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Learning and development during COVID-19

Best practices for remote workplace learning

April 2, 2020 | A Q&A with Leslie Deutsch and Emily Chung

female instructor conducting remote learning course on laptop

Navigating the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Our first and foremost priorities are ensuring we’re supporting our employees, consultants and clients across the globe. As a full-stack technology and talent partner, we want to share our experience and offer support on how to alleviate the uncertainty around workplace services support as many businesses shift to a primarily remote workforce for an indefinite period of time.

Globally, companies are shifting from face-to-face professional interactions to remote work in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. And with that, remote workplace learning and development is becoming a new reality. Whether that’s building a future workforce with tomorrow’s skills or reskilling current teams on communication tools, businesses can’t put capability building or training on hold. Now is the time to embrace a continuous learning mindset.

Our learning solutions experts weigh in on how this future of work impacts the workforce—from an employee’s first week to ongoing professional development—and how businesses can remain resilient during unprecedented times.

How will COVID-19 impact onboarding new employees while working remotely, and how should organizations adapt their onboarding process during this time?

Leslie Deutsch, Director of TEKsystems’ Learning Solutions: For some companies, virtual onboarding is business as usual. But for organizations not used to virtual onboarding, it’s important to take a step back. How will you get new hires connected to the organization and its mission and culture? How do you walk them through day-to-day processes, and what collaboration tools will you use from an onboarding perspective? Then, from a technology and process side, how does that show up? Ultimately, there are so many things to consider, but with everything changing daily, it’s also important to remain flexible and stay connected.

Emily Chung, Practice Manager of TEKsystems’ Learning Solutions: Setting expectations and providing a list of remote working standards upfront is vital—even if it’s a simple bulleted list. Letting your new hire know what’s expected of them and providing the necessary tools for how you’ll communicate and stay connected will be important. As far as making the shift from on-site onboarding to all-virtual onboarding, there are a wide range of tools available. I think the most work will need to be done with the onboarding process. With everyone virtual, there will need to be more video and online learning components.

Working remote can already feel like an isolating experience—especially when you don’t already know your colleagues. So, with new hires who haven’t had the chance to experience the company’s culture, what do you suggest businesses do to ensure health, well-being and productivity of a new hire?

Deutsch: Companies have to leverage collaboration and virtual communication tools, like video conferencing on WebEx or Zoom, in order to mimic those in-office interactions. I also think clarity on goals and expectations when you’re working with a virtual team is more critical than ever because you’re not physically there. So, setting those clear expectations and reinforcing that normal operating rhythm with a new hire—or existing team—is important. As a leader, you have to be very intentional and deliberate with providing channels for your teams to connect and build deeper relationships virtually. That means more team and one-on-one meetings—and maybe even meeting for a virtual happy hour after work hours.

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Aside from virtual collaboration tools, how else can organizations ensure business continuity in their workforce development during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Deutsch: Leadership and managers play such a critical role in keeping their teams informed. They’ll need to take extra steps to connect with their remote employees and see how they’re doing—while recognizing in today’s unprecedented times they aren’t going to have the answers to everything that may be pulling on their team members, but keeping the team informed and connected is important. Plus, organizations that aren’t used to having a remote workforce will need to start thinking about how they’ll share knowledge differently and lead virtually. You can’t just walk to your coworker’s desk anymore, so you have to develop more formal ways of being able to share knowledge, collaborate and lead your organization virtually.

Chung: Some industries are facing a time where they can’t interact with their clients right now and are looking into training during this downtime. We’re going to start to see a shift to more virtual, instructor-led sessions. With that, you need to consider how to get instructors to go virtual—and what types of training they will need to grow their virtual instruction capabilities. Joining a WebEx meeting is very different than hosting one, so training people on how to use those collaboration tools to have a better virtual presence is important. From a business perspective, it’s also going to be important to be flexible and meet that client where they are. Whether they’re already virtual or in the middle of determining if they’re going virtual—you’ll need to provide those recommendations and solutions to ensure people stay connected.

This will be a transformative moment for some companies. What are some suggestions for organizations who may have not been prepared to shift to a remote workforce?

Deutsch: I would recommend spending time thinking through standard operating procedures and making the appropriate adjustments for remote teams. Do you expect employees to be online certain hours of the day? What is the operating rhythm for the team now that everyone is remote? How and when do the different collaboration tools get utilized within those processes? Everything doesn’t need to be completely defined out, but your organization should put some thought into that and share that information with teams.

Chung: First and foremost, start to curate virtual trainings on virtual leadership, learning and work. Encourage the continuous learner mindset, and share information with your network on virtual work, remote work guidelines and virtual leadership. It’s critical for organizations to confirm that the business is ready to work from home, i.e., everyone has access to the network and tools they need. For some, this will seem very basic, but for others, this will be a very stressful time. That’s why it’s important to remember that there is a human element side of this that people are experiencing.

Leslie Deutsch and Emily Chung oversee a team that drives learning and adoption services within our clients’ organizations. These programs focus on building a future workforce with tomorrow’s skills, upskilling and reskilling current teams, or changing behavior needed to impact productivity.

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