COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the way we work; but it also requires an update to the way we train, too, writes Susan Dumas, senior learning consultant at Logicearth.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to be eased, we’re re-emerging from the safety of our homes into a changed world and a fundamentally different workplace. Coronavirus has not gone away; we now need to learn to live and work alongside it.
We must continue to adapt how we work as the situation evolves to ensure that our employees and our workplaces are safe. This is not a responsibility that we can afford to take lightly.
Organisations have an obligation to update safety documentation, write new policies, prepare offices, communicate with their workforce and ensure people are adequately prepared for the new risks we now face. Now more than ever, teams need guidance and clarity, leadership and advice. For many, this could be the first time that employees are actively seeking training, too.
Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to support employees through the transition from home back into the workplace. There is an opportunity now for leadership teams to take people by the hand and lead them through the barrage of competing information to a place where they feel comfortable, equipped and empowered to do their job.
And absolutely critical to the success of this is building trust.
Organisations must be able to assure their employees that worker health and wellbeing is the priority. But trust must also be earned through ongoing and clear communication with teams. We must speak clearly and be prepared to listen. This is a new situation for everyone and we will deal with it in different ways. While some employees may be delighted to get back to the office, others may be very anxious or unable to return.
Our teams will be more physically divided and dispersed than ever before. Some will want to speak openly about experiences they have gone through and others may not. We must engender a spirit of respecting each other’s feelings, decisions and choices, still as one team.
Leadership has never been more important. It’s important to actively demonstrate - rather than just talk about – values such as transparency, inclusion, flexibility and compassion. Our words and our actions must reflect the myriad of situations that our employees find themselves in, be that furlough, sickness, bereavement, depression, anxiety, home-schooling or self-isolation.
Win hearts and minds
Our ‘new normal’ for working life must accommodate and protect each and every individual, whether they’re in the office, at home or between the two. Adequate training before employees step back inside the workplace is a key piece of the jigsaw. We must give them the knowledge and physical protection they need to feel secure and prepared for this new challenge.
To this end, return to work training must reflect these key messages:
- your health and wellbeing are our priority
- we will make this work
- we’re in this together
Training should be accessible to all, straightforward, and compelling. Everyone needs to ‘get’ what measures have been put in place to protect the physical and mental health of all employees. Everyone needs to know the rules and best practice around coughing, sneezing and desk hygiene. Everyone needs to know the symptoms of COVID-19 and what to do if they have any symptoms. Everyone needs to know the importance of adhering to rules such as social distancing, staggered work hours, use of communal areas and one-way systems in the office. We need to work differently. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, everyone needs to ‘get’ that it’s ok to ask for help and where to find that help if they need it.
While rules and procedures may vary from office to office, one constant will be the need to get everyone on board. The ‘new normal’ cannot and will not work unless everyone takes responsibility for their own and their colleagues’ health and wellbeing. Training and communication must stress this in a way that resonates. Reciting rules won’t change behaviours or gain the long-term commitment that’s needed. We must win hearts and minds. Aim to inspire; not just inform.
The future workforce will be more remote, more dispersed and often working irregular hours. The technology is there to accommodate this. To keep up, training also needs to move online. There is simply no need – even if it were possible - to have large groups of people in a classroom at a set time. It’s inefficient, inflexible and expensive.
Simply putting PowerPoint slides online is not the answer, either. On the other hand, a well-crafted blended learning solution will teach but also provide opportunities for interaction and reinforcement. Moderated chat facilities can be used to allow interaction between trainees or between trainees and the trainer. We can replicate the ‘best bits’ about classroom training in a virtual context and foster a greater sense of community and unity for dispersed teams. This approach has been found to be most successful at supporting organisations through the pandemic.
For simple tasks or concepts, an online course can successfully deliver a training ‘hit’ at a time that’s convenient to the learner, or at the point of need. And a curated bank of digital resources can act as an ongoing reference library for information that’s evolving over time. Even ‘simple’ online learning courses can now include artificial intelligence algorithms that identify if a learner is struggling with a particular concept and direct them to appropriate resources or flag the issue to a manager. Online learning can be customised, personalised, bitesize, gamified, quantified and analysed.
Great challenges lie ahead for many industries. We need our workforces to be agile and productive through these difficult times. We must upskill workers to rise to new challenges and evolve to new situations. If you don’t already have a digital learning strategy, you need to get one in place.
Learn to grow
Organisations with immature digital learning strategies are three times more likely to have difficulty coping with the effects on the pandemic, compared to organisations with an embedded digital learning strategy. And, digitally-mature organisations are far more likely to significantly outperform their industry average on key financial metrics.
Online learning can be scaled or updated as needs be as the situation changes. It can link to the latest guidance and policies, so it’s always up to date. Learning can, and should, become part of our daily routine. Let’s start by training our staff on how to safely and effectively return to work, but let’s not stop there.
Let’s upskill and reskill our workforces to adapt to new ways of working to meet the challenges that lay ahead. The result will be a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce – as well as an improved bottom line.
Susan Dumas is a senior learning consultant at Logicearth, a division of The Creative Engagement Group