Coronavirus (COVID-19), Learning & Development

COVID-19 and the ‘New Normal’ of Training

With months of experience in working from home under their belts, both employers and their employees have been feeling the impacts in the short term. But what impacts should they anticipate in the long term from a training and development standpoint?

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How is training and development different for remote workers? How should employers plan to accommodate these differences in the future? How will these differences impact your other training and development efforts? What have employers learned from the work-from-home experience that they expect will have a positive impact on their future efforts?

In this feature, we look at these and other potential impacts based on our own predictions and those of industry experts we solicited feedback from.

A More Diverse, Digitally Savvy Workforce—the ‘Who’

With the exception of some specific industries like food processing, manufacturing, and customer service that require on-site work, the vast majority of employees across many industries and many job functions have been forced to work remotely over the past few months. Many companies are seeing the advantages of continuing that trend long after it’s a necessity.

This means that almost all staff need to have the skills necessary to thrive in a remote work environment, from both a technological and a logistical standpoint. “Developing strong, diverse teams is one of our most important leadership functions,” says Tammy Perkins, Chief People Officer for PMI Worldwide. “Because of the additional complexity of managing remote teams, the onboarding process becomes critical to success.”

Focus on Long-Term Reskilling and Upskilling—The ‘What’

The idea that the post-COVID world will be a significantly different “new normal” relative to the pre-COVID world has become cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true.

Economies around the world have woken up to the fact that their supply chains and other business fundamentals are very fragile and need to be revisited. Many have also been forced to restructure their business models for months on end, meaning many of those changes have become increasingly ingrained in day-to-day operations.

Increased reliance on remote-friendly solutions has led to increased investments in innovation to drive such solutions. Companies have found they can gain or enhance competitive advantages by embracing some of the tools they initially adopted out of necessity.

All of this means the post-COVID workplace will require skills and capabilities that may have been marginally important or even nonexistent in the pre-COVID world. This will require a shift in the “what” of employee training.

“Employees and employers should expect an increased focus on reskilling and upskilling in the long-term,” says Patricia Pomies, Chief Delivery Officer at Globant. “With new technologies and innovations constantly being introduced, organizations’ training and development will be more focused on putting employees at the center of the business to ensure they are equipped with the skills needed to provide the best service possible to customers.”

On-Demand Learning—The ‘Where’ and the ‘When’

For a variety of reasons, many companies have been averse in the past to embracing remote and on-demand training solutions. One common apprehension is that these formats can’t mimic the engagement of live, in-person training. But with virtually all in-person activities shuttered for months, organizations have been forced to shift training and other activities to remote and on-demand formats or else simply not have them at all. Many are realizing that the drawbacks of these formats are not as bad as they may have feared.

Pomies recommends that companies that may not be used to remote training take steps to make their learning experiences accessible remotely and available 24/7. “Their approach should be focused on promoting a culture of continuous learning and training programs should live in one central, digital location for employees to access easily,” she says. “It’s also best to give employees access to different learning experiences and training based on their time, interests, level and expertise—whether they are a remote employee or not.”

Leveraging the Sudden Remote Networking Immersion—The ‘How’

The sudden shift to remote work for millions of workers around the world has created enormous opportunities for providers of telecommunications technologies. New and improved tools are emerging and will continue to emerge in the marketplace.

“These times have proven that employees need to digitize their connections and communications with their colleagues, managers and leadership teams to increase output while working remotely,” says Pomies. “For example, our recent survey of 900 U.S. employees about productivity during COVID-19 found that almost half (49%) have decreased their work output during work from home. At the same time, 37% of employees indicated that regular communication with teammates and colleagues helps increase output.”

Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater

As we talk about the major fundamental changes impacting businesses in the wake of COVID-19, it’s important not to lose sight entirely of what has worked in the past and will likely still provide benefits in the future.

“The use of online learning has skyrocketed due to a majority of the workforce now working from their homes,” writes Karen Oakey, Director of Human Resources for Alachura, Florida-based e-commerce company Fracture. “Companies, however, should not lose focus on the in-person or conference development opportunities. Human engagement and interaction are still key components of how people learn.”

COVID-19 has upended business around the world. As fears over a resurgence of the virus continue and as the amount of time companies and employees are forced to alter their processes and behaviors grows, it becomes more and more likely that many of these changes will be lasting changes.

Businesses will need to adapt, and that includes adapting their training strategies to rethink the who, what, when, where, and how of their employee development efforts.