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Author's profile photo Enrico Palumbo

It´s hybrid, stupid! The value of learning and social capital in the post-pandemic future of work.

Jimmy was so focused on delivering in his job, that he lost control over his investments and realized too late how some of his intangible assets deteriorated. He ignored the importance of continuous learning and social capital. No reason to feel sorry for Jimmy.

He is a fictional character invented by London Business School professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott. In their book The 100-Year Life – Living and Working in an Age of Longevity Gratton and Scott address challenges and opportunities of increased life expectancy. They suggest that intangible assets including skills, knowledge, and a broad and diverse network are key elements for a long and productive life as they are crucial for optimizing transitions and broadening career choice.

Let´s double click on the relevance of intangible assets and how they strengthen tangible assets as they either boost your employability and earning potential or bring more clarity in the midst of opportunities we can choose from while planning our lives.

  • Learning and development: Studies conducted by the World Economic Forum show that skill shifts are happening across all industries and professional roles. The acquisition of new skills and new specializations will become a lifelong challenge for those who want to stay successful in their current role, as well as for those who want to (or need to) transition into other roles.
  • Social capital: Developing collaborative relationships, enhancing your network and building a personal brand provides access to resources, knowledge and facilitates finding of new opportunities and entering into new fields.
  • Mental and physical well-being: Building emotional intelligence helps to manage your energy and resources, control your stress levels and develop, inner calm, emotional and cognitive resilience.

Moving from recover to discover

As the pandemic advanced last year, I occasionally thought about what will be different when we recover from the pandemic and re-start corporate life. Over time I realized the corporate world will never be the same. Many people won´t miss the commute, offices will never be again the default place for work, and for many people face-to-face will never be again the default way to communicate with teammates.

I remembered the book from Gratton and Scott and started to discover the implications of their analysis for the hybrid future of work: one of the main differences will be that intangible assets like skills, knowledge and professional networks need to be addressed differently. They have always been assets that require maintenance and regular investment as they diminish over time from usage or neglect. However, with the workforce moving into a hybrid model, the efforts of the individual to build and maintain networks and develop through informal and peer learning will require more input for equal output. Lunch meetings, a quick coffee together and random encounters at the water dispenser will be less frequent. Individuals will need to invest mindfully, or networks will atrophy.

Stimulating investments

At the same time companies have a vital interest that people engage in continued learning and professional networks, given the speed of transformation in many industries, demographic change and skill shift. As people recognize the fact that they will likely work into their 70s, job seekers will search out employers who will support them in building these intangible assets .

Companies that want to meet the needs of a longer-lived workforce, have different possibilities to support their employees in building a mindset and practices that encourages individuals to experiment, transition and grow. This starts with transparency on emerging skills demands, access to formal training as well as informal learning, including experience-based formats and peer learning. And it continues will acknowledging the different needs people have throughout different phases of their-multi staged life promoting flexible work hours, lateral career moves and mindful (self-) leadership.

Here are five ways to invest into intangible assets that facilitate knowledge sharing, holistic thinking and transitions across the company that worked well at SAP:

  • Job Shadowing. The HR Learning team of SAP started in 2020 to attach Job Shadowing opportunities to each major learning event or program we design. For example, when we offer sessions about scrum, we also organize some opportunities to shadow a scrum master. This experience-based learning facilitates broad and diverse professional networks.
  • Fellowships. In 2020 more than 1.400 people across SAP completed a fellowship. This means they joined for one to six months another team to work there. This expands the network and allows the receiving team as well as the fellow to build new skills and competencies.
  • Mentoring. Well known as an effective way to support development, mentoring has limitations when people struggle to find the right mentor, e.g. because they are new in the organization. At SAP we have opened a platform to connect potential mentors and mentees In 2020 almost 1.400 mentoring relations have been built through this platform.
  • Social platform. Across the globe SAP launched a platform to facilitate encounters of people that share same interests and probably who would never meet randomly. Based on users´ profile, the application proposes colleagues to meet for lunch or a virtual coffee.
  • Mindfulness: What began in 2012 as a grassroots mindfulness initiative to help employees thrive in a rapidly changing global economy is now a deeply anchored practice in SAP’s culture. More than 11,400 employees have been trained in a two-day “Search Inside Yourself” course.

Last year some people were quick in calling out the “new normal”. For many people around the world however, the pandemic will still be the “normal” for quite some time. We are well advised to continue observing how needs of people change, what behaviors evolve and plan investments in intangible assets accordingly.

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