Roundtable recap: How to deliver people-centric training for the virtual workplace

15 July 2020 by Heidi Marshall

One of the biggest L&D challenges posed by Covid-19, has been the need to switch from face-to-face training delivery to remote learning. This brings with it a number of pressing issues, from logistics to engagement.

Facilitated by Corndel’s James Kelly and Jina Melnyk, we were delighted to be joined last week by a group of senior L&D, HR and Talent professionals for a peer group discussion around ensuring a human, personal experience that is concise and engaging, online.

We started with a poll to tell us how well talent professionals think their organisations are delivering effective, people-centric virtual training. The results showed that just over half rate their virtual delivery as ‘good’, with 6 per cent indicating excellence in their virtual delivery. 41 per cent acknowledge room for improvement, rating their current delivery as either ‘fair’ or ‘poor’.

The group shared the following approaches, initiatives and challenges.

Invest in virtual facilitation and training capability.

Now is a good time to take stock of the software you are using, and the capability of those you are expecting to use it. Consider carrying out an honest training needs analysis for your business trainers. Even the most experienced facilitators need support in order to be confident in technologies that are constantly evolving. Some organisations are rolling out Train the Trainer sessions designed specifically for the virtual world. Others are mindful that trainers often need to competently switch between platforms depending on their audience.

Embed soft skills training into the virtual L&D strategy.

As the early days of the pandemic turned into weeks and then months, L&D teams have seen a shift in the type of training that needs to be delivered online. Softer skills around management and leadership have become critical during the crisis. It soon became apparent that difficult, performance related conversations couldn’t be put on the back burner “until we see each other in person again”. Everyday challenges such as motivating your team, and addressing mental health and well-being red flags, have risen to the top of the priority list. Corndel’s own research from the 40,000 hours of one-to-one coaching delivered so far in 2020 gives some further insight into the kind of support mid to senior managers really need right now.

Keep an ear to the ground to identify those who need support.

In large organisations, centralised talent and L&D teams might benefit from working more closely with HR Business Partners to be visible and transparent, and to sync their people development efforts. How can L&D help those that are not coming forward and seeking the help that they need? It’s about resetting expectations with line managers and leaders and going out into the business to find those who are struggling. In the virtual world we need to pay even more attention if we are to make sure no-one falls through the cracks when they need personal development.

Create peer network and action-learning opportunities.

Talent teams can take the initiative in creating leadership networks where groups of peers bring along, in a virtual setting, a challenge that they are facing, and work through it under the guidance of a trained coach. This action-learning approach can be very powerful as ongoing, regular facilitated conversations (perhaps monthly) give people the space and a trustful environment to get sound advice from people who know their business.

Put authenticity and trust at the heart of online communications.

By encouraging leaders to ‘drop the manager hat’, L&D leads can fast-track a culture change towards more empathetic leadership whereby managers are engaging with team members as individuals and not just as resources, getting closer to them and understanding their drivers and needs. Once that is established, the tricky conversations – whether performance related of perhaps even job security related – can be delivered virtually in a sincere manner and in a respectful environment that you have been cultivating.

Adopt a multi-layered approach to virtual learning and development.

Gone are the days where online learning is limited to mandatory e-learning that satisfies a regulatory box ticking exercise. Organisations that see positive results from their virtual learning often have a holistic, multi-layered approach. For example, utilising cost-effective webinars to reach hundreds of employees with an engaging, interactive 60-minute session; running Zoom or Teams workshops to get smaller groups diving deeper into a topic; with one-to-one coaching remaining a sought-after and powerful intervention, whether it’s delivered face-to-face or via a video conferencing tool. At Corndel, coaching forms a critical part of each learner’s programme, and it’s something we have always delivered virtually, with incredible impact.

Experiment with the right format.

From retail to finance, and most likely everything in between, talent professionals continue to debate what makes an ideal group size, the optimum length of training session and the best platform to use. There are so many variables to consider, that it’s important not to over simplify and look for a one-size-fits-all approach. Factor in time to make sure learners feel at ease with the technology, if they haven’t had much exposure to it before. Think about whether employees will be on a desktop pc, a tablet or perhaps their own mobile device. To keep the personal touch throughout – encouraging lively interaction and thoughtful contributions is better through small groups, perhaps as break-out rooms as part of a larger event. The key is to create a space where people feel inclined to speak up. A virtual workshop for 12 people can involved several break-out sessions with just 3 or 4 people in each.

Build in as many elements of face-to-face learning as you can.

Several L&D guests spoke about the challenges of moving large or in-depth training events online. For large organisations, formalising best practice is highly recommended so that your learners consistently benefit from a positive online experience. Give people a framework, while encouraging personal delivery style and creativity. If your rule is that in the facilitator guide there must be an interactive element for every section of content/every 10-15 minutes, you will soon see a company-wide change in engagement levels. Your live, online delivery guide might include some physical recommendations – use post it notes, pens and other visual stimulations even for virtual sessions. Give people some time to work alone or reflect, and ask that they turn their video off for a few minutes while doing so. Consider building in ‘brain breaks’ of 3 minutes each, where everyone has to get up and walk away from their screen. Where possible, give your trainers a co-host to manage the tech so the flow of the session isn’t disrupted by individuals’ sound and connectivity issues.

The key is variation. Break your session into chunks and keep checking that each small section is as personable and engaging as possible. Keep sight of opportunities to deliver one-to-one coaching or small group sessions wherever you can.

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