As men left to fight in World War Two, many women joined the workforce and experienced financial and personal freedom for the first time. With role models like Rosie the Riveter to look up to, they kept production lines and the economy going. Once the war ended, much went back to normal, but now women had proven their abilities. While the war left a trail of destruction around the world, it also opened the door for the future feminist movements and campaigns for equal rights and opportunities. Similarly, the COVID-19 pandemic will also be remembered as the start of many changes including new working practices that one day we’ll take for granted.
As the way we work shifts to keep up with changes in society, workplace learning needs to be at the forefront of this new culture. We’ve had a look at how learning and development has to adapt to the new world we’re beginning to engage with.
Use L&D to lead through the changes
Employees want to know that their organisation has strong leadership and a plan for navigating through these uncertain and difficult times. By investing in L&D, an organisation shows it’s looking to a longer-term future, and not only moment to moment crisis management.
Since the start of the pandemic, over 90% of European L&D professionals say they’ve needed to change their L&D strategy, with only 5% believing it will ever go back to how it was pre-lockdown.1 However, a quarter of L&D professionals say they don’t know what’s required from them at the moment, and despite over half having a plan, only a third feel it will actually be put into action.2
Encouragingly, new global research has found 70% of CEOs are now actively championing L&D to their employees (up from just 27% in October 2019), and 66% of L&D professionals say their function has become a much more strategic part of their organisation.3 Leaders have clearly recognised the power L&D holds in making every business successful.
In the United States, there are increasing calls for more public investment into worker training in order to weather the coming recession and jobs crisis. This also happened after the 2008 economic crash, where there was a large amount of investment which quickly trailed off.4 This time, we all need to keep L&D a priority.
A blended virtual reality
Online learning platforms have seen a 600% increase in use during the lockdown,5 highlighting the need for adaptable and flexible learning programmes, but will this change as lockdown ends? Classrooms and face-to-face learning are not extinct, they have simply been on pause for a while. Now after months in isolation, there’s a renewed appreciation for the value of human interaction. We at Speak First will continue to champion instructor-led learning as one of the best ways to learn and teach. This can be delivered virtually or face-to-face. However, with the rise in remote and flexible working, for most organisations instructor-led virtual learning will also work extremely effectively as part of a blended programme.
As many workplaces close permanently in favour of remote working, employees are losing the social aspect of work – the classic chat around the watercooler or coffee machine. Team comradery and friendships are hard to build over Zoom calls and emails. L&D is one of the best ways to build a team and foster interaction between people whose work wouldn’t usually intersect.
An increased culture of L&D also helps counterbalance the loss of spontaneous peer-to-peer learning. For example, watching how a colleague you’re sitting next to does something, overhearing a brilliant phone call or asking for in the moment feedback.
L&D professionals need to be cautious when planning their future strategies. In-person and virtual learning both have their place, but they are different mediums which require different styles. You can’t expect participants to sit at their laptop all day, the way they would sit in a classroom. But virtual is excellent for shorter, highly interactive sessions.
Renewed focus on mental health
Employers have a responsibility to look after the physical and mental health of their workers. Yet, in a 2019 survey, the CIPD found that only half of managers have been trained to manage stress and only 30% felt confident having sensitive conversations with their teams.6
During lockdown, over a third of workers’ mental health has suffered. One cause is 87% of workers report feeling more pressure to keep productivity levels high to prove they’re able to work from home successfully, despite 35% saying they’ve actually been more productive while remote working.7
Mental health will become a priority of L&D in the coming years. 69% of L&D professionals have said that promoting mental health has become part of their role since the start of the pandemic,8 highlighting how many companies are recognising the helpful role L&D can play in this.
One of the benefits of the lockdown and the virtual revolution has been an increasing understanding of the humanity and personal lives of employees. People have been working from home, while also trying to cope with living through a frightening pandemic. Parents have been home schooling their children, while keeping themselves and their families healthy and safe in the wake of a virus threatening the entire world. If there was ever a time for L&D to help your people manage their anxiety or increase their resilience and adaptability, this is it.
A unique opportunity to rethink strategies
The coronavirus has affected all parts of our lives and society. Cinemas are struggling to attract people back versus the ease and comfort of on-demand services, and brick-and-mortar stores can no longer compete with Amazon and other online shopping sites. However, these trends were already happening long before the lockdown, it just sped up the process. Similarly, many workplace trends like remote working, digitisation and automation have been gradually growing for many years, until they’re now firmly in the world’s attention. The cost savings alone will make many a Chief Finance Officer question why their organisation spends money on offices, travel and face-to-face events.
This is a rare moment for organisations to rethink who they are, what they do and how they do it. Focus on your core values and principles, your driving forces and see what you want to keep and what can be changed or updated. When facing the inevitable economic downturn, companies need to become more agile and purpose driven. L&D should sit at the centre of this, training your people in crucial soft skills, and setting the tone for the organisation’s expectations for the future.
Furthermore, many organisations are shifting strategy and putting the focus squarely on internal mobility, rather than external recruitment. 64% of L&D professionals say this is now a priority, with the goal of keeping employers at an organisation longer.9 It’s long been known that the cost of onboarding far exceeds the cost of internal training – which also helps employee retention – so it’s unsurprising to see organisations pivoting this way.
Organisations should also be using the end of lockdown to recognise which employees thrived and which struggled under these conditions. Many introverts have been enjoying time out of the typical office environment, while others struggled without daily social contact. Using L&D to help people understand how to work effectively with people that have different behavioural styles should be an important part of reopening strategies and organisations’ flexible working policies going forwards.
A new normal requires new skills
The future of work looks increasingly flexible, remote and virtual. This comes with a lot of exciting benefits and opportunities, but also requires its own set of skills. We were all thrown into the deep end and expected to swim, without time to assess if we each had the right technology, space or knowledge to remain effective. Now that organisations are able to think longer term about their future remote working policies, they should utilise L&D to get their people fully equipped to be productive while working from home.
Additionally, as other organisations turn virtual, you should expect more external meetings to be video calls. Therefore, your salespeople need to know how to make the biggest impact without being in the same room. What you gain in convenience, you lose in not being able to take somebody out for a coffee or chat in the corridor after a meeting. Albeit, many sales people find they build a closer bond because of the shared situation of working from home and gaining insight into people’s lives. There are pros and cons to everything, and L&D should be helping people not just manage but thrive in these environments.
Even within a team, communication will always be an important and universal skill – whether in person or virtually. As communication methods change, your teams need to know how to listen and be heard. With more remote working, team members can be geographically further apart than ever before – making diversity and inclusion, unconscious bias and managing culture clashes vital topics.
It also changes the future of leadership roles. While the pandemic rages on, skills like problem solving under pressure and change management are important, but longer term they should be learning to lead teams without physically seeing them every day.
The world of L&D is changing because the whole world is changing. The future of learning looks blended between virtual and in-person, to match the future of flexible working. As the dust settles and we emerge from lockdown, as long as L&D remains tied to an organisation’s core values and goals, it will be there to lead us through to the new normal.
Our new Virtual Learning Journeys are designed to help you and your teams adapt to working in the New Normal. Check them out here to see how they can help you.
1 Fosway (2020) How is COVID-19 changing learning?
2 Training Industry (2020) Leading learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
3 LinkedIn Learning (2020) Leading with learning: insights and advice about the new state of L&D
4 New York Times (2020) The pandemic has accelerated demands for a more skilled work force
5 Wall Street Journal (2020) How to make a career pandemic-proof
6 CIPD (2019) Health and well-being at work survey 2019
7 Robert Walters (2020) Burning the candle: strategies to combat workplace burnout
8 LinkedIn Learning (2020) Leading with learning: insights and advice about the new state of L&D