Adapting Workplace Learning Programs In Light Of COVID-19

Employee Growth And Professional Development
Summary: COVID-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on how we approach employee growth and development. Here are 7 ways to transform your professional development programs.

7 Ways To Transform Professional Development

The new normal. It’s perhaps an overused saying as of late. Along with times of uncertainty and uncharted waters. It has been more than six months since COVID hit the US. And yes, businesses and employees are facing challenges they never have before. Stress and anxiety levels are at an all-time high. But, shouldn’t we have charted some type of map for those waters by now? Do our employees really need a constant reminder of what they are missing out on?

Employee Engagement During COVID-19

Every year, organizations invest approximately $720 million in engagement improvement. Despite the millions invested in employee engagement, engagement rates have remained steady in the past—until now.

In the wake of this global pandemic and social unrest, we’ve seen unprecedented sharp drops and rises in employee engagement rates. According to Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist for Gallup's workplace management practice, “Nothing has significantly dented employee engagement in the U.S. before—not even past recessions of 2001-2002 or 2008-2009, the events of 9-11, or past pandemics.”

Even in the best of times, it can be difficult to understand what drives employee engagement. Instead of focusing on circumstances that are outside of our control, let’s focus on something we can control. Something we know has a real impact on employee engagement levels: Growth and development opportunities.

Transforming Our Approach To Employee Growth And Professional Development

With social distancing being commonplace and gathering limits in effect, it’s no surprise that most in-person workplace training sessions and conferences have been canceled or postponed. Many organizations have been scrambling to convert in-person employee training classes to virtual webinars or eLearning.

In today’s technological world, there is an abundance of options available. But employee growth and professional development are much more than taking a couple of training sessions. By definition, employee professional development is a career-long process that employees go through with their company’s support to learn new skills, enhance their knowledge, and prepare for the next step in their career path.

7 Ways To Transform Professional Development During COVID-19

When we think about our growth and development programs in the wake of COVID-19, we need to take a holistic look at the opportunities our employees have. Here are 7 ways to create a more meaningful growth and professional development program for your employees:

1. Use Pulse Surveys To Find Out What Your Employees Need

Let’s face it, employees are stressed. From eldercare to supporting their children’s schooling, it can be hard. Hard to find time to do their job, let alone worry about professional development. A pulse survey can help you understand the challenges your employees are facing and which learning modes of delivery will best support their learning. These are an ideal way to check-in with your employees without taking up too much of their already limited time.

Shorter surveys can also provide more accurate results than more traditional surveys. Survey company TINYpulse found that when employees are asked less questions, they spend more time answering each one. Your employees' responses to your survey will give you a baseline understanding of how they feel about professional development and what they need from you. Using this insight, you can create a meaningful growth and development program.

2. Be Mindful Of Your Employees' Environment

For many employees, working remotely happened suddenly and unexpectedly. While some may have a private office space, many others may be working off a dining room table with dogs and children running around in the background.

When we design synchronous virtual trainings, it’s important that we are mindful and respect our employees' environment. Just because our employees want virtual training doesn't necessarily mean they want to be seen.

While video allows us to connect on a human level and pick up on non-verbal cues, for some it can feel intrusive. There are several other ways to keep your employees engaged in a virtual environment. Some examples include whiteboard functions, polls, breakout rooms, and more.

If you don’t absolutely need that face-to-face interaction, it may be a good idea to make video optional. This will also help conserve bandwidth. If you do decide to make video mandatory, try to clear the air from the get-go. Acknowledge that there may be interruptions and allow them to step away as needed.

3. Clarify Roles To Provide More Time For Professional Development

Working remotely has undoubtedly changed the way our employees do their jobs. It has also changed how well they are able to do their jobs. Recent research shows that 41% of employees don’t feel prepared to do their job. If our employees aren’t confident in their ability to do their current job, they are much less likely to be focused on professional development.

By clarifying what’s expected of your employees, you can ensure they know exactly what they should be doing. This will also help free up time to participate in growth and development activities. Start by identifying the minimum expectations for each position while working remotely. Then decide which tasks you would like them to be able to take on.

Right now, it’s still important to be flexible with performance measures, but setting expectations will help our employees understand what we need from them and help them see that they still have the time to work on their professional growth.

4. Curate Content To Decrease Development Time

As any eLearning developer can attest, a lot of work goes into creating even just a 30-minute course. With the push to bring in-person training sessions virtual, capacity has become more limited than ever. Instead of creating your own eLearning, why not leverage what’s already available? Online learning platforms like LinkedIn Learning and Coursera provide many training options. Even YouTube has some great professional development content.

Once you know what your employees need most, you can search for the courses that will provide the training they need. This will save development time and money. It will also let you focus on creating content that can't be curated.

5. Look Beyond Training To Increase Competency

Developing new skills doesn’t always mean you need training. Many times, a job aid or quick reference sheet will provide the same benefits, especially if it's about a familiar topic. Take for example eLearning accessibility. Would you rather have an 8-hour course learning about why it's important, how it benefits organizations, and much, much more or would you prefer a 2-4 page checklist to follow?

Whether it’s a checklist or a step-by-step instruction, sometimes, simplicity is the best answer.

6. Help Your Employees Find Their Career Path

Over 75% of employees want to grow their careers. By providing your employees with a clear career path, you can ensure they feel supported throughout their journey. Now more than ever, our employees want to know they have a future with us.

For many companies, a lot of resources are put into external recruiting. But what if we could use those same resources to internally develop the skillsets we need? To get started with an internal-based recruitment strategy, start by defining qualifications and sharing them with employees. Have employees currently in those positions share via video or an intranet article what they do, why it’s important, and how they got into their positions. Let your employees know how you can help them on their career path, whether it’s via tuition reimbursement or a stretch job assignment.

When your employees know where they can go and how to get there, they will be more engaged and will have a positive impact on your company culture.

7. Encourage Your Employees To Learn From (And Teach) Each Other

Workplace training and development resources don’t always have to come from supervisors or human resources. Your own employees have a wealth of information just waiting to be shared. They just need a system to do so. A knowledge-sharing system is the system organizations use to facilitate information sharing between employees. With the technology available today, it’s easier than ever to quickly create a knowledge-sharing system.

Simple solutions, like a discussion forum or SharePoint site team, can go a long way in facilitating knowledge sharing. There are also tools available like Facebook’s Workspace that offer individual news feeds, private groups for sharing team information, and knowledge libraries.

Whatever system you choose, just make sure to involve your employees in the discussions to ensure it meets their needs and create buy-in.

How Are You Rethinking Your Growth And Development Approach?

With situations and guidelines changing almost daily, many of our growth and development strategies no longer work for our employees. We need to be resilient and able to adapt to our ever-changing world. We need to listen to our employees and be respectful of their environment as we rethink our approach to workplace learning.

How are you adjusting your employee growth and development programs in light of COVID-19?