How learning in the flow of work drives productivity and engagement | the definitive guide

September 25, 2020
June 26, 2023

Without sounding like a bad Cher tribute act, what if you could learn back time? If you could find a way of accessing information when you need it and reinvesting all the wasted time searching for it where it will make a difference? This is one of the key principles of learning in the flow of work.

In a nutshell, it’s the concept of easily accessing short pieces of content that help you achieve tasks as you’re working. It recognises that if workplace learning is going to happen organically each day, it needs to fit around how we already work and the tools we choose to use.

Pulling it off helps you create more productive, effective and engaged employees. And the point of this guide is to show you why and how learning in the flow of work is so crucial to development and success.

Yes, this is the definitive guide, but doesn’t mean it can’t be to the point! So, that’s our aim here, to explain the point and not to labour it, while using data to support the ideas at play.

Jump to: How to successfully learn in the flow of work

Why learning in the flow of work is so important

It’s how employees prefer to learn

If you set aside a 25-minute window each week, how much do you think you could realistically learn? It’s a much shorter period than you think – it’s only slightly longer than the average Friends episode. Maybe it’s time that you and this way of learning were on a break…

The current challenge employees have when learning in the traditional sense is that they’re just too busy to put more time aside. Research by Josh Bersin states that employees take less than 25 minutes to slow down and learn, which equates to just 1% of the average working week. In such a short period, it’s difficult to learn new skills and develop to any noticeable extent.

It’s a key reason why almost half of employees prefer to learn at their point of need. Why? Because it’s when the job aids or resources about that issue are most relevant and they’re most motivated to take the ideas on board. This allows them to apply what they’ve learnt in practical, real-time situations, which reinforces the concept and helps them remember it.

Building this behaviour helps creates ongoing and lifelong learning. But it has to be nurtured, ingrained as part of your company and learning culture, mainly because people need to encouragement and psychological safety to learn independently. At the rate of change, continuous learning has to happen and we also have to build on the knowledge we already have, which we’ll come to later.

Learning at the point of need is the employee preference

Taken from the LinkedIn Learning 2018 Workplace Learning Report

Of course, none of this is possible unless the resources people are finding in their moments of need are concise, well-structured and informative. And that’s why microlearning and learning in the flow of work go hand in hand. The specific and relevant nature of the former is what enables that latter to happen effectively.

It’s also why many companies and business leaders are reconsidering the type of technology they use in the workplace. Given that the learning management system (LMS) often takes people out of the workflow, it’s far harder for people to learn on their job. It’s built around an outdated concept of formal learning that ignores the need to apply what we learn where it can make a difference.

It can drive productivity and profitability

Stop wasting 25% of your day! That’s the average amount of time people spend searching for information, a lot of that is caused by leaving the workflow and it results in huge losses in productivity and profitability.

Worryingly, it’s not a new issue either. It was reported that employees spent 1.8 hours each day looking for information in 2012, which rose to 2.5 hours in 2015. The situation has improved slightly since then, but a 2019 survey confirmed that the number still sits at around 25% of each day. If you consider the 40-hour working week and 2019 UK average hourly pay of £14.80, those 10 wasted hours equate to £148 per week. Across 42 weeks of the year, that equates to £6,216 annually.

Making your resources searchable at the point of need is one of the most effective ways to claw some of those hours back. It’s estimated that creating a knowledge base for all of your resources reduces that research time by as much as 35%.

A bi-product is that people become more engaged

The short version of this is that people value progression and development, but we already know that time is the barrier to learning in the traditional sense. Helping them learn and develop in the flow of work removes that hurdle and makes their growth an ongoing process. As a result, employees become more engaged and those who feel highly engaged are 87% less likely to leave their companies. Here’s a few statistics that explain why in more detail.

76% and 68% of employees value career growth opportunities and training and development, respectively, and yet only 29% of employees are very satisfied with their current opportunities for career development. As business leaders, that should ring some alarm bells. The same number of companies (29%) claim to have clear learning and development plans, which seems pretty low considering how important they are to staff.

We already mentioned Josh Bersin and this quote from his research summary hits the nail on the head when it comes to learning at work and that sense of happiness.

“In the research we just completed, we found that employees who spend time at work learning are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy. And the more you learn, the happier you become.”

How to successfully learn in the flow of work

If you’re not familiar with HowNow, our mission is to connect people with the knowledge they need, everywhere they already work. So, we like to think we know a thing or two about learning in the flow of work. In this section, we’ll show you some of the integrations, tools and ideas that help us do it effectively.

Search in HowNow everywhere you go

How often do you turn to Google or YouTube when you need to learn something? It’s most people’s go-to. Now imagine that each time you did that, every relevant resource from your company’s knowledge base was surfaced at the same time. Watch the video below and you can stop imagining.

This not only offers more control over the quality of information your people find, it means that they can do it without breaking their existing habits. That’s typically one of the largest barriers to adopting new learning tools and techniques, so what better way is there to facilitate learning in the flow of work?

Find and share knowledge where you already work

So much of our day is spent in chats, and for most people, that means Slack or Microsoft Teams. It’s where great ideas are shared and questions are answered, but it’s also where those ideas and answers slip through the cracks. Because they’re not captured, that typically results in repeat questions and answers.

You’ve probably heard the term knowledge workers thrown around before, but it’s actually a fairly useful term if you think that people are sharing wisdom with their colleagues organically in their everyday workflow. The trouble is that it’s often not captured, creating a leaky bucket that you can learn how to plug here.

Search for HowNow content in Microsoft Teams in the flow of work

In both Slack and Teams, the HowNow integration lets you save messages as nuggets as you receive them. More importantly for learning in the flow of work, it empowers you to search for, surface and share knowledge as people need and ask for it. You can send any resources from within HowNow, without leaving the app and it’s as simple as a few clicks and searches.

Highlight and annotate important things

Relevant resources are worth their weight in gold, but there are always going to be little gems within it that you find most useful. When you find them, you should be able to flag them and make some notes so that you can revisit that even faster further down the line.

Highlight and annotate nuggets and courses in HowNow to learn actively

That glorious, time-saving benefit aside, it also helps you retain knowledge better by actively engaging with it. When you’re shown these highlights and annotations at regular intervals, it improves your recall and helps you build knowledge – which is vital to successful workplace learning.

Ready to go with the flow of work?

If you want to discuss how you can connect people with knowledge in the flow of work, get in touch with us to arrange a demo or trial of HowNow today.

Check out our other learning and development resources