training for permanent workforce impacts of pandemic

The Long Haul: Training for the Permanent Workforce Impacts of the Pandemic

Xeny Lopez Matos
Instructional Designer and Training Specialist

When we first heard of COVID-19 in the beginning of the year, it is easy to say we weren’t aware of how much it would impact our lives. In retrospect, we can see how we may have minimized its impact on our personal lives and work lives, and we may have been insufficiently prepared for the long-term ramifications as well. We are now heading into the fall season and have over 6 million cases and close to 200,000 deaths in the United States. Our personal lives have been turned upside down from changing our work environment, switching to virtual school, and doing our best to take into consideration the well-being of others.

In addition to the social upheaval the pandemic has caused, what has not gone unnoticed are the temporary and permanent workplace changes. To accommodate the changes brought by COVID-19 health concerns, companies have had to train new workplace requirements, update their health protocols, and hire new employees to match the workforce demand. So, what are companies doing, or rather, should be doing to ensure they are keeping pace with our ever-changing “new normal”? One obvious answer is training. Training impacts every facet of the workplace, from onboarding new hires to teaching new workplace procedures. Training is not only an essential part of every company, it can also elevate companies to manage situations, such as our current one, at an optimal level.

Everything is easy in theory. Just train your employees on the new protocols, right? As we know, it is never that easy. Time is limited and even less time is available for training. In addition, traditional side-by-side training isn’t always an option due to current conditions and lack of time. So, how can we adjust to these changes and still successfully train our employees?

Using training to adjust to extended temporary workplace changes

COVID-19 has brought sudden and rapid temporary workplace changes that will remain until infection rates continue to subside. eLearning, quick reference guides (QRGs), and training videos are useful tools that can help workforces adjust to these rapid changes. eLearning allows employees to complete training anytime and anywhere. In addition, the autonomous nature of eLearning allows employees to complete training at their own pace. To amplify eLearning training, companies can use mobile devices, such as iPads, to provide employees with the option to complete training on-the-floor and in real-time, therefore blending real-world experience with textbook learning. Training videos can also be accessed on mobile devices to deliver information, such as proper handwashing techniques. The additional use of QRGs can bring employees quickly up-to-speed on procedural changes and provide them with a resource while they are on the job. eLearning and QRGs also ensure “ever-changing” information is consistently communicated and readily available to employees.

Permanent workplace changes and accommodating work conditions

Although we foresee many of the workplace changes brought by COVID-19 to be temporary, we should be prepared for permanent changes that may result as well. Permanent changes may involve accommodating the current work conditions by transitioning traditional classroom training to remote learning. This will involve transitioning hardcopy training materials to a virtual format, and in some cases, implementing a hybrid model for training. In a hybrid model, the instructor provides training and employees learn from their remote locations. This approach blends the benefits of an instructor and the ability to ask questions with the safety and efficiency of a remote environment. Through the hybrid model approach, companies can provide more frequent, shorter training sessions over multiple weeks instead of traditional longer training sessions. Furthermore, the hybrid approach could be the transitional phase before exclusive online training. Thereby, providing companies with more time to adequately prepare for a full online training curriculum.

Using training to create behavioral and communication changes within employees

Social distancing. Small groups. Stay at home. These are a few of the new social norms we need to adhere to during COVID times. However, at the workplace these rules can be more difficult to implement than we thought. But what if we can support social distancing and protect each other by reducing close encounters? Workplaces should encourage email and chat correspondences and implement technologies such as in-app messaging and video announcements to evolve with our new social norms. In addition, in-app messaging and training video announcements can be used to inform employees about new protocols as well as any other workplace adherences that need to be reinforced. Let’s say there’s a new state law that requires temperature checks for all customers entering a business. How will you inform all employees? Emailing everyone is an obvious answer, but how often do all employees check for email in a timely manner? You could depend on managers to inform their teams, but how fast can they really achieve that? This is where in-app messaging would be beneficial. With a few quick clicks, you can quickly send an emergency notification to your entire organization. To top it off, you can include a quick training video with the in-app notification that reviews how to complete a temperature check.

Conclusion and considerations

The pandemic has been tough. There is not an easy way to say it. However, that does not mean we can’t use our resources to optimize the situation and adjust to new norms. Training can help employees adjust to the ever-changing demands of the pandemic by providing companies with multiple avenues to reach their employees and flexibility to receive the information they need.