As remote work becomes the new standard, it is no longer acceptable that training, when delivered virtually, is any less engaging, less interactive, less immersive and less fun. The time to accept compromise is over, writes Ruben Hamilius of Business Games.
It is undisputed that ongoing training of employees is an important part of running a successful business. COVID-19, however, has caused Learn & Development experts and company leaders to reflect on what is the right way forward. There is a big impact on both scope and methodology of training moving forward.
The nature of the pandemic is that it has completely revamped traditional office life. Where the majority of activities were once face-to-face, the new situation means almost 100% of our interactions take place online. The basic soft skills we thought we possessed e.g. decision making, negotiation, teamwork, and communication, have all been dramatically affected by the absence of face-to-face interaction. We should not underestimate the need for re-training in these basic skills in this increasingly remote working environment. Employers who consider this when building their new training programmes will be at an advantage.
As remote working becomes our new reality, it’s now even more important to reassess the way we train. What worked in a face-to-face office setting will not translate online perfectly, and multiple distractions at home make it more challenging to get the right focus and engagement from participants. While the pandemic has thrown us all a curveball, what we can predict with confidence is that virtual training will become a vital part of our toolkits, and we need to critically assess if this training is at a minimum on par with what we could deliver while face to face.
While we’re adept at facilitating group discussions in the office, replicating this online with the same quality is not straightforward. The same challenge exists for training wherein the absence of physical social interaction, the tendency for participants to disengage increases.
The challenge for L&D teams is thus two-fold. Firstly, face-to-face or classroom training must be brought online. Secondly and simultaneously, companies must find ways to deal with the inevitable drop off in engagement and the barriers associated with virtual communication.
The first problem is the simpler of the two. Some companies have reacted very quickly by repurposing their training content into e-learning modules. Face to face workshops is now done via Zoom meetings. However, there is less clarity when it comes to the long term strategy. In fact, many seem to be crossing their fingers and hoping things will go back to normal.
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The time to accept compromise is over.
Repurposing existing content and formats for online is a good stopgap measure. What it does not take into consideration is the drop off in engagement that is inevitable when training remotely. Online sessions can become predictable and repetitive. Coupled with the at-home distractions experienced by many employees, this can mean participants can tune out very quickly.
At best, repurposed training possesses the same quality as their original, in-person designs. Realistically, companies are getting a less focused, less engaged, highly distractible audience (especially if training goes on for more than an hour). In pre-COVID times, we were ok to let go of quality when it comes to virtual training because we would only occasionally run remote sessions. In this new age, we have to move on from the idea that it is acceptable that training is less engaging, less interactive, less immersive, and less fun when delivered virtually. The time to accept compromise is over.
A great place to start to mitigate this response from employees is the use of simple, accessible, and adaptable online tools. The goal is to find virtual alternatives for any of the interactions we also had in a robust offline training program as well. Digital breakout rooms replace round-table discussions per team, collaborative digital whiteboards (Miro, Mural) replace printed templates.
To boost engagement and increase the productive output of participants, managers can integrate communication tools people use every day. Whatsapp and Slack provide two easily accessible, text-based communication platforms that can be easily leveraged to create teams, and add an element of sociability to the otherwise isolating experience. Businesses that provide training for a large number of participants can consider using a chatbot or interactive live-streams.
I think it’s important to move towards a “blended” learning approach to increase engagement and facilitate a better online learning environment. As people learn in different ways, there needs to be a variety of training approaches. Peer-to-peer-based exercises, experiential learning and task-based teaching should all be incorporated into the process.
We are still at the beginning of learning how to create and deliver highly engaging and immersive training in a remote working environment. Businesses have a lot to learn. We should constantly improve. For the foreseeable future, your mantra should be: if we deliver virtual training exactly in the same way as we did last week, we’ve wasted an opportunity to improve.