It’s common lately to think in terms of “pre-pandemic” and “post-pandemic,” but the lines are not so clearly defined, especially in the workplace. Quarantine forced a suddenly remote workforce to digitize with exponential speed, and employers will have to maintain that rapid transformation even after the effects of the pandemic fade.
A Gallup poll whose results were published in February of this year found 56% of U.S. workers are working remotely all or part of the time (down from a peak of 70% in April 2020). The same poll found that a quarter of the U.S. workforce wants to continue working remotely sometimes or always.
Shveta Miglani, head of people experience and learning at Micron Technology, talked with Fast Company contributing editor Lydia Dishman about the pace of workplace change in a one-on-one conversation recently at From Day One’s conference on “Digital Tools for Building an Engaged, Productive Team.”
Miglani, who has nearly two decades of talent-management experience with companies including Google and Salesforce, focuses on employee learning in her role at Micron. Employee education, Dishman pointed out, is one the best ways to engage and retain staff, which will be a concern for employers moving forward as a booming economy heats up competition for skilled workers.
Just before the pandemic arrived, Miglani and her team were preparing to roll out a new learning platform for the company, but had to change tack just before launch. “Here we were, getting ready to launch a digital platform by doing live events, which was not bad, but now we have an opportunity to launch something and truly talk about how we can live in this digital space, educate ourselves, collaborate with each other, and then implement what we are learning at our own workspace,” she said.
The effects of Covid-19 forced Miglani and her colleagues to consider how they would get a company of 40,000 employees onto a single, digital-learning platform–and quickly. And they managed to accomplish it. In March 2020, they launched Micron University, which centralized all the company’s training programs.
The platform offers active means of learning, like live webinars, and passive means, like e-learning modules and PowerPoints, making it possible for a global workforce to engage with curriculum whenever, wherever, and in whatever form best suits them–all while staying in contact with colleagues around the world.
The wealth of ideas that comes from a now globally connected workforce will be an asset that Miglani takes into the post-pandemic world. “I would see people from Germany join in, from Asia join in, and it gives such interesting perspective,” Miglani said. “The conversations were actually much more meaningful because so many different perspectives were coming in.”
Beyond certain training that’s foundational to the company’s operations, Micron University students are free to decide what courses they take and what skills they will build, providing a level of self-determination and control in a world where workers need more of that empowerment. “Where it was a push strategy, now we have a pull strategy to tell people that you own your career,” Miglani said.
For most workers, including Miglani, early days of the pandemic were about adapting to change on a personal level. Miglani, who lives in the Bay Area, said she didn’t miss the long commute of her pre-pandemic life, and took advantage of the extra time in her schedule to reach personal goals, which included finishing her Ph.D. in leadership development and organizational enablement.
But she avoided the temptation to devote all of her time to work and was careful to not let herself slide down the hill of endless meetings: “It is so easy to get into meetings, one after the other,” she said. “If you don’t block time on your calendar, then you won’t be able to really take that time off for yourself.”
Unlike her commute, Miglani did miss the human element of working in an office, sitting with her team, holding impromptu meetings around a whiteboard. Miglani said being able to continue one-on-one meetings, even digitally, has allowed her to keep some of the face-to-face time she craves.
Her team is encouraging employees to look toward the future and think about applications of training beyond their current roles, she said, “making sure that learning is not just seen as a standalone, but it’s actually an integrated approach towards somebody’s career growth.”
Offering advice to her peers in the audience, Miglani cautioned against adopting new digital tools for their own sake. “Continuously invest in more efficient digital tools, because just having something doesn’t mean it will get used. You also need to make sure change management and implementation of the usage is there.”
And we shouldn’t abandon pandemic-era advancements as we move forward, she said. “Managing the quality and frequency of what we bring to our employees is going to be important–utilizing digital tools and optimizing them with the human element.”
Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a writer, editor, and content strategist based in Richmond, Va.