Jobs and the Future of Work

The future of face-to-face: how COVID-19 will reshape learning and work

People practice social distancing inside an elevator prior to arriving to their work places at World Trade Center, after the government announced that private and state companies will reopen their offices after almost two months of lockdown amidst concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Colombo, Sri Lanka May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC29MG9B5S3U

What will training, engaging and working look like in the new “low-touch” economy? Image: REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

So-Young Kang
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, AWAKEN GROUP PTE LTD
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  • The COVID-19 pandemic has busted the myth that work-from-home and online training is impractical or ineffective;
  • Digital learning and learning via telepresence will become an accepted, “must-have” part of a blended working and learning environment;
  • Traditional instructional design will take cues from mobile-first instructional design and apply the science of adult learning to instruction that is increasingly mediated by smartphones, tablets and PCs;
  • More openness to a diversity of solutions will see less top-down, one-size-fits-all technology solutions within companies; and more consultation with end-users about what online learning and working platforms should be adopted.

We are in the midst of a massive global social experiment. The very nature of our regular day-to-day, face-to-face training, meetings and work is being challenged at a fundamental level.

What does it mean to work if you cannot meet colleagues or clients in person? How do we, as employees and lifelong learners, train and acquire new skills without the group-based, facilitated training sessions or classes that have been the norm for decades? How do we, as leaders, manage the performance of our remote teams and get real-time engagement and feedback?

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Long after the lockdowns are over, one effect of the COVID-19 pandemic will be permanent changes to traditional modes of learning, communicating and working in the modern world. Just what will that experience of training, engaging and working look like in this new “low-touch” economy?

On the other side of this pandemic, I believe we will see a shift in mindset about what “training” really means and how it can be delivered. I think there will be a new openness about the development of digital skills and ultimately a more inclusive approach to how the technologies we use to train ourselves get chosen in the workplace.

Shifting mindsets

How long have we heard that widespread working from home was impractical for most businesses? How long have we been told that in-person, face-to-face training was the only “real” way to learn? Thanks to the pandemic, we know that neither of those things is true after all.

Many companies were thrust into this transition to remote working and learning completely unprepared and had to adapt quickly to the new reality – and adapt they have. While there are businesses that will always need face-to-face interaction, for many roles in most white-collar industries one of the lasting repercussions of COVID-19 will be the end of "face-to-face is best" thinking. With so many businesses able to maintain service levels via remote digital options, the idea that work needs to go back to in-office, face-to-face interactions full-time once the pandemic is over is neither tenable nor necessarily the most effective.

I expect that for most businesses in the future, digital, online training will move from something seen as a nice-to-have; to an accepted, must-have part of a blended working and learning environment. It will just become part of the “new normal”.

How our thinking on digital learning and working will shift after the pandemic
How our thinking on digital learning and working will shift after the pandemic Image: Gnowbe

Development of new digital skills

The shifting mindset brought about by the pandemic will have knock-on effects for how training happens and how new skills are acquired in the workplace.

The current model is heavily focused around either group-based training led by an in-person trainer or trainers or webinars for relatively dry or technical content (compliance training, for example) that are little more than slide decks read aloud followed by a Q&A session.

I expect traditional instructional design to be replaced with more modern thinking about mobile-first learning in the wake of the pandemic and the necessity for more remote and work-from-home options. Mobile instructional design can help apply the science of adult learning to instructional opportunities that are increasingly mediated by smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Likewise, I anticipate the “one-sided webinar infodump”, which many label as a “shift to digital”, to refocus around more virtual group-based experiences with instructional content presented digitally, but in a far more human way than pre-pandemic online learning models traditionally allowed.

What new training methods will be developed post-pandemic?
What new training methods will be developed post-pandemic? Image: Gnowbe

New decision-making criteria

Technology decisions have traditionally been made from the top down. Executives and CIOs have called the shots on what technologies are adopted to solve what they perceive as business needs or pain points. In most cases, the workforce who will use these technologies day-to-day have simply been told what platforms and programmes they will have access to and then received training (or not) on how to use them.

With the pandemic, however, and the expectation that more remote work and work-from-home options will become mainstream, expect to see more democratization of decision-making around technology in the workplace.

I expect the in-the-trenches workforce will be consulted more widely and frequently on what programmes should be used across a business. We should also anticipate more openness to a diverse set of solutions and more emphasis on innovation, as well as less top-down, one-size-fits-all technology purchases. Users will have more freedom to choose apps and software that help them in their specific roles and managers and other executives should be more open to input from staff around what programmes should be chosen and why.

The new decision-making criteria for workplace technology post-COVID-19
The new decision-making criteria for workplace technology post-COVID-19 Image: Gnowbe

We are living in a new “low-touch” economy. It’s time to adapt and shift our mindsets, develop skills and rethink how we make decisions to stay agile, connected and human.

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