have the human skills capable of making the most out of their digital initiatives, and to put their abilities to the best use.

Multicultural business presentation


We’ve seen businesses begin to tackle this issue by deploying new technologies to enable agile working, and embracing communications platforms such as Slack, Google Hangouts and project management tools like Asana and Trello to help improve collaboration. Too often, though, users merely transfer their old habits and ways of working onto these new platforms instead of developing the smarter working practices that such tools are designed to enable.

Businesses need to take a more strategic approach to employee training and development by focusing on the skills they need to harness the new technologies of the fourth industrial revolution. Just as importantly, they need to deliver this training in a way that is smart, effective and in-tune with the way that people like to learn.

Technology is changing a number of very fundamental aspects of the human experience. To take just one example, we constantly flit between different platforms for work and socialising, while having to master an ever-growing variety of tools. Each one requires us to learn different skills and, often, to communicate in a different register. As a result, we find ourselves constantly under pressure to augment our skill set.

As a consequence, learning strategy has to change. To be truly “smart”, learning must be holistic, goal-based, continuous and, above all, convenient. Learning a language – often one of the key skills in employees’ training regime – provides some excellent examples of how to approach this challenge.

Speaking a foreign language with confidence and fluency isn’t something that you can learn entirely in the classroom, and certainly not in a lackadaisical manner. The “little and often” approach works best, where learners undertake a number of short, focussed activities with a clear end goal that’s relevant to their real-life responsibilities, learners will quickly gain both skills and the confidence to put them into practice.

94 percent of learners prefer microlearning
Michael Boyette, 2012 - Rapid Learning Institute

Language learning provides a very good example of the effectiveness of taking a bitesize, smart approach. The most effective way of teaching business English – indeed, any language – is to focus less on the nuts and bolts of grammar, and instead help learners to master specific business tasks in their new language.

Learners are given the confidence they need to apply their new skills to their roles. When they need to specialise, they can then use any number of reference books, online tutorials and other tools to fill in the gaps in their knowledge, whether it’s a learning a new language or mastering a new software application.

Excedo monthly newsletter: Sign-up today

This mirrors the way that people like to learn today. Where once we needed an expert to guide us, learning a new skill is now only a click away - just think of all those YouTube tutorials that can teach you everything from Javascript to the Flamenco guitar. Giving learners  control over when they study and how, it enables them to learn with the intensity and at the times that best suit them. Of course, it’s important that businesses retain oversight of the curriculum. It is important to ensure that each learner completes the required courses, that they are continuously challenged, and that they do not develop too narrow a learning focus.

Far from being redundant, human skills are more important than ever before. Having a smart learning programme is one of the most effective ways to ensure that workers achieve their potential, feel valued, and build long-lasting, mutually-profitable relationships with their employer.

To learn more about smart learning programmes, contact us or watch the webcast, Anytime, Anywhere Learning

Debra sharing her experiences working globally with various cultures