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Last updated: 16.06.20

VC Roundtable Write-up: How do we thrive as L&D professionals at this time?

For the past two years we have been holding our roundtable events in various locations around the country, building up a reputation as a thought-leader in the L&D sector. They have been a fantastic way for L&D professionals to provide peer-to-peer support, discuss best practice and share practical tips and tricks. But once we found ourselves in lockdown, we had to answer the question: how do we keep the events going?

In April, we took a leap of faith and hosted our first virtual roundtable, and it was so successful we have made it a regular event.

We have hosted five so far, each covering a particular topic and each with a guest speaker. Due to the current situation and the impact it is having on businesses, the effects of Covid-19 have been the headline topics. We have discussed:

  • How do we thrive as L&D professionals at this time?
  • How can L&D teams support our employees’ mental health and wellbeing?
  • The challenges of curating traditional content into digital
  • How to keep learners engaged and motivated
  • How to maximise productivity and manage teams in unsettling times

Our guest speakers have been varied and covered a wide range of different topics, as you can see below.

  • Krystyna Gadd, Founder of How to Accelerate Learning, shared top tips for online facilitation.
  • Dan Redman, L&D Manager at HSBC, discussed mental health and wellbeing and how our body reacts to stress.
  • Chris Blackburn, Head of L&D at Impellam Group, talked about trust and promise-based management approaches, and explained why they were more crucial than ever.
  • Amy Brann, Founder of Synaptic Potential, discussed how to build a strong and positive culture using insights from neuroscience.
  • Laura Douglas, Development Consultant Coach and Trainer at The Talent Trainer, shared tips and advice about remote coaching in the current climate.

Over the course of the events, we were joined by a variety of companies such as Tesco, M&S, and Netflix, and together we discussed the numerous effects of COVID-19: operations that have been temporarily shut; furloughed staff; recruitment freezes; and the infrastructure, technology and culture challenges we have all faced whilst trying to adapt to working and managing remotely – but the question that we kept returning to each event was: how can L&D teams support businesses right now?

The new perception of the L&D professional

We first must acknowledge that this period has had a profound impact on the L&D professional.

The perception of the role has changed dramatically. They are getting ownership and buy-in from businesses in a way that hasn’t necessarily happened before. This has provided a boost of professional courage – they are being bold, thinking outside the box, and showing the way.

But resilience has been important as well, along with ability to quickly react and adapt to the change of pace – though this has not always been easy. They are currently more re-active than pro-active, which is understandable, as solutions must be developed quickly. But long-term they aim to be ahead of the curve. To achieve this, they are also utilising their time to expand their skills, such as learning new digital software and building on their instructional design knowledge, recognising that this is also an opportunity to learn, develop and showcase what is possible.

Let’s see how they’ve supported their businesses during this time.

Supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing

Businesses have been working hard to ensure their employees are supported during these turbulent times, especially their mental health and wellbeing.

To help, L&D teams have created and collated supportive documents and information. But this has sometimes felt like information overload, especially when not distributed or shared in a coherent way. In response to this, many teams have started to house them in one location (for example, SharePoint), which has eased this sense of overload.

Webinars and support sessions have been another popular choice to support employees. L&D teams have helped to develop these, and topics have ranged from resilience to nutrition and sleep tips, as well as important business topics, such as how to manage a team of remote workers and how to recognise stress when working remotely.

Businesses have also made sure not to neglect furloughed staff. As training is one of the ways that they can still participate, many L&D professionals are creating training plans to help support in this area.

Finally, it is recognised that human connection is incredibly important during this time. Therefore, strong communication methods have been implemented to combat the feeling of isolation and to keep engagement and morale high. These have ranged from setting up daily meetings, to regular email updates and messaging, such as video messages or through social platforms such as Yammer or Workplace. It was especially effective when regular messaging came from senior management teams, as it showed that everyone was involved and looking out for each other.

As this topic is so important, we have pulled together a guide of tips and advice: Supporting your staff’s mental health and wellbeing during challenging times

Tackling the challenges of working remotely

Businesses have found working remotely to be either a blessing or a curse. Some found the transition easier, especially if they were already used to it, but every business has faced some challenges. Some didn’t feel prepared and found it hard to establish the technology infrastructure required, and challenges such as juggling home working and families, and coping with the increase in virtual meetings are ones that have likely affected most businesses.

In order to support the implementation of the new technology, L&D teams have been busy holding training sessions and providing supportive resource packs.

To combat the stress and pressure that has developed with the increase of virtual meetings, meeting etiquettes and rules have been established. These include not booking meetings back-to-back, making sure to have breaks between them, or structuring your day so meetings are in the morning and desk time is in the afternoon.

But, overall, there has been a welcome acceptance that flexibility is needed, especially for those with families and children. Businesses have encouraged ways that work for their employees; for example, sharing ‘shifts’ with their partner so one can work for a few hours whilst the other looks after the children.

Digital solutions: pros, cons and embracing new technologies

As some businesses discovered they were woefully unequipped for what they needed, seeking out suitable technology was at the top of many priority lists. Finding these digital solutions is when L&D teams have come into their own and their professional courage has come to light, especially for tasks such as adapting face-to-face training digitally. They have faced challenges, such as how do you keep people engaged? How do you adapt group work? And how do you make sure the knowledge and behaviour changes are still achieved?

But by facing these challenges, the potential of the digital solutions became apparent and new technologies have been discovered and embraced. For example, the discovery of virtual classrooms and ‘break out’ rooms to aid group discussion has been transformative for many, and collaboration tools, such as Lino and Mural, have been useful for group activities.

Motivation and engagement were naturally big topics, and the creativity that has come out of it has been astounding. In order to share the ideas, we created a ‘brainstorm’ graphic filled with the top tips that were suggested for motivating and engaging learners.

But it has become apparent that there is also a danger of rushing and creating training, which is at the expense of the learner and the training needs. Naturally L&D professionals try to avoid this, but it is acknowledged that it is difficult right now due to time pressures.

Looking to the future

But what does this mean for the future? How will this affect the way we work and train, and what will businesses need? We must try to second guess these needs and find ways of supporting them.

We may see a rise in digital transformation, as many companies have been quick to see the benefits of digital training. They recognise that it is the time to set the standard here, and discover the best way to use it, and adapt it to deliver a blended approach.

This can be illustrated by one of our digital transformation projects we are incredibly proud of – our award-winning compliance training programme created with Make UK for Fujitsu. Though it hasn’t come about as a result of these challenging times, it is a fantastic example of what you can achieve when you embrace digital transformation, and the positive impact it can have on your business.

It may also change the way we work. Many businesses have now admitted that working from home is possible, and, as a result, the fear connected to it has decreased. But in response, they will have to be prepared for staff who may want to continue working remotely.

Therefore, now is a good time to get organised, reflect on our own personal practices, test and pilot initiatives and forward plan for new projects.

If you are a Head of L&D, a CLO or a L&D Manager and would like to attend a virtual roundtable, keep an eye on our Eventbrite page for upcoming events, or, if you have any questions, get in touch with us at roundtables@virtual-college.co.uk.

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