How can HR remotely manage… learning and development?

People Management’s series looks at the implications of many employers now having to conduct all people processes remotely in the wake of coronavirus

L&D departments across the UK are undoubtedly under a lot of pressure. As the coronavirus lockdown shows no sign of lifting and teams begin to bed in to remote working, attention has turned to training. 

In these unprecedented times it is imperative to keep workplace traditions alive and well, and many organisations have successfully transferred meetings and water cooler moments to the digital landscape. But will carefully crafted, and often bespoke, training solutions follow suit? Andy Lancaster, head of learning at the CIPD, says learning departments need to be “agile” to reflect the fact that the need for running courses has suddenly been eclipsed by “supporting performance and productivity”. 

“Learning needs to be really close to the heartbeat of the business to understand what's needed, which is a flexible, agile approach to provide ‘just in time’ solutions, not waiting weeks for courses,” explains Lancaster.

Consider the ‘why, how and what’

The questions of ‘how, why and what?’ need to be considered (and answered) before any remote training package is developed, especially in the current unique home working situation. Lancaster says it is really important to ask ‘why?’ as a first question. “Too many people want to make a digital shift without thinking through the context of the organisation and the context of the learner,” he says. 

For educational technology and management consultant Dr Katharine Jewitt, the first questions are then: how will it be done and what is needed? “If you usually run face-to-face training and are now looking at how to develop your training online, first, start by listing all the activities and tasks that usually take place and the objectives for each one,” she says. 

“Next, consider what the learning action is for each activity… and third consider what the roles are for both the trainer and the delegates.” 

John Amaechi, organisational psychologist and founder of Amaechi Performance Systems, says for him the first question to ask is: what’s the point? “L&D is about development and it's also about intellectual sustenance, or at least it should be,” he says. 

“So what's the point of L&D right now, and what’s the value of it? There will be basic requirements for people who need to pass exams, or health and safety modules. But [ask yourself] what do people really need right now from L&D?” 

Focus on managers and leaders

It’s a crucial question – what do employees currently need? According to Amaechi, they need leaders who are able to “convey a sense of empathy and help colleagues feel connected”. 

“L&D should be offering a solution to get leaders to lead effectively in a virtual environment as a primary requirement, because the perfunctory training isn’t stuff that will keep people working for you and it won’t help to maintain productivity or benefit mental health,” says Amaechi. 

“Train managers to stop them doing things that will damage your organisation down the line; help them to be what leaders are supposed to be.” 

Let your learners decide the method

Once your line managers and senior staff are on board with how to support staff effectively, the next step is to determine what solutions will work best for your learners. And it’s best to get this information straight from the horse's mouth. Lancaster said he would encourage a “learner-led approach” whereby people teams work hard to understand what learners are trying to achieve, in the context they are in. 

Jewitt says decisions need to be made on what technologies are required “to best achieve the learning outcome on training tasks”. “If you are splitting delegates up into group activities to work on training tasks over a length of time, then invite them to choose how they wish to work,” she says.

“They may choose to collaborate using WhatsApp, or simply communicate and collaborate via email or video calls using Skype. Or [they might choose to] collaborate on a document together using Google docs.” 

Amaechi says now is an “opportunity to reach out” and discover what employees found valuable from previous training offerings: “Let your employees know you are interested in hearing about what things would be useful for them to deliver optimally in the organisation.”  

One size does not fit all 

Lancaster warns against a “one size fits all mentality” as one training solution or platform will not fit “the wide array of different scenarios of remote working”. 

“Blended learning is really important because your employees are home working, and standard e-learning tends to be one size fits all. Think about your typical types of learners and what they might need,” says Lancaster. 

“You need to be pragmatic about what's going to work. Don't think too simplistically about what might be needed; think about different options that may be available.” 

He warns that thinking technology will solve everything is “a huge assumption” that is often incorrect, even where staff are all working from home so the technology used might seem the most important consideration. “It’s about looking at a real ecosystem of different options to allow learners to choose what is best for them,” he says.

Michelle Raymond, HR lead at The People’s Partner, says training must be “diverse, inclusive and accessible to everyone” and that different methods should be considered. 

”Learners may have various impairments that are a barrier to their L&D progress, so you need to make sure there is something to cater to everyone’s unique learning style,” she says. She adds that there will be some things L&D just “won't be able to do online” and that some training will need to be deferred until it can be done face to face.