Insight Talent management

Supporting learning in challenging contexts: 4 lessons from lockdowns that we can still use today

Written by Lauren Scholtz on 22 Nov 2021

Delivering learning experiences in challenging contexts is not new; organizations have been upskilling employees in busy or remote settings since training first became a thing. However, the rate of change has accelerated, making it difficult to keep up with developments. Will the session be online or in person? Is everyone available and what else do they have going on behind the web camera?

Four key learning barriers we are currently facing are:

  1. Rapidly changing work environments reverting to remote working
  2. External stressors pulling workers in multiple directions as they balance life responsibilities
  3. Disruptions to attention and attendance that are outside our control, and
  4. The psychological weight of continuing to slog through a global storm of uncertainty.

While this can be overwhelming at times, I tried to see this as an opportunity to reassess the way I run meetings and workshops. I found a few quick solutions that relieved some of the immediate pressure, but on reflection consider them my new “best practice” to continue on with in the future to deliver the best learning experiences I can.

1. Have a remote backup plan

Moving to a home-based work environment was not entirely new, however the speed of the change this time around was much faster, with a lockdown being announced over a weekend. This meant that in-person sessions planned for the week were not able to take place and the backup plan had to be implemented.

Fortunately, we’ve consistently had a backup plan for all in-person workshops since last year, using online collaboration tools such as Miro to replicate the experience of each participant being able to add their own notes to the shared board. It came in very handy this time around, so much so that even beyond that hopeful time in the future where lockdowns will no longer be necessary, I plan to continue having a backup plan to support remote delivery every time. Just in case.

2. Factor in a “social buffer” to every meeting. 

Our brains have a finite workspace to handle information, so a worry on a person’s mind means reduced capacity to deal with new information. Many learners are currently managing the stress of having multiple demands on their work time such as supporting their children in remote learning or other carer duties.

This can have a flow-on effect if work needs to be done outside of normal business hours, reducing the amount of downtime learners have. A strategy to reduce (or at least manage) this barrier to learning is to make a habit of checking the emotional temperature of the “room” and reacting accordingly.

I always factor in a “social buffer” time of 5-10 minutes at the start of my agenda now, giving time to ask people how they’re doing, and modify the session based on the responses. For bigger sessions, you can do this beforehand or at the start of the meeting through a quick poll. If nothing else, letting people blow off some steam together helps to break the ice and feel more comfortable working in a group.

3. Leverage technology to stay in “the zone” and allow people to catch up later, if needed

When learners are working at home, disruptions to attendance can happen without warning, at key points of any meeting. Children, pets and doorbells are the most common, but contact from coworkers via various channels is also a consistent factor, as it’s difficult to know when people are free to chat when you can’t see them in a meeting room.

To overcome this, my standard meeting preparation process includes muting my chat messages and my phone and encouraging participants to do the same. This is fine for electronic interruptions, but those in-person ones from someone at the door aren’t so easily ignored. This is why I always record all sessions (with permission, of course), so participants who have to step out or leave early are able to watch and catch up when they’re free.

Our recording service also generates transcripts automatically and can send snippets instead of complete videos if needed, which also frees me up from taking notes.

4. Stay human – accept that it’s okay if you’re not okay sometimes 

I had a customer ask to reschedule with a brutally honest admission that they didn’t feel up to it that day. Knowing their usual level of work commitment, this was a clear sign to me that they were not in a productive headspace.

Sometimes, it’s just not the right day to have that big meeting. Better to be honest about it and move it to a day that everyone can bring their best selves along and get the most out of the time together. That’s what we did. We rescheduled, and I did my best to let them know that I empathized with their tough situation and encouraged them to take the pressure off themselves when it came to this particular session.

These are my lessons, you may have learned something different. Which of these can you add to your toolkit to help deliver a better learner experience, no matter what’s happening in the wider world?


intelliHR is a people management platform helping HR, leaders and managers enhance performance, culture, engagement and retention. With built-in HRIS and powerful real-time analytics, see how the platform works today.

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