A year ago, when everything stopped and we were all getting used to staying home all the time, I wrote a piece based on my experience as a remote freelance writer, hoping to help others make the adjustment to working from home. Turns out, even with years of experience working from home, I had no idea how tough the last year was going to be.
A lot hasn’t changed in a year. Many of us are still at home. While vaccines are being administered now, many people haven’t been into the office in a year, lots of kids are still learning remotely, and we’re all still wearing masks. We’ve changed, however. The last year has taught us a lot — about human connection and resilience, health, safety, remote work, and learning.
Below are some of the most important lessons I think we’ve learned from a year in lockdown. While yes, it’s about workplace learning (this is SAP Litmos’ blog after all) some of these lessons are about self-care, community, and how we’ve tried to keep each other safe and healthy for a year.
We definitely learned how to use Zoom
Let’s face it — most of us spent our lives on Zoom, WebEx, and other video conferencing platforms in 2020. Sure, many of us had used it before, but suddenly everyone had to develop video conferencing skills in a hurry: there were video meetings, video holiday gatherings, video job interviews, and yes — video training. People who had never Skyped a day in their lives were learning how to sign in, share their screen, and mute their mics. A year later, most people know the ins and outs of video conferencing and aren’t making rookie mistakes like leaving embarrassing items in the background or sitting against a brightly-lit window.
It wasn’t just workers who brushed up on their video conferencing skills. This is a skill we collectively learned as a society. Everyone from grandparents to children in school had to figure out how to log in and turn on their cameras. We’ve used video conferencing for everything from doctor’s appointments to birthday parties. Now it’s just a part of our lives.
Remote work is possible (and even preferable)
Remote and flexible work used to be seen as a perk, but the last year proved that working from home isn’t just possible; workers love it. Despite the fact that 2020 was not an easy year, a survey from CNBC showed that remote workers were happier than those who didn’t have a remote option, showing a Workforce Happiness Index score of 75 out of a possible 100, higher than the 71 scored by those who didn’t stay home.
Businesses also seem to like the arrangement. According to a Gartner survey, 80% of company leaders plan to let employees work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic, and 47% will allow employees to work from home full-time. Research done by Brandon Hall Group shows that one third of companies project that more than half of their workforce will be working remotely after the pandemic.
Some companies are taking it further. According to a story in USA Today, many companies are actively hiring remote workers, who will work from home permanently.
Effective remote learning is different than live training
We’re obviously biased in favor of online learning, but we were surprised to discover just how many companies still relied on live Instructor-Led Training (ILT). Brandon Hall Group found that, pre-pandemic, 96% of companies provided instructor-led training. Those organizations had to update their training in a hurry to 100% remote learning, and they learned that they’d have to do better than simply taking video of classroom training and posting it to a learning management system.
Remote learning is a fabulous way to reach learners, but it requires a different format. Lessons should be delivered in short, engaging easy to digest modules that learners can repeat for a refresher, for example. Learners should be able to take modules on whatever device they have handy. Learning platforms should also allow managers to assign modules to learners, and monitor their progress on a learning pathway. This year has shown companies what can be achieved with online learning, but it’s also taught them to understand the medium of remote learning.
Coaching is key
Remote, asynchronous training is an important part of a training program, especially during a pandemic. It lets trainers reach employees where they are, allows learners to complete courses when they have time, and delivers new learning exactly when it’s needed, but after a year of isolation, employees are interested in face-to-face training — even if it’s online.
Employees are hungry to learn from their managers, so it’s important to include coaching in a training program. By adding an ILT module to your training, you can still train your team live and offer feedback.
Reskilling is a must-have
Reskilling has always been part of the training conversation, but it’s taken on new meaning in the COVID age. In 2017, for example, research from Deloitte found the average half-life of a learned skill was just five years, so organizations at the time were interested in updating their learners’ skills. The pandemic changed the focus of reskilling, however. Because of the upheaval in the economy, companies were watching some jobs disappear and learning they needed to create new positions. Rather than laying off all their workers and rehiring, some companies decided to reskill employees for new positions.
In the summer, Brandon Hall Group found that 56% of companies were concerned about reskilling workers who might return to different jobs than the ones they’d left. It was a concern shared across various organizations. Ginni Rometty, executive chairman of IBM, interviewed on Fortune’s Leadership Next Podcast, described the reshuffling of positions as throwing a deck of cards in the air. Not every employee will land in the same spot when the pandemic ends and people come back to the office.
This reshuffling has underlined the importance of reskilling employees, even when there is no crisis. Skills and personnel needs will always change, and L&D can help move good employees from one role to another.
Life happens — even when you’re working
Even before the pandemic, I started many work calls with a disclaimer: I have a small child, and you might hear him in the background. I went to great lengths to schedule calls when he was at school or out playing. On more than one occasion, I did interviews parked in my driveway, in the car, so no one could hear my kid playing with my husband. (I don’t recommend that.) In the past year, however, I’ve noticed a change in the reaction to my disclaimer. “Oh, that’s fine. My teenager is studying bio in the next room,” said one CEO. “My grandkids are home right now, too; I know how it is.” Once, mid-disclaimer, another person’s child stepped into the Zoom screen. We all have lives, and COVID-19 has forced us to acknowledge this fact. We see each other’s homes and pets in video conferencing, realize that family members sometimes need care during work hours, and in many cases, we’ve had team members fall ill.
In the past, there was a tendency, even in family-friendly workplaces, to strictly separate life and work. While COVID hasn’t exactly allowed for a healthy work-life balance, we haven’t been able to hide our families, lives, or health from each other. Hopefully, this will make for a more compassionate workplace in the future.