Why workforce learning is critical to your return-to-the-workplace strategy

An estimated 2.6 billion people, one third of the world’s population, have been in some kind of lockdown over the past few months.1As global governments begin to ease restrictions; companies are developing their “return-to-the-workplace” strategies.

The way we work has changed, maybe forever

Before the current crisis, changing technologies and new ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them. A 2017 McKinsey study stated that an estimated 375 million workers — or 14% of the global workforce — would have to switch occupations or acquire new skills by 2030 because of automation and artificial intelligence.2

Current events have helped organizations discover which manual processes stood in the way of operating efficiently. Companies with digital processes in place prior to the crisis have fared far better financially than companies that did not.2 Now, almost 40% of companies are planning to accelerate digitization and automation as part of their return-to-the-workplace strategy.

Reskilling to address changing business needs

Some organizations had to reskill their workforce as they were being repurposed to help continue operations during the crisis. For example, consumer banks needed to increase employee training in specific services as demand for mortgage-refinance applications surged.Banks have also had to train employees in empathy as they helped distressed clients with financial issues. In addition, they’ve had to provide learning on how to  use digital tools and new products and services. Sales forces have had to shift from setting up video meetings to managing customer relationships effectively in remote settings. 3

Prior to this crisis, the U.K. health system conducted less than 1% of appointments virtually, with the vast majority taking place in-person. Today, doctors assess 100% of patients by phone; with only about 7% proceeding to in-person consultations.3 The shift meant physicians had to learn how to execute effective and accurate remote diagnoses. The U.K. government is determining if virtual appointments will become standard post-pandemic.

Upskilling your workforce for today and tomorrow

In a recent McKinsey Global Survey, 87% of executives said they are experiencing skill gaps in the workforce, or expected them within a few years. However, less than half of them have a clear sense of how to address the problem.4  

Accelerated digitization efforts were required to reduce, or eliminate physical interactions. This has led to a learning landscape that enables employees to learn new skills, wherever they may be, with fully digitized approaches to re-create the best of in-person learning through live video and social sharing. This transformation has made it possible to scale learning efforts in a more cost-effective ways while enabling greater personalization for learners — and in turn greater effectiveness.

A Gartner CFO survey revealed that almost three in four CFOs plan to “shift at least 5% of previously on-site employees to permanently remote positions post-COVID-19.” While U.S. tech companies, like Google and Facebook, have chosen to remain remote through at least the end of 2020.5

The considerations for returning to physical environments include employee safety, different ways of doing their work, even how to navigate throughout the office. Including  upskilling your workforce in your return-to-the-workplace strategy is essential to adopting to new business models, ways of performing their jobs, as well as new safety policies and guidelines.

Your plan to resume operations will include who returns, when and how, with initial focus on employees deemed essential. Your plan should probably include a comprehensive upskilling program on workplace safety for all employees prior to returning to their plant or office. Training your workforce on the new workplace safety policies and procedures will not only help to keep them safe, but could also ease their concerns about returning to a physical work environment.

Now is the time for companies to double-down on their learning budgets, and commit to reskilling and upskilling to strengthen their ability to adapt to any future disruptions. Re-evaluate performance measures, employees’ concerns and productivity blockers, as well as realign business performance and individual performance appropriate for your business’ current and future needs.

What upskilling or reskilling initiatives have you implemented at your organization? What lessons would you like to share? Please share your thoughts below or connect with us on LinkedIn, or at @RaytheonRPS using hashtags, #learning, #workforcedevelopment, #upskilling, and #reskilling.

Reach out to RPS

RPS offers end-to-end services across all managed learning, learning technology, and performance consulting services. Let our learning experts help you take your organization to the next level. Contact us today! Learn more by visiting us at RPS.com.


1. CNN. (May 8, 2020.) Tech companies are letting employees work from home through 2020. Retrieved from, https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/08/tech/tech-companies-working-remotely-2020/index.html

2. McKinsey. (May 7, 2020) The Restart. Retrieved from, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/the-restart

3. PwC. (June 2020.) Reboot: Getting Back to Work. Retrieved from, http://explore.pwc.com/workforcestrategyrr/reboot-getting-back-

4. McKinsey. (May 2020) To emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis, companies should start reskilling their workforces now. Retrieved from, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/to-emerge-stronger-from-the-covid-19-crisis-companies-should-start-reskilling-their-workforces-now

5. Gartner. (April 14, 2020 Press Release.) Retrieved from, https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2020-04-14-gartner-hr-survey-reveals-41–of-employees-likely-to-