Amidst disruption, think education: the importance of continual training during COVID-19 and beyond

diverse group of people working in an office, diversity, BAME workers, training

Article provided by Jenny Mowat, MD of Babel

This year has brought several new dynamics to running a people and service-based business.

Keeping our teams, clients and suppliers all connected during lockdown, through to the changes in August where Government guidance said people could return to their place of work, as long as ‘covid secure’. On multiple levels there have been quick decisions needed to ensure we had the right tech stack to support entirely remote working, connection points across the team, safe places to work (both at home and in the office when the team were ready to return), the health and wellbeing of our staff and navigating novel new HR processes.

With all this disruption to manage, it’s been easy for some to forget a few of the fundamentals of running a business. Yes, managers have been ensuring employees can get online wherever they are and that they have the right home office set-up. These are essentials for working in our new normal. But what’s happened to the ‘old normal’ elements of working life? One of these – and arguably one of the most important – is training.

Refining and growing existing skills, as well gaining knowledge of new areas and adding to your skillset are crucial parts of any job, at any time. Covid-19 has highlighted this need acutely. How many of us have had to learn to use new communication and collaboration platforms? How many have had to transform an in-person conference into an online event? How many teams have adopted a flat team structure (and new roles and responsibilities that come with this) due to changes in workforce? How many have suddenly had to field enquiries from the press, appear on camera, or negotiate a crisis?

These are all new skills that need learning or improving. And, in the midst of taking on new roles and adding to your professional toolkit, how many of us have been doing less of the types of work that we did before? The skills inherent in delivering the bread-and-butter will therefore also be due a boost!

As with every other element of life and business this year, in terms of training and upskilling we’ve actively sought alternatives and embraced the virtual. Every business and the needs of its team will be different, but here’s a list of topline ideas based on our own experiences at Babel, which have helped keep education front and centre.

  1. Go in-house: Opting for an external training providers can bring new ideas and insight, but don’t neglect the skills and experience of your own team. Without members of your team being in physical proximity every day means that valuable learning-by-osmosis can be compromised. So, we’ve organised a number of training sessions headed up by our own team members, who have shared valuable lessons and know-how on topics ranging from client service, engaging journalists during lockdown, using data in content creation, new business outreach, and marketing.
  2. Build a support network: In addition to their line manager, every employee at Babel is assigned a mentor, with whom they can meet to get support and guidance on issues relating both to professional and personal development. Organise bi-weekly mentor catch-ups, during which team members can offer feedback on any challenges or new learning they’ve experience/picked up. This also provides a good opportunity to check in on career objectives – covid may have thrown every other aspect of life into disarray but it doesn’t have to hold you back from career progression.
  3. Look for freebies: Many training providers will have taken a financial hit this year and they recognise that most businesses are in the same boat. As such, many are keen to keep their brand and expertise on the radar of companies, yet are also willing to forego the usual costs associated with training. PR industry membership bodies like the PRCA and ICCO have hosted free training sessions, and digital platforms like HubSpot, BuzzSumo and Google Digital Garage offer online courses free of charge.
  4. Go bespoke: When lockdown was first enforced, group training sessions were out of the question. While Zoom (and the like) can be a great tool for some types of training, I’d advise carefully reviewing your training plan and analysing if and how well the content can be delivered via these platforms. The alternative is to go bespoke. At Babel, we’d planned part two of a management and leadership training course to take place in our office, with a half-day session hosted by an external provider. Rather than try and translate this to a virtual environment, we instead worked with the provider to offer one-to-one coaching sessions. Not only were these personalised to the individual and their career goals, they also offered many team members some much-needed human contact and personalised focus during a tough period.
  5. Keep it regular: Repetition and regularity of training is important, so ensure a steady cadence of opportunities for all team members. These sessions don’t all have to be expensive, formal, lengthy, or in-depth events. Webinars and meetings with mentors are just as important in terms of keeping training at the fore. We’ve also increased the frequency of ‘lunch and learn’ internal training and information sessions – although we’ve had to swap the usual Deliveroo office lunch order for reimburse-able snacks and drinks!

It’s important that we don’t neglect the importance of continued professional training and upskilling of every team member, no matter their seniority. At Babel, we’re proud of the time resources (and now, adaptability!) we invest in training and professional development. While covid-19 has thrown up some challenges to the running of our 2020 training programme, it certainly hasn’t stopped us from skilling, re-skilling and upskilling our team for the future.

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