After months of operations being remote or shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, business is slowly returning to normal as states across the U.S. relax quarantine measures and allow non-essential businesses to physically reopen. However, this transition is moderated by new state and federal government guidelines and regulations designed to ensure the prevention of another large wave of infections. Companies looking to physically reopen will have to incorporate new safety procedures and changes, or face the risk of putting their customers and employees in danger of contracting the Coronavirus. To achieve this goal, returning employees will have to be quickly and efficiently retrained, but traditional training methods, especially those that incorporate in-person classrooms and traveling instructors, will no longer be feasible under new safety guidelines. Instead, businesses will need to evaluate new learning methods and technology that allow for fast, efficient, and scalable training while protecting the health and safety of their employees.
When Traditional Training Methods Aren’t Feasible
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work as companies put greater emphasis on remote work and minimizing physical interaction. Unfortunately, front-line employees in the food, service, retail, and shipping industries do not have these luxuries. Being the group most at risk of being exposed to the virus, companies have implemented changes in physical locations (installing plexiglass, mask requirements, accessible hand sanitizer) and new work procedures. These companies have had to scramble to provide training for employees on new safety procedures in ways that are both effective, and able to be conducted with proper social distancing.
Because of these limitations, many organizations have discovered that it is no longer feasible to use traditional learning methods. Classroom-style sessions where groups of trainees gather for PowerPoint presentations and role-play training are no longer safe due to the risks of close physical contact. Government restrictions on traveling and budgeting concerns have made the practice of flying instructors out to stores or sending employees to academies impractical. Companies now are realizing that the significant amount of money saved from restricting learning and development-related travel can be rerouted in impactful ways toward new programs and technology. Web modules, videos, and online presentations are capable solutions, but they are not suitable for every topic and lack the meaningful feedback of in-person training. On the other hand, one-on-one and peer group training remain highly effective because they inspire true engagement in the subject matter. Unfortunately the rising demand of business operations provides little opportunity for managers to dedicate time for teaching. As more places reopen, businesses will face even greater pressure to provide effective and scalable training in order to meet the rapid increase of demand.
Exploring New Methods and Technology
With 68 percent of Learning and Development (L&D) professionals reporting that managers are actively promoting more learning resources to their teams than before COVID-19, companies have been experimenting with new ways of training. One new method is Immersive Learning, which uses virtual reality (VR) technology to simulate realistic and interactive workplace scenarios. Since the training is conducted in an interactive and distraction-free environment that provides immediate feedback, workers will be fully engaged and retain more knowledge afterwards.
For organizations that are reopening multiple stores or factories across the country, Immersive Learning can provide a scalable solution without disrupting business operations. Since VR headsets can be shipped to different locations, companies can deliver quick, on-demand training to employees without the need to travel. This can turn day-long training sessions into 15-minute lessons, rapidly preparing employees in order to match the pace of reopening. Furthermore, Immersive Learning allows workers to practice repeatedly without the risk of physical contact and the need for constant supervision. This frees up more time for managers and staff to continue daily operations while trainees can get a level of training similar to one-on-one instruction. As the technology develops, performance data can be collected and analyzed to provide more individualized support for workers.
As with front-line skills development, this method is also useful for remote knowledge workers. Companies such as Google and Twitter have allowed employees to continue working from home for an extended period of time or have shifted entirely to a distributed workforce. While knowledge workers may remain remote indefinitely, the challenges of working from home have prompted companies to find new ways to train remote workers and enhance their communication skills for a new way of collaboration. This is especially vital for managers, so they can provide better remote feedback and be more empathetic when communicating with their teams. Immersive Learning allows businesses to send VR headsets to remote employees and provide effective soft skills training. Recent events have placed greater value on soft skills and technologies that can help companies adapt to new situations.
Preparing for the Future
Despite the signs of recovery, COVID-19 is still a critical threat to the health and safety of employees and customers. Businesses that fail to prepare now will run the risk of endangering their workers’ lives and the lives of the community in the future. Immersive Learning presents a solution that overcomes many of the effectiveness and scaling challenges from training amidst a pandemic. With traditional training methods inadequate, unsafe, or infeasible, VR training can offer an approach to improve the skills of remote workers at scale while protecting employees and customers on the path to reopening.
Derek Belch, CEO of Strivr, a provider of virtual reality-based workplace training.