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Can L&D play a role in preparing for a post-COVID-19 future?

by Harriet Price | 16 April 2020

With contagion spreading around the world, quite suddenly the vast majority of us have had to adjust to new ways of working. With many cities, regions and even entire countries entering a state of lockdown, COVID-19 is rapidly changing the way we work. As companies navigate this ongoing crisis, corporate leaders must not only react to the immediate challenges, but also plan for recovery, taking steps now to reshape their business in preparation for what will likely become our ‘new normal’.

Whilst learning & development (L&D) programmes are often seen as important ways in which to support business growth, in the environment of a global health pandemic, like the one currently being experienced, L&D programmes are often among the first things to be dropped.

Could L&D however play a key role in preparing us for the ‘new normal’, and is training in fact more important now than ever?

L&D is much more than a ‘nice to have’

Experienced L&D professional David Otter, recently wrote an article expressing the importance of training in the current climate, and how the time should be taken now to train for a future that will undoubtedly look very different post-COVID. L&D is often seen just as a ‘nice to have’, but as David illustrates, businesses should instead be using it as an enabler. Training is an important factor in preserving business continuity, and with employees dispersed across the country, maintaining a ‘business as usual’ environment has never been more difficult or more crucial.  

Learning cultures are rewarded with loyalty and engagement from their employees, but L&D programmes more often than not, are based on face-to-face learning. With businesses now transitioning to remote working, we must ask how we can continue to support learning whilst abiding by social distancing.

Technology has already played a massive part in this pandemic, with schools and universities already utilising remote learning, moving everything from face-to-face to online which has been difficult for some. We have had some previous experiences that has helped us to become more adept to using technology, for example the volcanic ash in 2010, as well as the increased importance of environmental policies that restrict travel to name a couple. COVID-19 however has accelerated this transition on a much larger scale, and highlighted a much greater need for digital transformation.

Technology is vital

When working from home technology becomes the heart of every interaction, and it will continue to play a vital role in retaining business and learning continuity as the crisis develops. For some businesses already investing in online learning and digital platforms, their L&D programmes were somewhat ‘COVID-proof’. Businesses without this technology will however have been caught short. The onset of COVID-19 will for many have highlighted a greater need for investment in technology and e-learning, and whilst procuring the right technology will be the quick fix, long-term it will be the capability of designers and facilitators that is important.

COVID-19 is challenging our ability to grow and function, but we are fortunate to be in a situation where we are developed enough to still connect, engage and learn, with technology empowering companies to continue to provide development opportunities. Whilst Skype and Zoom are being used heavily for conference calls, they are being severely underutilised to facilitate learning and training. Where previously concerns or resistance may have been raised, as a result of the pandemic, the cultural acceptance of such tools will be made easier for the simple reason that there is no other option. Businesses would do well to maximise this, taking the opportunity now to move away from the traditional classroom to an online learning approach.

Change is needed

Most businesses will undergo a period of change as a result of COVID-19 and looking at the broader picture it may prove a major tipping point for digital transformation within the workplace and serve as a catalyst for work from anywhere arrangements. In this scenario, L&D cannot stand still, it too will need to adapt. As David says, ‘businesses will need to be more agile, creative and people centric’, with the capability to develop solutions rapidly, utilising technology to offer more learning flexibility.

Ultimately, to ensure working traits and attributes are consistent, even in radically different times, organisations will need to develop those skills during ‘normal times’. It is therefore important for senior management and HR leaders to take this opportunity to review L&D programmes to determine whether they cultivate the right skills, learning from the crisis to build more resilient training platforms in preparation for the ‘new normal’.

During times of crisis, it is tempting to start cutting costs, particularly talent and development programmes, however during these uncertain times, people development and team building are more important than ever. HR and management teams should instead be bold and use the current crisis as an opportunity to rethink and enhance training and development, planning for recovery now and not later, so that when faced again with adversity learning can continue.

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