If we’ve learned anything from 2020, it’s that we should approach planning for the future with humility and agility. The COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote work showed us that if we’re not prepared to adapt to change, we diminish our chances of success. 

No one understands this more than learning & development professionals. Our recent survey of HR and L&D leaders found that 62.5% of organizations shifted most or all of their workforce to remote this year. And 66% reported that their use of online learning and training increased as a result of the shift of remote work.

When asked to share the challenges caused by this transformation, L&D opportunities emerged in the survey responses. Here’s what we learned: 

1. Upskilling becomes a business imperative

Remember a time when you didn’t know what “Zoom fatigue” was? It’s probably a hazy memory by now. The sudden shift to remote work introduced the world to new technologies and ways of working almost overnight.

L&D professionals reported an urgent need to upskill their workforces in response to the pandemic. These skills fell into two categories:

A fair warning to L&D professionals: The pace at which new technology emerges to meet the demands of remote work won’t likely slow down either. “Due to the rapid increase in work from home trends, clear communication across individuals using new digital tools is becoming essential,” says Udemy instructor and Head of Data Science at Pierian Data Jose Portilla.

2. Employee well-being steps into the spotlight

The shift to remote means there’s no longer a distinction between work and home life. The blurred lines between personal and professional have a big impact on how companies consider employee wellbeing.

L&D professionals recognize a growing need to emphasize employee wellbeing. Survey respondents noted a few significant trends related to work/life balance:

HR and L&D professionals can get ahead of this trend by allowing more flexibility in working hours and supporting wellness skills like stress management. “In the new world of work with distributed teams working asynchronously, employees and organizations are challenged to redesign how work is done. This mindset is a fundamental shift to focusing on the whole employee, rather than simply their outputs or deliverables,” says Sahra Kaboli-Nejad, Senior People Scientist at Culture Amp.

3. Traditional training gives way to online learning

The pandemic disrupted the traditional practices used to onboard new hires and train employees. With employees no longer working in the same physical place, L&D teams had to transition to online methods. 

L&D professionals reported a need to adapt in three main ways:

But with great challenge comes great opportunity. L&D professionals are seeing the benefits of letting employees lead their own learning journeys. “In 2020, many of us realized that we need to be able to learn independently, especially when working remotely, and that we can actually do that through e-learning and self-discovery,” says Ned Krastev, data science instructor for 365 Careers.

4. L&D gains influence and a bigger seat at the table

While many L&D teams had a seat at the table before 2020, they had an opportunity to gain further influence and respect this year. Business leaders are increasingly turning to the L&D team to help the company adapt to change and uncertainty. 

In response to this broader and more strategic role, L&D professionals reported two major trends:

It’s worth noting that these responsibilities aren’t limited to L&D leaders. “It’s on all of us — from senior executives to individual contributors — to provide meaningful solutions to navigate the days, months, and even years ahead,” writes Shelley Osborne, VP of Learning at Udemy and author of The Upskilling Imperative.

Adapt and transform your organization’s L&D strategy

2020 has been full of challenges. But it’s also provided L&D professionals the chance to drive business outcomes. Whether you’re supporting soft skills like communication or time management or helping employees get up to speed on the technology they need to work remotely, you can have a significant and visible impact on your organization’s adaptability and resilience.

Wondering what this means for your work in the coming year? Read the 2021 Workplace Learning Trends Report to learn more about the top trends of 2020 and how to help your company adapt to whatever 2021 has in store.