How to reward your team in the workplace of the future

Before the global pandemic, workplace perks seemed to grow more extravagant in the headlines. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon continuously announced jaw-dropping benefits, including gourmet cafeterias, free child (and pet) care, and dream vacations. Of course, these benefits are unrealistic and out of reach for most employers. Sending teams to a beach in Indonesia simply isn’t an option (unless the company is located there).

Beach on Lombok Island, Indonesia

Workplace benefits have dramatically changed but are still around in different flavors. An article from Forbes reports that companies “substitute” in-office perks for health, wellness, and lifestyle options. However, varying degrees of the remote and hybrid workplace, combined with an intensely competitive labor market, reveal e-Learning as an increasingly viable opportunity to show appreciation to workers while simultaneously advancing the organizational mission.

e-Learning leverages digital technology to deliver immersive course content that enables remote learners to interact together online at a fraction of the cost of traditional educational programs. Offer e-Learning as a perk to workers by:

  • Delivering opportunities that are valuable to workers
  • Optimizing the workplace environment

Deliver e-Learning opportunities that are valuable to workers

e-Learning is a natural extension of the training that already happens in the workplace. While traditional training is not typically perceived as a perk, it’s possible to position e-Learning in ways that are valuable to workers.

First, view e-Learning as a reward. Unlike training, the worker should be the primary beneficiary. It’s okay if e-Learning subjects or topics don’t align perfectly with work responsibilities. Walmart, the largest employer in the United States, recently announced that it would cover 100% of college costs for workers. While a college degree is probably not necessary for many roles at Walmart and may even incentivize workers to seek more advanced outside employment, this action is clearly a worker benefit. Overlap with work objectives is great, but workers won’t see thinly disguised training as a perk.

Second, cover learning costs that workers already incur. Workers are already pursuing learning. A Wall Street Journal article demonstrates how workers already pursue learning on their own time (and dime) as employers “shift responsibility to the individual.” There are many financial possibilities beyond the Walmart model. The author of a Forbes article proposes cash to spend on learning as an employee benefit in a cutthroat labor market. Partner with ambitious workers by giving them financial support for e-Learning.

Third, promote e-Learning as a professional development vehicle. Learning does not need to be as formal as a college or professional degree. Along similar lines, a Fast Company article, using data from Kansas State University and the University of Missouri, concludes that workers are looking for “respect” as a workplace benefit. In an e-Learning program at MIT, where I work with a team that delivers online courses to thousands of working professionals worldwide, our participants are eager to receive completion certificates that acknowledge their months of hard work. Likewise, the edX.org MicroMasters program, which uses similar e-Learning software as MIT, offers customizable, bite-sized credentials that help learners demonstrate new knowledge and skills. There are many ways to provide professional recognition to workers for e-Learning accomplishments.

Optimize the workplace environment for e-Learning

Regardless of where our teams are located, every workplace has expanded beyond the walls of HQ in ways that naturally support e-Learning. It’s also possible to optimize e-Learning in workplaces.

First, guide workers towards quality learning options. In the recent past, students were cheated out of thousands of dollars for worthless degrees by online diploma mills. This still happens, but better options exist. Legitimate learning platforms, such as Udacity and Udemy, and Online Program Management (OPM) services that work directly with respected academic institutions, such as edX.org and Coursera, have put quality and relevant content online. Analyze the possibilities and connect your workforces with a broad basket of options that will position them and the organization for the future of work.

Second, facilitate learning at the workplace. Recently, with more extensive remote work, it has become difficult for workers to learn from the person sitting at the next desk. However, remote work also opens the door for better learning. e-Learning relies on digital technology and is an ideal way to spend part of the remote workday. It provides a respite from the daily grind and leverages new workplace tools that workers already use. Foster learning in this environment by giving workers the time and infrastructure for e-Learning, even during traditional working hours.

Third, promote upskilling in the workplace. The global workforce has entered perhaps one of the most challenging skills markets in modern history. Technology is becoming more sophisticated, traditional education systems cannot develop students fast enough with the right skills, demand for skilled talent is more cutthroat than ever, and employers struggle to measure remote worker performance. In a recent IEEE article that I co-authored, which analyzed e-Learning courses that MIT offers to thousands of working professionals, we discovered that organizations are less sophisticated than they expect in key engineering disciplines. The same principle applies to other essential subjects. This means that workforces cannot stand still. Organizational learning can no longer be simply about training around a process, such as entering an order into the system. Workforces of the future must acquire new skills, perform higher-value work, and demonstrate performance around measures that do not depend on showing up at the office. Invest in more valuable workers by empowering them with e-Learning that upskills them into the future.

Despite the continuous stream of extravagant employee perks, e-Learning is a quickly developing opportunity for all organizations to reward workers and show appreciation to them. By focusing the value of e-Learning on workers and creating an optimal work environment for e-Learning to thrive, both workers and their organizations will realize the underlying benefits in an increasingly complex future of the workplace.