A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the moment when I realized that work had changed forever. I’d read many articles on the topic, but none which brought home the reality as hard as this real-life story.

One of the issues that I raised was employee engagement. Put simply, how do you repackage ‘soft’ workplace benefits when staff are no longer gathered under one roof? 

Virtual table tennis doesn’t sound much fun to me.  And you’re hardly going to offer every home worker a high-end coffee machine – although Google has given its employees $1000 to pep up their domestic workspace.

If not ping-pong and percolators, then what? Training is one area where forward-looking organisations are expanding their employee offer. 

Of course, training credits have always been part of the benefits package. But if this crisis has taught us anything, it is that the pandemic has accelerated digital transformation, not stifled it. According to Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft, businesses have been propelled two years into the future

Two years! As organisations re-calibrate their business models, equipping employees with complementary skills will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ alongside the games room. This is now a matter of corporate survival.

No surprise that some organisations are already partnering with academia in the rapid delivery of ‘micro-credentials’ – the foundation skills that encourage deeper understanding and collaboration within the workforce.

Telstra, Australia’s largest mobile network has just launched a suite of courses for employees delivered by The University of Technology Sydney.  

Subjects include data analysis foundations, advanced data analytics and an introduction to machine learning. The courses comprise five hours a week over two months.

It’s noteworthy that the courses will be available to the public from July, as part of Australia’s drive to overcome a workforce tech shortage estimated to be about 60,000 people over the next five years. It reminds me of other national initiatives, including Finland, which recently opened up its artificial intelligence course to the rest of the world

Don’t forget as well that Telstra was nearly three-quarters of the way through a job-cutting program as the pandemic started. The redundancies are now on hold which suggests that the company, like many, is waiting to see how the markets recover before further restructuring.

However, training up the workforce while still in a holding pattern, is an excellent strategy. It means that the business will be more ‘fluid’ and able to respond more quickly when some degree of certainty returns.

It's good news for employees too. If the worst comes to the worst, they’ll be well-positioned in a dynamic IT labour market. A solid grounding in data-science is going to get you a lot further than your table-tennis forehand smash, let’s face it.