April 10, 2022
Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. Today: how one company tackles technical training in a hybrid workplace, the NLRB’s response to Amazon, and why Google is pouring $100 million into upskilling.
— Michelle Ma, reporter (email | twitter)
As execs continue to discover the elusive secret to making hybrid work work, training employees looks vastly different from the days when we regularly crowded around a conference table for a programming lunch-and-learn or an interactive manager training.
Some companies have moved toward painfully tedious hours-long Zoom training or asynchronous video tutorials, while other leaders with the L&D budget have resorted to simply offering all their employees subscriptions and stipends to go learn on their own. Envoy, a company focused on creating a more efficient way to manage our new world of work, chose a hybrid route for distributing training to employees. It’s also pivoted its manager training to focus more on how to work with hybrid teams.
Envoy’s Chief People Officer Annette Reavis gave Protocol a peek under the hood at its learning and development strategy, and shared how it’s thinking about technical training in the hybrid workplace.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Let’s start by getting a baseline for what kind of training programs Envoy has in place. How are you currently thinking about training and skilling to engage employees?
We have different training programs and we think about them more around learning [and] continuing to expand people's learning … There's official training and then there's on-the-job training, so making sure you have what you need from your colleagues and the necessary skills.
We also do a fair bit around leadership, too. We have an internal program called Envoy Lead that takes our top talent, and we put them through a series of learning. Part of it is around learning strategy skills and how to read financials, up to how do you lead a team through change. And then we also do manager training. So we've got those new managers, people that want to come in and either learn how to manage, or they've managed somewhere before, but they need to learn it the Envoy way.
How have you tackled manager training as people learn how to work in a flexible environment? Have you tailored training for managers specifically around managing a remote or hybrid team?
We ask the talent that joins our company to come in two to three days a week. So managers know that they've got focused time, and then they'll be able to [come] in with their team. One thing we talk about in that manager training is having a team day and being focused around what you do for that day, and really separating what you can do together from what you can do when your talent is remote.
And so trying to train folks on, “OK, you've got a team day everyone's here.” That's when you do your team meetings. That's when you do your one-on-ones, that's when you have lunch together. That's one piece. And then when they're remote, you're really more focused on execution. I think it's a little harder if you never had any time together, but we're lucky in that we have people that have some time together and then time to work remotely.
So the job training that's needed in order to do a job, is that better done in the office when people are together, or on people's own time, when they're remote?
It's generally done better together. It's hard to have unstructured problem solving when you're not together because a lot of times if you think about when you schedule your remote meetings, you're very focused, you know what you're going to do, you know you've got 25 minutes and hopefully five of those [are] spent getting to know each other in the meeting. But when you're together, you have that unstructured problem-solving, and that is where a lot of the learning happens. Again, not 100%, because I'm not saying you don't learn when you're remote. But if we think about how it's really set up best, it's when you're together that a lot of that happens.
How dependent is Envoy on outside courses and learning and development service subscriptions?
We really do less of that because we are so fortunate to work with some of the smartest people in the world. Envoy has such top talent here that we actually can learn from each other. Not saying some of those courses aren’t great, but sometimes they just move too slow, if you think about a course, even over a week, and what you can learn in a few hours if you're actually sitting across from someone. And so, again, with the pace and the way everything's moving, we're really focused on: How can we learn from each other?
Now, the other thing we do have though is we offer everyone an L&D credit. They can spend $1,000 on outside learning. And again, we do that so people can be really focused on learning stuff specific for their job.
Your career in tech has spanned HP, Meta and now Envoy. Tech changes so quickly and people in highly skilled roles often have to upskill and learn as they go. From your perspective, how has the training a decade ago changed from what training is offered now?
It's more intentional. I think what stayed the same is that on-the-job training. It’s just different in the sense that what you needed to learn 10 years ago is different from what you'll need to learn now. Even from a coding perspective, or from a project manager perspective, it's different. The pace is much faster than it was 10 years ago. And we thought it was really fast then. But I think on-the-job training has become even more important because so much of what we learned in school is baseline, but as you said, technology is changing all the time. Schools can’t even keep up with it.
So how are we making sure that people have the opportunity to learn in-house? For example, at Facebook, we did a lot of technical training where the engineers would come together and problem-solve — again, take that unstructured problem-solving … A lot of that was on the job, real-time learning. I see that a lot more now than 10 years ago. It was almost [always], “Go take this class or do that class,” whereas now it's really much more on-the-job learning as you're coding or working with people.
If you haven’t been following the Amazon union battles over the last two weeks, here’s a quick update to get you up to speed. In Staten Island, a group of workers called the Amazon Labor Union won a surprising and sweeping victory against Amazon on April 1. Then, on Thursday, Amazon filed paperwork that shows it is planning to challenge the results and accuse the union of coercing voters. Meanwhile, the NLRB needs to review 400-plus contested ballots to determine a winner in a Bessemer, Alabama, Amazon facility. And at the end of this month, a second union election will start in another facility in Staten Island.
There are big implications for all employers here. Amid the election drama, NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo released a memo this week calling to make “captive-audience” meetings illegal. Employers typically use these small meetings to try to deter people from voting for a union (Amazon used them in both Staten Island and Bessemer), and now Abruzzo wants to end the practice. Past labor precedent has allowed employers to hold these meetings while making it very difficult for unions to do the same, even though technically employers are not legally allowed to interfere with union organizing.
“I believe that the NLRB case precedent, which has tolerated such meetings, is at odds with fundamental labor-law principles, our statutory language, and our Congressional mandate. Because of this, I plan to urge the Board to reconsider such precedent and find mandatory meetings of this sort unlawful,” Abruzzo wrote.– Anna Kramer, reporter (email | twitter)
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