At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations rolled their eyes at the need to work remotely. Even once the need to do so became more apparent, the expectation among many was that the remote work situation would last a few weeks at most. Fast-forward 6 months, and millions of Americans continue to work from home, with no immediate end in sight.
As the need for remote work continues, companies are increasingly recognizing that the “business as usual” activities they had planned to put off until the pandemic subsided cannot be delayed indefinitely. Instead, companies need to adapt to the “new normal” and find ways to address ongoing business needs in a remote workplace.
Ongoing Need for Remote L&D
Employee learning and development (L&D) is a great example. L&D is undoubtedly essential for any business; however, it isn’t necessarily time-sensitive when looking at things from a 1-month horizon.
Companies that expected to be back in the office after a few weeks of remote work may have been more or less justified in putting training efforts on a brief hold until they could resume in-person activities. But that situation is much different when considering companies may be working remotely for a year or more. Employee training, learning, and development can’t be put on pause for that long, meaning companies need to identify ways to tackle those needs remotely.
In this feature, we discuss some insights provided to us by Charlie Chung, VP of Business Development and Solutions Consulting at NovoEd, regarding the current state of remote L&D efforts among companies and employees, as well as some best practices.
Chung has helped companies like Comcast, Forrester, and GE get their digital learning environments up and running and does a great job highlighting the advantages and obstacles of delivering learning content, coaching sessions, performance management, and certification processes virtually.
How Are Companies Shifting Their L&D Activities During the Pandemic?
First, let’s look at the current state of the workplace and ask how companies have been responding to the need for remote work and its impact on their L&D efforts. While there may be concern among some that L&D efforts have been overlooked in the relative chaos surrounding COVID-19, Chung argues that the pandemic has caused companies to place more attention on training.
“In the past, L&D activities were considered optional and were often suspended or cut whenever there were downturns or significant business challenges,” Chung says. “In contrast, for large organizations with white-collar professional workers, L&D is actually achieving even greater focus.” There are two main reasons behind this shift, he says.
First is the recognition that knowledge work is more important than ever. “An organization’s human capabilities will determine how well the organization makes decisions and prospers,” says Chung.
Second, he says, the shift to nearly fully remote work creates challenges for keeping employees engaged. “A key aspect of engagement is ensuring that employees continue to stretch and grow and that often involves learning and development,” he says.
How Are Employees Responding to These Shifts?
It’s probably no surprise that employees, by and large, are enjoying the work-from-home experience; 83% of workers say they’d like to work remotely at least 1 day a week, while almost a third say they’d like to work their entire schedules from home post-pandemic. But how are they responding to changing needs and formats for training?
“Employees are responding to this shift to remote work like champs,” says Chung. He notes that while there was some initial concern from business leaders about a lack of supervision with so many remote staff, employee productivity has been great. “Employees are working diligently and finding new and better ways of communicating. They are relying on corporate communication and collaboration tools more than ever.”
Advice for Adjusting to a Digital Training Format
“Digital forms of training are here to stay, and it is critical that L&D find ways to provide depth, variety, and flexibility with these offerings that move beyond web conferencing and don’t rely on solo e-learning modalities,” says Chung. “The dawn of learning experience design (LXD) is now here, and L&D needs to build up its capability in LXD.”
Chung offers the below principles to follow when designing deeper learning experiences:
- Aim for maximum flexibility in tools and processes. By allowing learning to happen over an extended time frame, retention of materials will ultimately increase. For example, a 1- to 2-day on-site workshop could be rolled into a 3- to 6-week online experience consisting of a single 2-hour commitment per week.
- Incorporate real-world applications into learning experiences. Provide opportunities for learners to apply their learnings to actual work submissions, and include managers and mentors in this process to hold them accountable. Missions and projects allow learners to move beyond click-through content checks to demonstrate how they plan to apply learning to their jobs.
- Curate from a wide variety of existing and new training content. In-person training requires a facilitator to keep participants engaged with PowerPoint® decks, videos, and other content. But, due to the nature of online learning, training activities can expand into a wider variety of media resources—internal and external videos, infographics, text, documents, and other learning content, for instance.
- Incorporate social learning so employees can learn from each other. With L&D training shifting online, this doesn’t mean learners should be left behind to fend for themselves. The group connections and felt accountability of in-person experiences can be maintained by keeping learners in cohorts with deadlines, and collaboration can be stimulated by including discussions, sharing assignments, and providing informal and formal feedback.
“In terms of the training content that is being offered, employee and team-focused topics are becoming more important,” says Chung. “These include cross-functional leadership, collaboration and culture, diversity and inclusion, virtual presenting, and even storytelling skills. In an increasingly isolated world, there is more of a need to have topics around drawing people together in an authentic and meaningful way.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has raged for longer than many initially expected, it will eventually subside. But the changes to the modern workplace spawned and expanded in the virus’s wake are sure to have a much longer impact.
As companies and employees continue to embrace remote work as part of the “new normal,” L&D professionals need to adapt and ensure their companies’ workforces have the tools they need to continue to perform and compete regardless of where they log in.