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Whitepaper:
frontiers forum

Something magical happens when people come together. When we can build on each other's ideas and develop new points of view, that’s when learning is at its best. To celebrate the launch of Sana’s new live, collaborative learning experience, we created frontiers forum—a meeting of minds for over 400 HR and L&D leaders. Through an interactive 75-minute session, 12 groups met to share best practices and explore three of the most burning questions related to learning:

  • How should we reimagine learning for a hybrid world?
  • What's the relationship between learning and psychological safety?
  • How do organizations build thriving learning cultures?

Here's what we learned.

1.

Reimagining learning for a hybrid world

Hybrid work has been high on the corporate agenda for over a year, but the model looks very different from organization to organization and even from person to person. So what does it mean for how we develop our teams, especially as the world is starting to re-open? And how do we create effective and inclusive hybrid learning experiences when some team members join in person and others are remote?

When we asked our frontiers forum participants, we observed a clear split in approach: either organizations were trying to explore new techniques for hybrid learning, or they were keeping physical and remote learning entirely separate. The table below summarizes the primary arguments for and against embracing the hybrid model.

Pro
Greater flexibility, which leads to greater group diversity. This is especially beneficial for international organizations who want to encourage their national teams to connect.

Con
Administration pressures rise when there are multiple timezones to navigate for international groups and cohorts.

Pro
Heightened sense of community by creating more opportunities for employees to connect.

Con
Scalablity questions arise when more physical learning experiences shift online.

Pro
Increased time and cost efficiency by virtue of fewer employees needing to travel in order to meet and learn together.

Con
Ensuring remote attendees feel equally included is extremely important

The big question for me in the platforms that we´re using for virtual meetings and learning is: what happens when that becomes truly hybrid? When you have three people in the room, and four people are virtual. How do we optimize that experience?”

Sue Ritchie Campbell
Head of Learning & Development
Merck Canada

Optimizing hybrid learning

  • Don’t force fit: We can't rely on replicating classroom training techniques to make hybrid learning effective. Instead, we need to reimagine session formats and content to involve more interaction and smaller cohorts.
  • Put interaction at the heart of the experience: To ensure all participants remain engaged in a hybrid context, it’s vital to replicate the social aspects or learning. Group chat and breakout rooms are beneficial here.
  • Double down on facilitation: When resources allow, have one facilitator present for physical attendees and another co-facilitator for remote attendees. Combine with close monitoring of chat conversations to ensure all participants are included.
  • Establish clear tech guidelines: For example, a one-face-one-screen policy regardless of whether you are digital or physically present, with cameras on as much as possible. Setting these kinds of expectations upfront allows everybody to feel seen and heard.

Finding and adopting the right tech is essential for hybrid learning to be effective. We need to rethink the entire learning ecosystem, putting the learner at the center.”

Participant
frontiers forum

Hybrid working and
learning at Sana Labs

At Sana, we combine flexible working with intentional digital and physical architecture. That’s why our headquarters in Stockholm is designed to facilitate both in-person and hybrid collaboration—a few large, open spaces exist alongside multiple small rooms for virtual and hybrid calls. Technology-wise, we use Sana Live for all internal meetings and workshops to facilitate informal learning and knowledge sharing from wherever our employees are. For example, when a group is part in-person and remote, everyone joins Sana Live to share their ideas and feedback through reflections, polls, reactions, and chat. We’ve found that respecting this principle for hybrid sessions increases engagement among both physical and remote participants.

2.

Psychological safety and learning

When we're psychologically safe, we feel comfortable asking for help, sharing suggestions informally, and challenging the status quo without fear of negative social consequences. Given that psychological safety is a critical factor in building high-performing teams, we wanted to know: what's the relationship between psychological safety and learning? And how can we foster a safe environment when our teams learn in a hybrid setting?

Innovation is strongly correlated with perceived psychological safety. And what happens is that the discussions become around the ideas instead of the person. The egos are left out.”

Participant
frontiers forum

Every frontiers forum group believed that psychological safety and learning are closely intertwined. On the one hand, we need to feel safe to learn; on the other hand, learning together can be a powerful bonding experience that fosters psychological safety.

Creating a safe space to learn

  • Embrace failure: Employees need to feel safe to fail to learn. To encourage this behavior, leaders should act as role models and be the first to volunteer when they don’t know the answer to something, both in a formal learning context and in regular meetings.
  • Break the ice: When a new group comes together to learn, they need a soft landing and the chance to get to know each other. Here, paying extra attention to the setting is key—music, visuals, and informal check-in questions can all help cultivate the right atmosphere.
  • Use inclusive tools: Everyone doesn’t feel comfortable speaking up in the moment. That’s why it’s key to provide opportunities and tools for all participants to write down their thoughts and take the time to read each other’s comments and ideas. Polls are another easy way to solicit feedback from the entire group.

I think it's about having a learning setting where you can have a bit of humor and self-reflection. To set that scene, we think a lot about the music and videos we play. And we split the groups into smaller breakout rooms to encourage conversation. These tactics help us be more open and honest about our challenges.”

Hanna Mannberg
Chief HR Officer
Svea Solar

However, it wasn’t all consensus. Across the sessions, we observed some debate over how far organizations should push employees out of their comfort zones, especially in fast-paced environments. We want our teams to feel safe and supported, but we also want them to feel challenged so that they grow. So how do we strike the right balance so that employees don’t end up experiencing negative stress?

Psychological safety
at Sana Labs

At Sana, we believe that finding that balance starts with leadership. We encourage all our leaders to cultivate an environment where their direct reports are in the “learning zone”, a place where they feel equally supported and challenged.

To create the learning zone, we work actively at Sana to:

  • Embrace radical candor as a company-wide feedback framework.
  • Identify each employee’s zone of genius.
  • Maintain our DRI framework to empower employees in their decision-making.
  • Use the interactive reflection cards and polls in Sana Live as much as possible. From company-wide All Hands to team planning sessions, we ensure everyone has the chance to share their ideas.

3.

Building thriving learning cultures

In today’s fast-moving world, creating a learning culture is critical to organizational success. But it’s easier said than done. So during frontiers forum, we reflected on these challenges and explored what it takes to build an intentional and thriving learning culture in practice.

Across all frontiers forum sessions, busy schedules were the top barrier to workplace learning. As many groups acknowledged, being too busy to learn is another way of saying that learning is not a priority. So what does it take to put learning on everybody’s corporate agenda and create an environment where employees feel empowered to learn?

Learning culture is a place where it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. It’s a place where everyone feels empowered to drive their learning. And it’s a place where we also offer the tools needed to drive that learning. The CEO and leaders need to be role models; they need to see that growth and development is the way forward for the success of the company.”

Johanna Bolin Tingvall
Global Head of Learning & Development
Spotify

When we asked frontiers forum participants about their cultural strategies, there was a clear trend towards blending top-down and bottom-up initiatives. Below are some of the top tactics.

  • It starts from the top: To encourage employees to learn, senior leaders must continuously reinforce the strategic importance of learning in company-wide settings and explain why it will enable the organization to deliver on its long-term goals.
  • Practice what you preach: When employees see their leadership team making time to learn, they will feel encouraged to do the same. Tactics can be as straightforward as having leaders block out learning time in their calendars, sharing what topics they are currently learning in company-wide forums, and even facilitating short 15-minute learning sessions.
  • Create forcing functions: Several frontiers forum participants had successfully introduced compulsory team and company-wide learning events, such as “learning week.” During these events, it pays to offer a range of learning activities and modalities so that employees can broaden their understanding of what learning is and find something that suits them.
  • Empower everyone to share knowledge: Here, simple forums go a long way. For example, set a cadence for Lunch and Learns and encourage every employee to host one on a topic of their choice within a certain time frame. Providing templates and intuitive tools can help lower the barrier to crafting good learning content, especially for those less experienced in knowledge sharing.

We are building towards having several groups contributing, so it’s no longer just the L&D department creating the learning content. I think that will make the experience even more relevant and even form the basis for our continued product development.”

Cecilia Tosting
Chief Executive Officer
Hemfrid

Learning culture at Sana Labs

We want Sana to be a company where people can do their life’s work. Fulfilling that mission all starts with learning in all its forms. Since Day 1 we have encouraged horizontal career moves, provided generous personal development budgets, and run regular lunch and learns. But nothing has shaped our learning culture more than building a learning platform and using it in our day-to-day work.

We want to empower everyone to create engaging learning content quickly and easily share knowledge with each other. That’s why we pay such close attention to the facilitator experience in Sana Live. From creating a breakout room to setting a workshop timer, our aim is reduce the administrative burden so that facilitators can focus on what matters most: the people in the virtual room.

To all our frontiers forum participants: thank you for sharing your experiences and ideas so generously. And a special thanks to our partners Johanna Bolin Tingvall (Spotify), Sue Ritchie-Campbell (Merck), Cecilia Tosting (Hemfrid), and Hanna Mannberg (Svea Solar), who provided our discussion prompts.

Knowledge sharing is powerful. The more we can exchange and discuss best practices within learning and people development, the faster we propel our industry forward.

❤️