The shifting dynamics of training in a pandemic

Training and coaching are absolutely vital to ensuring contact centres perform consistently well, improve constantly and provide the best customer experience at every touchpoint.

We’re passionate advocates of the power of good training programmes, and we know it’s one of the most important investments a company can make.

One of the interesting things about the pandemic is the way it has changed the training landscape. What was once a nice-to-have is becoming ever more commonplace among our clients, and we’re delivering more training courses than ever before. This growth has culminated in a new partnership with the CCMA to deliver training to its members.

What has sparked this growth, how is our training team responding to that growth, and what are the challenges that come with online learning?

A transformation in the training landscape

It is clear that the pandemic has had a huge negative impact on both personal lives and business. But despite the undoubted downsides, there have been areas of growth through all of this. Training is definitely one such area – and while it remains to be seen if this change lasts, it’s currently an extremely busy time for training providers.

One reason may be that being remote allows contact centres to deliver cost-effective training, allowing disparate teams to come together virtually and collaborate, often in greater numbers than could be achieved with on-site learning.

This is even more the case for businesses that are based in multiple locations – this may previously have required several training sessions across numerous sites, but if everyone is learning remotely, the volumes of staff that can undertake the training within more efficient timescales is vastly increased.

As well as the flexibility in location, online learning allows for more bite-sized sessions. ‘Little and often’ is now achievable in a way that wasn’t possible before, and it’s encouraged businesses to take advantage by providing training for their staff that’s spread out and therefore has less of an upfront impact on day-to-day operations when compared to a training session that requires staff to be unavailable for hours at a time.

This growth is great from a human perspective, too. Online training, especially when we’re not working together in the office, allows staff to share a common experience, coming together in collaborative smaller break out rooms within larger sessions, all while enjoying a sense of teamwork and community.
That’s more important now than ever.

Remote working and its impact on training

Another impact of the pandemic has been to change our fixed, inflexible mindset around work. Businesses have had to adapt to remote working, and people who may not have considered it in the past have realised it’s entirely workable. The same has happened with training, but we have had to pivot internally from solely classroom-based activity to meeting online.

A few pointers for online learning:

  • Be agile in your teaching.
  • Breakout rooms help to ensure the human connections can be retained as much as possible. A key piece of ‘in-person’ training is the ability to split into smaller, more intimate groups for richer discussions. By using an online platform that allows for breakout sessions, this element can continue online
  • Keep everyone in the room engaged – online learning makes it easier for people to switch to passive learning, where they’ll quietly listen but won’t get engaged on a deeper level. Engage them at every stage by being inclusive,creative and stimulating – this can include the element of surprise!
  • Keep cameras on. This follows on from ensuring everyone is engaged – being hidden makes it more tempting to do other things in the background, like checking your phone or looking at your emails, reducing the session’s impact
  • Take a temperature check at the start of each session.

What is a temperature check – and why is it so important?

Usually, with in-person sessions, there are a few things we can do to ensure everyone is ‘there’, engaged in the session and ready to learn. Some of these aren’t as easy with virtual learning, but a temperature check absolutely is.

Use the chat facility and ask where everyone is feeling on a scale of 1-10, where 1 is “got up on the wrong side of bed, low energy, wish I wasn’t training”, and 10 is “ready and raring to go”. There’s no judgement, it’s just about recognising how ready are we for our learning and being aware of what else is going on in our lives.

It’s a self-awareness piece, helping each person know how they’re currently feeling. By recognising that, it also helps them move up from that score, and gives them the chance to share if people want to. Recognising we’re all at different places in our feelings help each participant feel at ease, and facilitates learning.

The temperature check can be powerful over a series of courses. People may not want to share at the start, but you’ll see them open up, get that emotional shorthand and you can see them open to new ideas and taking new ideas on board.

Follow up with an icebreaker!

Never underestimate the importance of a good old icebreaker to get everyone connecting and engaged. But remember, they differ throughout the world. An example that works well for participants in the US, is to ask them to share not only their name, but the make and model of their first car and a fun fact, or what it meant/represented to them.

The icebreaker that works for you depends on the dynamic within the group and the length of the training. If you’re with them for two days and working quite intimately, you’d want a more in-depth icebreaker to uncover more information and potentially start to forge a deeper connection.

Even something as innocent as an icebreaker can become a thread that weaves through the training and provides an insight, making links through the content to personal experiences and providing synergy.

The importance of learning – especially now!

Many business listings are asking how we can promote psychological proximity, and training is one of the ways we can do that.

As well as the learning, it helps promote the idea we’re a community. Where there are concerns about people feeling isolated, it helps bring people together. At a time when business owners may not have control over every aspect of their business, they can control training.

And when we’re learning, we’ll come out stronger. We know from the 5 ways to wellbeing that keeping learning and keeping connecting are key.