When the COVID-19 pandemic began changing the way we thought about our lives and our work, employee training companies were also forced to shift how they delivered content and services to their partners and the members of the workforce who relied upon them to continue developing skills and knowledge.
Human resource managers found that their employees were working under unusual circumstances but still needed to make progress in their professional preparation, and their contracted training companies were scrambling to adjust their methods to meet a new normal.
As the pandemic nears what we all hope is its end, business leaders and commentators are taking stock of the changes the pandemic brought. Changes in global consumption patterns accelerated, for example, and some people – women, especially – who left the workforce during the pandemic have yet to return to jobs.
Among the many challenging and costly changes brought on by the pandemic is the way training companies communicate when employees work remotely. This shift has been especially acute for human resource professionals who are tasked with providing training opportunities for the people they serve.
The Impact of the Pandemic on Employees
As much as people complain about the politics of working in an office, many workers found they missed the water-cooler moments that facilitated informal connections and conversations during the height of the pandemic. A large number of people discovered what employee training companies have known for a long time: working from home can be very isolating, and the psychological impact should not be underestimated.
In fact, researchers found that working from home during the pandemic had several negative effects, including diminished emotional well-being and physical challenges that came from the change of lifestyle. According to a HingeHealth survey, nearly half of people working from home reported having adverse emotional responses to the change in workplace location.
Human beings are pack animals, and we typically respond well to being around others. Additionally, when your home becomes your office – and in many cases, more than one office, and a school, as well – it can be a challenge to balance multiple responsibilities and logistical issues. These are additional stresses on top of an already stressful time.
Eventually, however, the kids will go back to school as the world slides back toward normalcy, and businesses and workers alike will need to decide if remaining virtual has advantages they’d rather not give up.
Virtual communication technology gives employers and employees a lot of flexibility they wouldn’t have traditionally. No longer tethered to a desk in an office, workers can live anywhere and remain productive. That means hiring managers can recruit from anywhere, too, and building qualified applicant pools doesn’t need to take geography into account.
Switching to virtual communication and a distributed workforce is a big decision, not without its pitfalls (like the increasingly-worrisome “Zoom fatigue”). With planning, however, technology can be used to facilitate communication in a way that is healthy for both businesses, and the people they employ. Below are five strategies to consider if your company has been struggling to adjust to the changes and challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Strategy #1: They Hold Meetings Without Meeting
Even before the start of the pandemic, successful training companies were already moving away from the traditional structures of office communication. However, in many other industries, in-person meetings were the common currency of office communication. If something needed to be conveyed – and sometimes, even if it didn’t – a meeting was called and everyone clomped into a room to sit around a table together. Obviously, the pandemic put an end to that. Successful companies have found ways to move away from meetings to share important information.
When people just started working from home, meetings quickly slid into technologically-mediated spaces. Companies quickly became familiar with services like Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and other video conferencing programs. The really successful companies, however, realized that they could communicate without these virtual get-togethers by reevaluating how they share information and why.
It begins by empowering teams to work independently. That greatly reduces the need for meetings that involve large groups of people that aren’t directly connected to the meetings’ topics 100% of the time. In organizational terms, the decision-making processes become flatter: there’s no long chain to maneuver to gain go-ahead before moving forward with ideas.
The new structure eliminates the need for meetings. With fewer people in fewer loops, people can be kept informed through simple emails, electronic bulletin boards or any number of chat programs. The end result is the same as a meeting – information that determines decisions is shared – without the need for everyone to enter something into their daily planner.
In the training and education sector, “asynchronous learning” refers to instruction that can happen at any time, without a set classroom schedule. When the pandemic hit, schools and universities leaned heavily on building learning modules that students could access as their schedule permitted.
Successful training companies turned to the same solution during the pandemic. They began offering training opportunities either asynchronously or remotely. That allowed workers to continue making progress on their skill development while letting them stay in the safety of their home.
Rethink the way your teams share information and identify areas where face-to-face exchanges can be replaced with technological communication. Though you may never have the same spontaneity that meeting in person can allow, the advantages of cleaner, robust remote communication can be worth the effort. Training companies, and the businesses that utilize their services, benefit from the confidence and security of employees who share information this way.
Strategy #2: They Link Individual Progress to Team-Connected Awards
The biggest challenge with remote learning is the difficulty in maintaining learner engagement. Successful companies that adopted remote and asynchronous learning found ways to embed training in team development and team-building initiatives. Consider linking individual progress to team-connected rewards.
While it’s unfair to connect important things like an employee’s compensation to the work of another employee, successful companies have found ways to encourage continued training progress by developing other incentives awarded when members of teams reach certain milestones.
A reward system that compliments team goals can be a great motivator. When you do decide to put one in place, however, remember that the “rules” of the system must be transparent. Otherwise, you may be faced with significant problems.
Successful training companies find ways to use awards to push the continued development of their workforce. Beyond clear communication and the implementation of a shared vision, a robust award program is one of the most-effective ways to motivate your team to succeed.
Strategy #3: They Provide the Tools for the Job
Among the costs of switching to remote communication, providing equipment that helps your workforce stay connected is one of the largest. If you’ve decided to allow or encourage remote work, your company should consider providing the technology that makes it possible.
Companies that found success pivoting to remote communication during the pandemic did so in part by ensuring that employees possessed standardized computers and other equipment that made communication easier. It’s far simpler to transition to remote communication when everyone is on the same platform, using machines with similar capabilities and has access to the cameras and microphones that make remote communication possible.
Think of this equipment as an investment in your business’s future and the health and well-being of your workforce.
Strategy #4: They Implement Microlearning
Faced with a remote workforce whose attention is being pulled in multiple directions, many training companies are putting microlearning strategies into place that take advantage of remote communication technology to deliver short, impactful training modules.
Microlearning typically consists of targeting training activities with an extremely limited, yet clearly defined, training goal. Because they are so brief, they can be navigated more easily by people working from home and juggling the schedules of work and personal lives.
There are a number of microlearning platforms available to add to training programs. Many of them use interfaces that have familiar approaches resembling other applications like Twitter and popular quiz websites. With a little research, you’ll be able to find something that fits your current training offerings.
Strategy #5: They Use New Technology to Train in Soft Skills
New communication technology does a nice job of facilitating soft skills development, and training companies and other businesses are finding it’s a nice complement to already-existing training programs.
Human resource managers and their workforce partners can identify the sort of soft skills they value and use remote communication technology to deliver the necessary training.
Because the term “soft skills” encompasses such a wide variety of topics and potential training, successful soft skills training programs are really developed as a partnership across all a business’s stakeholders. Good soft skills training programs often include elements of the strategies discussed earlier in this piece.
The Future of Employee Training and Communication
It’s pretty much impossible to predict the future, and the COVID-19 pandemic made people realize that during certain times, it can be challenging simply to plan for tomorrow. Anyone who claims to be completely prepared for whatever can happen is not being honest. The best we can do is be flexible and keep our eyes open. Human resource managers can also encourage employee training that will be useful no matter what strange circumstances arise.
For more strategies that are useful for any organization that plans to continue to employ remote workers, or suddenly finds itself needing to rely on remote work, download this FREE eBook, Increasing Productivity in Remote Teams. This eBook is an excellent addition to employee training material that covers eLearning and managing remote teams.