I think it’s safe to say that every organization has had to make some adjustments and deal with a fair amount of uncertainty here in 2020. Personally, I can’t even count the number of emails and articles I’ve read that talk about “the new normal.” Sometimes change—and the challenges that come with it—lead the way to new opportunities. That’s what I see when I look at today’s training challenges in the workplace.
Training Challenges Created By New Ways of Working
Naturally, people in every organization are asking about the transition to a remote workforce. That move is bringing to the fore concerns about more timeless challenges, like motivation and engagement. Whereas innovative solutions to these training challenges used to be a “nice to have,” they have become, in 2020, a must have.
At the same time, some businesses have seen their training goals derailed due to stay-at-home orders. Suspending employee learning until things “get back to normal” isn’t feasible. Businesses need to find ways to catch up to the training benchmarks they’ve missed and put new plans in place for the future of their corporate training programs. Managers, for their part, will need to deal with workers who may end up working from home permanently, or even learn how to onboard new employees from afar.
We’ve always felt that traditional corporate training models had their drawbacks. Now, with social distancing required, in-person sessions aren’t even possible, let alone practical. It’s unclear if this will be a temporary or permanent shift. Either way, organizations can benefit greatly if they learn to “lean in” to the adjustment.
Training Challenge #1: A Remote Workforce
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a majority of workers to telecommute. Employees and employers alike had to scramble to set up workspaces and put procedures in place to keep their workflow intact. When it came to training, conferences, workshops, and instructor-led classes that gathered everyone together in one room were canceled indefinitely. While virtual platforms like Zoom might work for a status meeting, they aren’t always effective for training.
Our library of off-the-shelf learning content has been a smart option for corporate training since long before 2020. Employees can access training videos on dozens of topics and pick up where they left off with their workplace education. The only difference is that instead of their desk at the office, it’s from their home workspace—whether that’s at the kitchen table or on the back deck.
For those who have never worked remotely before, we offer courses specifically on that challenge. Managers and employees will learn how to do it effectively, including tips on communication, time management, and setting up an ergonomic space for the best work-at-home results. There is also content that addresses the health issues of the current situation, covering COVID, insomnia, and stress.
Training Challenge #2: Onboarding
A lot of what employees know about their roles is learned during the onboarding period. Pre-COVID, that time not only included a lot of formal training, but a lot of informal training as well: Discussions with new colleagues, shadowing other employees, getting a feel for the daily workflow and pace, absorbing the culture, and so on.
Between working from home (or social distancing for essential employees), most of that is gone now. Many companies are trying to compensate by doing their onboarding virtually...but can we really expect to have a new hire sit in front of a computer screen for eight hours to get a “feel” for their new role? Some are trying that, but let’s just say that Zoom fatigue is real, and a problem.
A good way to break up the onboarding training is to let new employees self-direct their learning somewhat. Many of the things they will need to learn—what forms to fill out, how to use certain applications, details about company policies—are simple and repeatable, and so do not need a live presentation. They can be learned from a short online video. Some of our clients use the authoring tool that comes with our LMS, Thinkzoom, to create their own courses for onboarding, adding in their own company branding and a good dose of company culture.
Training Challenge #3: Making Time for Training
Getting employees to make time for training was a difficult-enough task before everyone was working remotely. Remote work has changed the structure of many employees’ days: The start time and end of a typical workday have become elastic as people avoid a commute, but must juggle other at-home obligations, such as homeschooling. Having a scheduled meeting or class time for training might not work out, and many employees might feel entitled to skip scheduled sessions as home life encroaches on work life.
A self-directed learning approach can help with unstructured schedules. For example, you can give employees 24-7 online access to a learning library so that they can view training content when it’s convenient for them. That might be in the wee hours of the morning before the kids get up, or while dinner is in the oven!
Does that sound like too little time to fit in training? It’s not, with microlearning. Microlearning breaks information into videos that are about seven to nine minutes long. Research shows that this is short enough to maintain people’s attention during a busy day, but still long enough to let the relevant message sink in.
Some of the more traditional tips for getting employees to make time for training transfer to a work-at-home environment as well. For example, you can still foster a healthy learning culture, use engaging training materials, and recognize or reward employees who meet training goals. When you have a mix of the right learning culture, the right materials, and the right incentives, employees will be motivated to “find a way” to work training into their schedules.
Training Challenge #4: Accountability
Ensuring accountability is a huge concern for managers who aren’t used to dealing with remote workers. The need to track accountability adds to the challenges in training and development, too. Luckily, many employees have proven to be just as productive while working from home. Some even more so.
First, because every employee is starting from their own unique place based on prior learning and experience, doing an assessment is a good idea. A combination of existing data and testing can help your training department create (or choose) a curriculum that suits their current level and their goals.
Second, it’s wise to supplement training courses with other materials that help learners (and their managers) track their progress and understanding. These might include downloadable student materials and worksheets, evaluation tools, and quizzes.
Third, we recommend using an LMS to track employee progress. For example, ej4’s learning management system, Thinkzoom, lets managers see which videos employees have accessed, how far they’ve gotten, which learning tracks they are working on, and how well they have done on quizzes. This not only gives management a snapshot of everybody’s progress, but also allows them to identify people who might be struggling and offer assistance.
Training Challenge #5: Staying Top of Mind
Even if employees are motivated to make time for training, receive engaging materials, and are given access to the tools to make all of this happen, they might still struggle to complete training courses if they are not “top of mind” during their work hours.
Training, then, needs to become a part of their daily workflow—though not in a way that is intrusive or annoying. Fortunately, many companies already have the kinds of communication tools that can make that happen. I’m thinking about tools like Slack.
For example, we introduced Slackbot integration into Thinkzoom in 2019. The bot can help users find relevant content, locate course requirements, and keep course completion dates and quiz requirements in mind. The bot is capable of natural language processing, allowing users to communicate naturally with the bot within Slack. This kind of technology makes access to the LMS and its content easier, so employees can make at-home training part of their workflow.
Training Challenge #6: Staying on the Same Page
In an office environment, information flows more freely than we realize. People talk, in the halls and at the water cooler. Memos are sent. Announcements are made. People message.
The informal, in-person communication is now largely gone, but that does not mean that information must stop flowing. Many of our clients are now using our eLearning authoring tool to create short videos that are, in essence, “video newsletters” for their teams. This allows them to communicate important, timely information in a format that’s a little more engaging than your average email.
We’ve also seen video used for:
- HR open enrollment announcements
- New product announcements and overviews
- Sales calls
- COVID updates
Solutions for Today’s Training Challenges
In business, every challenge is also an opportunity. It just so happens that many old, existing challenges—getting employees to make time for training, keeping them engaged, ensuring accountability—have loomed large with a workforce spread out in both time and space.
The tools we’ve built here at ej4 were designed to take on those challenges by giving employees access to just enough of just the right content, just in time, and just as needed. It’s no wonder, then, that they are the perfect fit to meet today’s training challenges, too.