Dramatic, almost instantaneous changes in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic have exposed a significant weakness in the business world. Many organizations simply were not prepared to keep their workforces up to speed on the latest processes, procedures, and best practices, whether they were on the front lines or suddenly forced to work from home. The fundamental challenges businesses now face to keep businesses operating and workers employed have spurred a debate. Should training programs continue, or should they fall to the wayside while everyone works to ensure the business stays afloat?
Organizations that have adapted to the new norm have one thing in common: They never stop training their workforces. They don’t look at learning as a one-time event that interrupts working hours. They believe in learning in the moment, on the job, and in the flow of work. And they have invested in technology that enables them to communicate with employees and provide the resources they need, no matter where they are, to perform their jobs in an optimal manner. These organizations offer proof that traditional, classroom-based, in-person, and paper-based training methods simply don’t work best in a fast-paced environment, and that their employees—and their customers—benefit greatly from strategies that support learning journeys and continual learning that connect to clear business outcomes. In today’s environment, now is not the time to stop capability-building initiatives designed to close critical skill gaps and reinvent business models.
Learning on the Go
Changes resulting from the Coronavirus have created a larger deskless workforce, with many employees transitioning from the corporate office to work at home and work from anywhere. And those without desk jobs are finding themselves either busier than ever if they are essential workers, or with a lot of downtime since their jobs cannot be done from home.
Those with essential jobs in healthcare, manufacturing, utilities, biotech and pharmaceuticals, grocery stores, pharmacies, delivery services, and take-out restaurants must interact closely with the public. Because they are at risk of contracting or spreading the virus, Human Resources teams must provide them with mission-critical information including how to safeguard their health and that of their customers. A new Edelman survey underscores the importance of these efforts, noting that 75 percent of Americans believe businesses are responsible for protecting employees from the virus in the workplace and limiting the spread in the community.
Healthcare workers, in particular, need timely and specialized training to apply emerging best practices and new knowledge about the disease as they fight COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies and labs such as Abbott are rapidly shifting focus and resources to develop and produce COVID-19 test kits, treatments, and ultimately vaccines to prevent Coronavirus. Even manufacturers are being impacted, with companies such as 3M, Honeywell, GE, GM, and U.S. Cotton stepping up to retool production lines and operations to build desperately needed items, such as ventilators, masks, plexiglass shields, and swabs for test kits. All of these workforces rely on up-to-the-minute training that isn’t possible with traditional classes or paper binders, given the speed with which things are changing and the necessity to limit travel and in-person contact.
On the other end of the spectrum are workers whose jobs require them to be physically onsite, such as in the retail, hospitality, and transportation sectors. The pause in their work has given their organizations a rare opportunity to provide learning to build critical new workforce skills without interrupting their time on the job. While workers are at home, these organizations can create a sense of purpose and security for employees, by investing in upskilling and reskilling to develop skill sets that will be required in adjusted business models. Additionally, learning opportunities that are tailored for each critical role during this down time can demonstrate a caring attitude toward employees by enhancing their personal and professional development.
However, traditional methods of training, continuous learning, and communication are not optimal when employees are remote and dispersed. For example, if they don’t have corporate e-mail addresses, how can you send out information and ensure that important messages have been read? Or how can you create and edit new learning content as fast as necessary, so everyone remains informed and safe during rapidly evolving situations? And how can you deliver new training when you have always relied on instructor-led, in-person classroom training?
Mobile Devices Put Resources in the Palm of Workers’ Hands
To address each of these questions, organizations must seriously consider adopting a modern learning environment that leverages tools every employee is accustomed to using: mobile devices and digital content. Today everyone has a mobile device—such as a smartphone or a tablet—and they’re comfortable using them to search for information, read articles, and stay informed with breaking news and instant communications, anytime, anywhere.
Organizations must embrace these tools as a fast, simple, and powerful way to deliver real-time information and mission-critical content directly to the right people, at the right time, without delay.
Such a modern learning environment has three key characteristics:
- Leveraging mobile-first communications apps. Utilize apps to support on-demand learning at any time. This puts employees in the driver’s seat to learn new skills, or for those at home to do training at their convenience, such as free time when meetings, home schooling, or taking care of children are finished. Apps make it easy to see real-time notices, so leadership can communicate effectively with employees and those essential front-line workers stay informed. And apps enable HR and subject matter experts to provide new content and updates to existing content immediately to ensure tasks are done correctly, even in a fast-evolving situation.
- Providing an organized structure for front-line workers. Put all information in a single place, allowing employees to easily discover answers to questions, do training in the flow of work, and see updates. No longer having to search for content trapped in massive paper binders, PDFs, PowerPoint, or SharePoint document libraries, employees can quickly find what they need, leaving them more satisfied with their job, secure that they’re taking all safety precautions, and ensuring they can help customers in a timely manner.
- Gathering feedback to help shape decision-making. Enable two-way communications that allow employees to be heard, ask questions, and learn at the appropriate pace. Usage metrics and content ratings and feedback offer insights into employee engagement, and what learning content is most effective and delivers the best business outcomes. Armed with this data, along with content recommendations, Learning leaders can optimize learning content for their teams, and add interactive training and new content types to their training portfolios designed to enhance engagement and business impact.
Training in the COVID-19 Era and Beyond
Organizations are using mobile-first, modern learning apps to help their employees and customers during the pandemic. For example, one national convenience store chain created a “Coronavirus Collection,” which makes available all quick reference guides around topics such as “hand-washing basics” and best practices for COVID-19 customer interactions. Similarly, a multinational supermarket chain is using real-time notices to alert all employees about operational changes relative to the Coronavirus and follows up with daily updates to keep store managers informed on policy changes and developments related to enhanced daily cleanliness and sanitation protocols across all stores and facilities, crowd-control measures that limit the capacity of customers based on store size, and installed spacing guidelines for lines throughout the stores.
Many restaurant chains, which have had to suspend in-store dining, quickly are shifting business models and training their employees to operate “touchless” takeout, curbside pickup, “no contact” delivery operations, and implementing new ways of ordering, such as enabling customers to more easily place larger “family size” orders for larger groups.
If “necessity is the mother of all invention,” the Coronavirus pandemic will accelerate massive digital transformation and adoption of modern tools. These digital solutions are mission critical for businesses as they adapt in a crisis and pivot to survive, with adjustments that can mean the difference between staying open and ensuring employees keep their jobs, or having to close the business for good. And these tools will continue to pay off, giving organizations the opportunity to transform themselves and their operations, and reskill and upskill workers, to come out of the crisis stronger than before.
By providing your workforce with the information and training they need, on the job and within the flow of work, you can rest assured they are better prepared to address customers’ needs and deliver a consistent experience. This higher-quality level of service is more important than ever, as it is a reflection of your brand and how it responds to crisis, and can put customers at ease, ensuring loyalty and repeat business. Modern learning solutions also provide an opportunity to achieve a culture of transparency, built on a foundation of real-time communications that inspire trust and loyalty and access to on-demand training that invests in employees’ professional and personal development.
Rather than fear changes to traditional training processes, the new realities stemming from the COVID-19 crisis underscore the importance of continual learning, supported by investments in remote, on-demand digital tools for the modern workforce.
Jeff Carr is the CEO of Inkling and a veteran enterprise software executive with deep domain expertise in human capital management (HCM) and learning and development (L&D) markets. He has held executive leadership roles and built a high-performance track record at market-leading companies including Saba, Taleo, Zenefits, and PeopleSoft.