4 Takeaways from Weekly Learning & Development Action Calls: COVID-19 Business Response
This week we opened up the call beyond Learning and Development professionals, as our topics of remote work, virtual teams, and virtual leadership are on just about everyone’s mind during this time of COVID-19.
Co-hosted by Kevin Oakes, i4cp's CEO, and Tom Stone, i4cp Senior Research Analyst, we shared i4cp's latest survey data on the extent to which organizations have shifted to remote work in the past few weeks. Learning leaders from i4cp's CLTO Board and others on the call shared what their organizations are doing to support this rapid change, including how they are supporting their new virtual leaders and managers. The conversation, including in the chat, was very robust—here are four key themes that emerged.
1. Remote work has exploded. Everyone knew this on some level, but our latest survey data is striking:
- The percentage of organizations with a relatively low number of people working remotely (1-24% of workforce) has shrunk from 74% pre-COVID-19 to only 11% now.
- The percentage of organizations with over half of their employees currently working remotely has swelled from a meager 8% to a significant 73%.
- The percentage of organizations that are 100% work-from-home has quadrupled from 4% to 16%.
for remote work is evolving just as fast. Recognizing that for many workers
this is their first experience with working from home, leaders at most
organizations have by now curated ample resources, guides, tips, etc.—with some
stating that people are complaining of too much information. Some organizations
have to be more creative than others, such as healthcare organizations that
need to work around telemedicine regulations, and some that already had a lot
of remote workers are clearly ahead. A good starting place for any
organizations that do not yet have a simple guide for remote work is Microsoft’s
Remote Work checklist.
One tip that resonated strongly on the call was to make sure to hold non-business virtual meetings that are more social and fun in nature. Business needs to continue as much as possible during this time, but recognizing the stress people are experiencing is critical to maximize productivity, engagement, and morale. i4cp held a virtual St. Patrick’s Day holiday gathering on Zoom, and our teams are regularly holding morning coffee chats and happy-hours. Participants on the call shared many other virtual meeting types to consider, including birthday celebrations, retirement parties, exercise sessions, riddle/game gatherings, and more.
Many organizations by now also have a chat and collaboration tool available, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams. These tools are useful for traditional teams in an office, but are vital for virtual teams to work productively. They not only allow for one-on-one text chatting, but also support persistent chat groups that can be formed around a department, a project, or a common interest area. With modern features like video-meeting integration, file sharing, and more, such platforms are seeing a major increase in use during this time of COVID-19.
3. Remote work will likely grow, but never be this hard again. There has always been a learning curve when someone starts to work remotely for the first time, whether a couple days a week or full-time. What is making this period so challenging is that it is being forced up so many employees, around the globe, all at once. And on top of that, we have issues that remote workers typically don’t have to deal with: kids at home from school all day, every day; grocery availability and other conveniences curtailed; and in some cases, the stress of knowing that a friend, family, or colleague is sick with the virus. The mantra from the chat on the call was that everyone needs to be patient and kind, and assume the best of intentions during this time (good advice for all times really!).
Given this current reality, it is impossible to know for sure what will happen in the future regarding remote work. Will the current experiences be so challenging that people will not want to continue to work from home if they can help it? Or is the genie now out of the bottle, and even with the difficulties today, many employees will expect some flexibility to work from home in the future? Participants on the call were polled and there was a mix of views. Many said future remote work will only be slightly increased from the time before COVID-19, but about the same number indicated that their will be a significant increase in the future due to shifted expectations, positive productivity results (after an initial adjustment period), and reduced barriers (technological and cultural) regarding remote work.
4. Virtual leaders need to step up, but they also need support. Those who lead and manage remote workers and virtual teams have long known there are different skills they need to use than their traditional counterparts. i4cp research found that the top skills of this kind are digital fluency, facilitating collaboration, cultural agility, helping others build a strong network. Those who suddenly find themselves with remote workers and a virtual team to lead for the first time need support, including access to training on best practices—something i4cp research found few organizations provide, but that high-performance organizations provide 4.5x more than low performers.
On the issue of facilitating collaboration, call participants agreed that this is as important as ever during this time of increased remote work. Employees can easily suffer from collaborative overload, especially given the new reality of work and in light of all of the distractions and stressors mentioned above. Call participants agreed that now more than ever employees need to be careful to not cause collaborative overload by placing too many demands on their colleagues, and leaders need to create a safe environment where employees feel safe to raise collaboration problems and concerns (a next practice that few organizations do according to i4cp’s collaboration research).
The second of our series of weekly COVID-19 coronavirus business response video calls for learning and development leaders was well attended, and not surprisingly as we were joined by a special guest, Elliott Masie, the founder of the MASIE Center and a long-time industry analyst and thought leader. i4cp CEO Kevin Oakes and Elliott led a dialogue on a range of issues and concerns for L&D leaders in these unprecedented and challenging times—here are four key themes that emerged.
development can really step up and be heroes to their organizations. The L&D community has great
skillsets for what is needed now—people really need to learn new things
quickly, from how to work from home, to new practices like social
distancing/etc., and in some cases rich skillsets such as trainers who need to
switch from the in-person classroom to the virtual classroom.
Elliott gave the analogy to one of his favorite movies, Apollo 13, and specifically to the scene where the NASA engineers dumped all of the same equipment available to the astronauts in the damaged spacecraft on a table to creatively problem solve for a situation they never planned for. Similarly, L&D professionals need to “work the problem” and think creatively with the tools at hand.
Elliott recommends they think very broadly and beyond traditional training, and instead become a performance and learning support function. Fortunately for many this will be an acceleration of change already underway, and not a sudden nor temporary shift, as this focus aligns with many existing trends in the industry already, such as the increasing focus on learning in the flow of work, performance support, micro-learning, etc. Elliott recommended thinking differently by coaching leaders to have virtual coffee meetings in the mornings or similar calls at the end of the day. In general, L&D needs to stay focused on helping people feel and be productive, noting that many are afraid for their jobs now, while also warning against the trap of becoming the group therapist.
For some there
will be great opportunity for upskilling in the weeks ahead. Kevin noted that one CLO recently suggested
that this feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity, with so many captive
learners to upskill / reskill. Elliott agreed, but stressed that the timing
needs to be right: if people are stressed about just making it through each
day, and have plenty of work to still do, then now isn’t the time to focus on
upskilling (or any optional training). One call participant in the chat put
that point well: “My reality. . . trying to figure out what our (internal) customers
want, have an appetite for, and can handle.”
We asked a poll question on this topic, and 23% said they were using this time to focus on upskilling or reskilling the workforce, and another 32% were thinking about doing so. One call participant noted that they have some employees who can’t work from home, can’t work at the office (due to safety concerns), and who they plan to retain—so providing upskilling opportunities is perfect for them during this time. And one call participant even noted the connection to other trends leading to the need to upskill anyway, such as the growth of automation and AI leading to job role changes.
3. L&D professionals need to support virtual leaders, remote workers, and virtual training. For proponents of remote work and virtual classroom training, this current period offers both a great opportunity and some risk. In many cases, leaders will discover that employees can be very productive (or even more productive) when working remotely. The same holds true for virtual training when it is delivered by trainers who are skilled at delivering in an online environment. It is important for L&D to provide support to these endeavors, because the risk also exists that if remote work or virtual training do not go well in the coming weeks, that skeptics will be emboldened to dig in and say “I told you so… virtual doesn’t work at our organization!”
4. L&D can enable connections and content. Some L&D professionals have noted a resurgence in the use of their LMS or LXP platform, as employees with newfound downtime quickly wanted learning content on working remotely, time management, handling stress, or a range of other topics. Additionally, the opportunity to leverage the employee base to create content is understood by several organizations. This week we polled call participants on whether they are enabling greater user-generated content than before: 28% said yes, and another 28% said they were thinking about doing so. Elliott noted an uptick in this area but stressed that perhaps more important than connecting people to new content was helping to connect people to each other. In other words, don’t expect employees will necessarily want to learn or upskill by taking asynchronous e-Learning modules on their own, but rather might want virtual classroom or other team-oriented learning activities and coaching to ward off any creeping loneliness or isolation.
LinkedIn Learning has made available a free set of 16 video e-Learning programs focused on remote work, leading virtual teams, the common tools used (Zoom, Teams, etc.), and more.
The first of what will be a series of weekly COVID-19 coronavirus business response video calls focused on learning and development professionals and their concerns, questions, and challenges. There are unique immediate and future impacts to organizations' learning and development strategies, e.g., the need to quickly develop virtual team leaders, increasing the use of virtual classroom and other alternative training options, and much more. The call was attended by over 30 learning and development leaders, including some members of i4cp's Chief Learning and Talent Officer Board.
The following are four key takeaways, followed by a collection of the resources shared during the call in the text chat.
Empowering virtual managers and leaders. Many organizations are updating their existing e-Learning programs on leading virtual teams, tweaking them slightly for the current context, and encouraging all effected managers and leaders to take or retake the programs. Others are quickly pulling together virtual classroom sessions on this topic, leveraging experienced virtual team leaders who can share known best practices—after all, many organizations have had at least some virtual teams, and therefore virtual leaders, for a long time. Some key points include:
- Communicating regularly, including announcements, expectations, progress on goals, etc.
- Modelling desired behavior and expectations, both regarding technology use (Slack, Teams, Yammer, Zoom, Email, etc.) and more general work from home skills (e.g., taking breaks as needed, staying goal focused, etc.)
- Creating or updating team operating agreements (e.g., norms, expectations, etc.) in the context of working remotely. Doing this helps to increase transparency-at-a-distance so that trust can grow.
- Setting up virtual check-in meetings, both for business needs of department and project teams, and for virtual meetings that are more social in nature to give a relief valve for stress and help humanize the virtual work environment for those not accustomed to it.
- Curating and sending proactive tips, on both psychological/behavior as well as technological aspects of working from home.
Focusing on the logistical aspects of working from home. Some organizations are conducting an inventory of all available equipment, most notably spare laptops that can be deployed to make working from home easier. Beyond this, some are expanding work from home roles beyond those with laptops by allowing employees to take desktop computers, monitors, and other hardware home for an extended period of time. Others are rotating which individuals will work at home on each day.
Transitioning from in-person ILT training to the virtual classroom. While some organizations indicated they are simply cancelling in-person ILT training for now, others indicated they are quickly evaluating which programs they might transition to the virtual classroom (Zoom, WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc.). Here are some key actions related to this:
Some organizations are quickly creating job aids of known best practices for the re-design and delivery of high-priority programs, in some cases including time-sensitive onboarding sessions.
Trainers themselves also need to be evaluated as not all have the skill or even the aptitude to quickly transition effectively from the in-person classroom to the virtual classroom. A tip shared was pairing a more experienced instructor to help and provide coaching/feedback, or pairing two trainers together and having one serve as the online producer while the other facilitates—and then flipping the duties during the next training session.
Some are using this moment to re-evaluate what parts of an in-person ILT program truly need to be provided synchronously and socially, with a live instructor. Some content can likely be shifted to documents, videos, e-Learning, etc. and other segments can be provided later as performance support, micro-learning, etc. Only those objectives that are best learned socially with each other from an instructor need be delivered in a virtual classroom session.
Some additional virtual classroom tips shared included using virtual ice breakers, ensuring inclusivity, the warning not to lower expectations, and making sure to explore and use your virtual platform features, e.g., break out rooms, chat forums, whiteboards, polls, etc.
Re-Discovering the LXP or LMS. Some organizations noted that for many employees, they understandably do not have time right now to focus on professional development. But others noted that some job roles will have down time in the coming days and weeks, whether working from home or still in the office, and so they are using this opportunity to re-introduce their Learning Experience Platform (LXP) or Learning Management System (LMS) and the wealth of content and other learning and development opportunities that these provide. Some also noted the use of these or other platforms to encourage greater user-generated content or expert knowledge sharing, e.g., especially on timely topics such as virtual leadership, tips on working from home, etc.
Curated Best Practice Example Articles
Virtual Classroom Training
World health Organization: Online
training as a weapon to fight the new coronavirus
This is a free learning resource available to anyone interested in novel coronavirus on WHO’s open learning platform for emergencies.
ATD's new Virtual Training Resources center, which includes articles by several virtual classroom thought leaders.
Additional free resources from one
of the ATD thought leaders above, including platform checklists for Zoom,
WebEx, Adobe Connect, etc., written from an L&D perspective, as well as
conference presentations, articles, etc.
Virtual Meetings (and Training)