Creating A Space For Learning At Work

My daughter surprised me last week by saying that she was going to the library. With her friends. To revise for their test.

Of course, when I tracked her down on the iPhone, she was in McDonalds, but she eventually made it to the library, and she studied for her test, so y'know, swings and roundabouts.

Now - there's a reason the library is suddenly in fashion, and no it's not because the adjoining cafe is suddenly doing frappes. It's because, in this world of constant distraction, if you want to learn anything you need peace and quiet.

My daughter's generation is perhaps the most distracted generation yet. They're growing up with phones as their world in their pocket. Whatsapp groups are pinging constantly, and they've evolved a whole new way of communicating by selfie, to the point that instead of knocking on the front door to tell me she's home, she sends me an impatient-looking selfie in front of our door.

We're no different in the workplace. Slack is great, but it's the online equivalent of having that annoying co-worker tap you on the shoulder every five seconds while you're trying to concentrate. Email is that annoying coworker who clears their throat from across the office while trying to get your attention. And don't get me started on Whatsapp groups at work.

The amount of workplace distractions - especially now we're partly remote - has multiplied. And what does that mean when we actually want to learn something? Can we go to the library?

Libraries of the Workplace

It's a given that people want to be trained by their employer. It's a given that employers have to upskill their people. But creating the conditions for learning - creating those libraries of the workplace - is also part of the equation.

That may be a quiet part of the office. It may be the verbal or written acknowledgement that training requires a distraction-free environment and that it's OK to be offline during working hours if you're training.

And training doesn't always have to be face-to-face in a classroom. Online training taking place in a browser comes with its own potential distractions. Employers need to be clear that it's OK to turn Slack off, to turn email off, to turn Whatsapp off. 

Self-paced learning isn't effective if you're dealing with multiple questions from different people at different levels of urgency. Employers, again, have to create the libraries of the workplace. A quiet zone both physically and figuratively. The ability to go somewhere without physical or online distraction and learn something.

Inspiring Curiosity

There is something inspiring about seeing your kids decide to go to the library of their own accord, rather than being dragged along with the promise they'll be able to get a couple of mangas and maybe have a frappe. 

Kids are naturally curious, but do we lose some of that in the workplace?

There's an element of upskilling that comes in sharing information between people, and this isn't something that you necessarily pay for. It's not a course, it's a spirit of curiosity that only employers can foster among employees.

And it comes top-down. For example:

  • Create an online channel for sharing great marketing campaigns that people can be inspired by
  • Start team meetings by talking about a blog or a subreddit that's a) relevant and b) interesting
  • Ask people if they've learned anything new this week - even something that's tangential 

By making it obvious that learning is at the heart of your culture, you can inspire people to go out and find, for instance, great marketing campaigns or inspiring commentary on what's happening within the industry. And they can bring that back. 

Learning goes beyond "I want a course" / "Here's your course" - it's something that needs to be placed at the very core of any business so that people feel they're progressing. And if they're progressing, they stay longer. 

So think about how you're creating the libraries of your workplace, and how you can get people more involved.

Published on Feb 21, 2023 by Gareth Cartman