How the cloud transformed employee learning

Cloud is shaking up traditional employee development, but what impact has this had on the workforce and, ultimately, business performance?

While learning and development (L&D) is at the heart of a company’s digital transformation, gone are the days of providing employee training during induction or group classroom sessions.

The digital revolution has transformed the technology used to train employees, as well as expectations of access to learning materials. The challenge for firms is to ensure L&D evolves alongside employees’ needs, particularly for staff working remotely.

The solution might well be in the cloud. One of the uses of cloud computing can be to support career development in our fast-paced digital age. “Techniques and methods are constantly evolving, so you need to be constantly learning or you will quickly fall behind,” says David White, head of project management at Best Response Media.

Creating a learning environment

One of the major uses of cloud computing can be talent retention. Ian Cook, vice president for people solutions at Visier, references his firm’s recent Gender Equity report, which used cloud data to uncover a “manager divide”, a growing under-representation of women, aged 32 and above, in management positions. “The manager divide is closely tied to the childcare years,” says Mr Cook, “when women experience increased demands from their home life and may even exit the workforce as a result.”

Addressing this issue involves offering employees flexible, location-independent working and training. “We offer our 50-plus employees very flexible working opportunities and career progression,” says Victoria Usher, founder and chief executive at GingerMay, a consultancy that uses cloud-based solutions such as Google Drive, Dropbox and Slack. Ms Usher oversees a senior leadership team made up of 85 per cent working parents and which is 85 per cent female.

Professional development requires feedback

Employee performance becomes an ongoing dialogue, ensuring no employee gets left behind as digital evolves evermore rapidly. One of the uses of cloud computing is to make training part of the everyday interaction between manager and employee.

“Constant contact on feedback, training and performance makes employees feel they are more engaged with the business, compared to six-month or yearly reviews,” says Mr White. This is essential for teams with remote workers. For example, managers can easily check that everyone seconded on to an important project has been through the same L&D modules.

These technologies have single-handedly had the biggest impact on our workforce and performance

Making the cloud the baseline technology used in training employees reflects how digital has woven its way into all of our lives, making L&D more user friendly. “We’re all used to consuming infinite apps, content and games, and we’re looking for this same experience at work,” says Mr Cook. “This conversational review cycle can help employees learn and grow more quickly, and keep them motivated.”

Training programmes must be personal

Nevertheless, digitising training can’t make employees learn more quickly or feel completely confident in newly acquired, but untested, skills. “Although our flow of feedback has grown faster, the human ability to grow and master skills hasn’t,” Mr Cook adds.

Without a structured process for managers to listen to feedback, build training plans and conduct performance reviews, implementing the cloud as the main training technology can make employees feel disconnected, as though their work is just disappearing into the ether.

“This responsibility comes down to the manager,” says Mr White. “There is nothing worse than giving feedback that you don’t think is going to be listened to.” Maintaining trust in the colleagues and managers beyond the training technology remains vital.

Transformative uses of cloud computing

Ms Usher has seen the positive impact of utilising the cloud in her business. She says: “Combining multiple cloud-based solutions enables us to be a more attentive employer to our employees. As a result, over two thirds (68 per cent) of staff work part time, flexi-hours or from home.” This clearly cuts down on office space and costs, while leaving employees happier.

Mr White also believes moving training to the cloud has been transformational for Best Response Media. “These technologies have single-handedly had the biggest impact on our workforce and performance,” he says. “We have been able to increase efficiencies and reduce costs at the same time.”

Importantly, the ability to review and analyse the impact of cloud-based training is pivotal to its success, says Mr Cook, who predicts a bright future for the uses of cloud computing. “Just because we have lots of content, doesn’t mean it’s actually working. Training analytics can be used to develop more impactful training programmes,” he says.

In addition, collecting and understanding data can help highlight dissonant trends in promotion rates, performance reviews, resignation rates and so on. As a result, employers will benefit from a much better understanding of their own organisational culture, as well as properly trained staff.

Three business leaders discuss the benefits of cloud-based employee development

Man on laptop

1) James McAulay, founder of musician bookings platform Encore

Cloud technologies have made employee development seamless and collaborative, and allow materials to naturally evolve as the business evolves. New recruits are given a set of onboarding materials called the Encore Academy. Spreadsheets are used to provide a framework for the onboarding. Recruits are given lists of reading material, checklists and milestones they can mark as completed during their first few weeks. The master spreadsheet links to dozens of other documents, which is extremely simple when everything is in the cloud. This checklist can be updated by anyone in the company, as new materials and articles are created. Every employee at Encore has a one-to-one check-in with their manager on a fortnightly basis, with notes kept in Google Sheets. This makes it easier for managers to keep track of recurring issues, and gives them somewhere to note down successes they want to recognise and areas for improvement between meetings.

2) Nigel Davies, founder and chief executive of intranet software provider Claromentis

Our people work flexibly and often from home, so everything happens in our digital workplace, from product development to human resources to culture. That meant e-learning was a natural fit for the way we work, but it’s not enough to offer training in the cloud or even to assign a budget for learning. It has to be cultural. We give everyone in our business a yearly budget of £1,500 each to spend on training courses of their choice. But, finding that some people weren’t taking full advantage of this benefit, we decided to make it a bigger part of our culture. Now we encourage people to attend training courses in small groups, so they get the social benefits, and to report back the highlights. Our learning management system is now a bigger feature in the digital workplace; people see it as soon as they login in the morning.

3) Sean Marshall, vice president for worldwide sales at ecommerce marketing platform Klaviyo

Our sales leaders use the Chorus.ai platform to capture client calls, which are then used for group training. In monthly meetings with team members, we review a series of calls, pause them where needed and then ask questions like, “How do you think this person handled this objection?” and “What do you think of the way they closed the call?” It’s a live forum that we can hold with our team anytime we want to, on the fly. Chorus.ai lets you listen to what actually happened on a call, instead of asking a rep to retell it in a one on one. We hear firsthand how customers are responding to our messaging and what objections they might have. This insight is helping us to drive awesome improvement in our sales team, including quarter-by-quarter increases in our win rate.