With many employees working from home due to the social distancing measures in place, should we continue with professional development during Coronavirus? And if so, how?
Professional development, the process of improving staff abilities through teaching, training and mentoring, is an exceptionally important part of our working lives.
The practice has clear benefits for all involved. Employers need higher skilled workers to improve business performance and respond to changes in the market. On the other hand, employees value the ongoing investment in their career and the progression it brings.
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, many countries have implemented strict social distancing measures. As part of the measures, millions of people are working from home to help stop the spread of the virus.
As we become more used to working remotely over the coming weeks and months, the question of professional and career development will need to be answered by business owners and HR managers. How can we continue to train staff if we’re separated? Is it a viable business expense right now? Should training programmes be placed on hold until we can return to our offices?
Should we continue with professional development during Coronavirus?
According to leading economists, coronavirus will lead to an economic downturn. The predicted severity of the downturn will depend on our ability to deal with the crisis, which adds to the importance of any social distancing measures.
Businesses will suffer and, understandably, many will be looking to keep costs to a minimum by cutting all non-essential expenditures. Justifying the investment is the main argument against continuing professional development, especially when such schemes seem like a ‘nice-to-have’ during good times, not a ‘must-have’ when the economy turns.
However, research from the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found that companies which continue to support and develop their employees with training have a 218% higher income per employee than those offering no training. Similarly, companies with a higher training expenditure have a 24% higher profit margin compared to those investing less.
Employees who go through consistent professional development are happier, more loyal, higher skilled and – due to each of these factors – more productive.
These are unprecedented circumstances. We may have to work-from-home for some time to come. If professional development can help keep employees happy, committed, skilled and productive then it may help businesses to adapt and survive in the short term, and ultimately thrive once the market returns to normal.
Furthermore, now might be the perfect opportunity to commit to training. Due to coronavirus, many businesses are not as busy as they were previously. Therefore, their employees may have more time in their day for personal development. Investing that extra time into learning is an activity which, as shown above, greatly benefits both employee and employer.
Overall though, it depends on your particular situation. Small business owners with a tight cash flow will prioritise keeping their business afloat, otherwise they may not have any jobs to offer their employees – never mind training.
Whereas for larger companies with deeper cash reserves, who have many workers stuck at home with little to do, investing in professional development is sure to help the business continue to grow in the future.
For those that can afford to keep training employees though, how do you do it effectively if everyone is remote?
How to continue with professional development during coronavirus
Fortunately, the development of digital infrastructure and technology over the past 10 years has been prolific.
In major population zones across all continents, high-speed internet access is largely a given, rather than a luxury. Access can be more limited in remote or poorer areas, but generally the situation has been improving since the UN declared internet access to be a basic human right in 2016.
As such, many workers have easy and quick access to the internet. Combined with developments in online training platforms and video-conferencing software, we can now access training materials from anywhere in the world.
Workers can still attend courses, join webinars, complete qualifications, and more – all from the comfort and safety of their homes. This is how we continue professional development throughout coronavirus.
In fact, many businesses in the skill development industry have quickly pivoted in response. For example, my company – Powercall Global Training – has traditionally invited delegates to attend our courses at a training centre in London. With coronavirus, there is suddenly no demand for our face-to-face training classes.
Just like many others in the industry, we’ve had to adapt and we now offer our courses through live webinars and sessions via video chat. This isn’t a sales pitch. It’s a new reality.
Four options for online training
So, it’s clear that the internet provides a viable avenue for remote professional development. With that in mind, what internet-based training options are available to employers?
Webinars allow any number of delegates to join a video-based chat, where trainers can present course materials while fielding questions or feedback from the audience. It is all done live, although it’s recommended that sessions are recorded for playback and sharing with others in the future.
Essentially, webinars are virtual alternatives to classroom-based training. However, there’s one big difference. With webinars, large scores of employees can undergo the same training at the exact same time, as there are no limitations on space as with a physical classroom. This means whole teams can undergo a training course in one afternoon that may have otherwise taken a few days to roll out.
Where webinars offer scalability, one-on-one coaching is the exact opposite. One-on-one coaching connects two individuals over a video call for a more personal, bespoke training session.
This style of training lends itself well to internal mentoring programmes, executive coaching and providing work feedback to team members.
It’s also valuable for going over key learning points individually – especially after a webinar. The downside to a webinar (and a classroom) is that the larger the group, the more difficult it is to ensure every attendee was engaged with the session. Follow-up one-on-one sessions allow trainers and HR teams to “check in”, answer questions and explore certain topics further.
On platforms like Coursera, Khan Academy and Udemy, there are online courses available for every imaginable skill a worker may need for their role and industry.
They usually involve watching a pre-recorded presentation on a particular topic area before completing a test to evaluate whether the individual retained the information provided.
As it requires no more than an internet connection and a subscription to the learning materials, employees can complete online courses by themselves and at their own pace.
Whilst the option to work through individually is useful, it does also mean that should an employee struggle with a particular topic they won’t have a trainer on hand to question and learn from. This drawback means online courses are a good introductory or beginner level option, but they’re not as effective for deeper, more advanced learning.
Of course, one option is to simply ask employees to complete self-learning sessions. The responsibility is then placed upon the employee to research, learn or practice a skill related to their role.
In effect, search engines like Google and Bing are huge libraries containing the entire knowledge of the world, past and present. We can access their information freely and readily from our computers, phones and tablets, whenever suits us – which is what makes self-learning so easy.
However, it’s no use to just let employees spend two hours of their day on self-learning with no measurement of the results. There has to be an outcome, a benefit to both the employee and employer. You can do that by setting learning objectives.
One example of this in action would be asking a marketing executive to upskill in user experience and then formulate a plan for improving the website as a result, using the takeaways from their learning to support the ideas proposed in the plan.
Self-learning is a cost effective option for many businesses, but it does leave employees without a more experienced teacher to lean on for help – similar to Online Courses.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected the world in many ways. It will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
For businesses, the virus means we must adapt all of our processes to fit the ‘new normal’ of working from home. This extends to personal and professional development.
Those companies in a delicate financial situation have a more pressing need to be careful and focus on urgent matters, such as keeping the business running through the next few months.
But it’s clear that if you have the resources, then continuing to provide employees with training and opportunities to learn is a no-brainer, given the effect on productivity and long-term profitability. It may even be the perfect time to focus on individual skills development.
This is despite the impact social distancing measures have on our ability to give and receive training, as employers and employees have a wealth of digital options available to circumvent the issue of not being able to meet in-person.
Each option has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages, so a good idea is to build a combined training system making use of each.
Coronavirus is unique, unprecedented and unpredictable. We don’t know how long the situation we find ourselves in will last, but by adapting to what is in front of us right now, businesses have the opportunity to emerge from the pandemic with a higher-skilled set of workers, setting them up for long-term success.
About the Author
Anthony Maddalena is the Head Trainer and CEO of Powercall Global Training, a training course provider based in London, UK. Anthony has over 20 years of experience in training key business skills like negotiations, management and sales.