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How Much Informal Learning is Lost in Remote Work?

There is no clear-cut answer to this question. Informal learning is traditionally difficult (if not impossible) to measure and it also depends on a variety of factors. At the same time, when I see this discussed it is usually done with rose-colored glasses that purposefully ignore the negatives.

On the one hand, remote work can potentially limit opportunities for informal learning that might take place in a traditional office setting. Being together enables informal conversations, easy questioning, and the ability to simply observe. No doubt those are all beneficial, especially to less experienced team members.

On the other hand, remote work can also create opportunities for informal learning that may not be possible in a traditional office environment. For example, remote workers may have more flexibility to attend online courses or webinars, and they may have more time to explore online resources or read relevant articles and blogs.

In the end, the conversation lacks one critical area - the bad informal learning that occurs. I currently work with a client where I am in their office several days a week. My interactions with people are incredibly limited (because not many people are in the office regularly). In fact, I will tell you that the person I most interact with is the cashier in the lunch room.

When I do interact with people, I learn things, but not always good things. This particularly organization is big on individual goals and meeting those goals. The informal learning has taught me that meeting a goal has to be met (missing a goal is a red flag), so we write goals that are easy to attain or easy to “fudge”. Another informal lesson - it is almost impossible to get fired for performance. Which means when someone isn’t performing well, they are just ignored. That may not seem too bad, but sometimes that person will be key to a project, which means that project never gets off the ground.

I happen to be a huge fan of informal learning and do think that remote causes challenges that we need to think about and address. However, informal learning should not be considered an always great thing. Lots of bad learning occurs as well as good.

NOTE: This post was written with assistance from ChatGPT.

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