On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency amidst the rapidly growing cases of COVID-19. The United States joined a growing number of countries on lockdown, which involves the temporary shut down of businesses, schools, and events with crowds. For many people, their companies requested they work remotely until further notice. Tensions are high. Some workers will be stretched and overworked. We must all balance caring for our loved ones while taking care of ourselves.
How should talent development professionals and leaders prepare for a national crisis like COVID-19?
For starters, we need to ensure our training teams stay healthy, and we need to be extra vigilant with those trainers who are on the front line and must still interact with people face-to-face, like healthcare educators. In addition, here are some of the approaches the L&D team at Yale Medicine is applying during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Integrate Social Distancing PracticesFor in-person, face-to-face meetings that must happen, be diligent about applying social distancing, which is a six-foot distance between individuals. In classroom teaching situations, identify where learners should sit in the classroom and where instructors should be situated. Remove chairs to guide learners where to sit, add signs to ensure learners remember to disinfect and sanitize their learning area, and ask instructors to find alternatives to over-the-shoulder teaching, troubleshooting, and group work.
Finally, decide how refreshments and catering should be provided to prevent cross-contamination. Or consider a temporary “bring your own refreshments” policy. For computer training rooms, place hand sanitizer at each workstation. Before and after each training session, ask trainers to use surgical gloves to wipe down the surfaces of each workstation with low-level disinfection solution. Also convert in-person team meetings and huddles to video conference calls.
Convert Face-to-Face Programs to Online Learning ExperiencesIdentify learning and development programs that can be facilitated remotely. Are there programs that could be quickly converted to live and recorded webcasts using technologies like Skype, ZOOM, or Webex? Work with your talent development team to prioritize and develop a plan to identify which instructor-led courses could be converted to e-learning.
For learning programs that involve face-to-face group work like team development, there are effective ways to discuss how to develop a cohesive team through online discussion groups, facilitated online simulations, and using live breakout rooms. The goal should be to provide a comparable learning experience through a new learning delivery model instead of trying to aim for the same learning experience by jerry-rigging online media. Be fair and be realistic with what existing electronic communication, and e-learning development platforms are available to your organization.
Finally, connect with other departments and functions within your organization that have talent development and training responsibilities to develop a list of topics that can help management and staff make the transition to their new reality. Topics to consider may include how to work remotely, how to lead during a crisis, how to facilitate online meetings, and so on. It’s important to unify all talent development functions in creating this list so the organization has a consistent approach in how to behave, adapt, and respond in crisis situations.
Prepare the Talent Development Team to Use Their Skills in New WaysIn 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc for people living and working on the Atlantic coast. At the time, I was trainer for a large hospital network in New York City, and I recall the urgent and sudden request to suspend all my training responsibilities to be part of a team to use and use my communication skills to meet and welcome patients and inform their family members of their new location.
In a sudden organizational crisis, talent development professionals may be called to use their skills in new and different ways to maintain operations or address a surge in new demands. These new demands may involve utilizing a trainer’s knowledge of how to navigate their complex organization to assist workers on how to find medical supplies or an LMS administrator’s keen Excel knowledge to track volunteers helping with the COVID-19 emergency.
As talent development leaders, it’s critical that we role model and remind everyone on our teams to practice flexibility, patience, agility, and respect for others. In times of crises, change happens frequently and can be sudden—our trainers who teach change management and topics related to agility should be role models to the organization and its departments to practice what was taught. Now is the time to shine.
Another key leadership responsibility is to keep our teams well-informed and provide frequent forums for them to ask questions and provide updates from the top. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a constant stream of new protocols, adjusted policies, and other items to share with the team. One venue is to schedule brief daily check-in calls to relay information and as a channel to listen to concerns and stressors. The goal is to keep the team prepared and nimble by keeping them connected to the pulse of the organization.
Be Prepared for Emergencies: Business Continuity PlanningClearly identify what your organization’s protocols are in the event of an emergency or potential COVID-19 exposure. For those in-person training sessions that must continue, communicate with the training team when to call on the office of environmental health and safety to assess and decontaminate the environment if a student reports a possible exposure during or after the session took place. Devel
As the pandemic evolves, there are countless other ways which the talent development function must prepare its team and the organization. It’s critical to reinforce that we must practice and apply leadership and role model all of the effective behaviors our teams teach the workforce in our situation.