It seems like forever ago that running meetings and training courses virtually was seen as something difficult and not particularly desirable. We would get in our cars or on the train to travel for a meeting that took less than half the time it took to get there.

Then March 2020 happened.

Overnight, the entire working population of the UK was working remotely from home. Businesses scrambled to supply equipment and ensure that staff had the knowledge to use previously unknown and unfamiliar technology in an environment where our work lives previously had no place.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives beyond all recognition with businesses completely redesigning their business models and shedding their property portfolios as it was realised that staff didn’t need to be in the same room to be able to work together effectively. The rise of Microsoft Teams and Zoom has meant that we could be just as productive and communicate with each other just as easily as when we were all in the same room.

Or could we……

Stepping back into a physical classroom for the first time after the pandemic was like entering a whole new and unfamiliar world. How could we convey those nonverbal cues with half of our face covered by a mask? How could we help people and point things out from 2 metres away? What about that niggly cough, that we knew was nothing to worry about, but everyone else might think was a symptom of COVID-19? Had we got enough hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes?  Enough equipment for everyone to have one each of everything?

Time carried on and we adjusted. Most training continued to be virtual. It was just as effective, enjoyable and interactive as all being in the room together.

Or was it?

Recently being back in a physical classroom, with a full cohort of delegates and no restrictions was eye opening. I would go as far as to say liberating.

There was no option to switch off the camera, which meant people had to focus on what was going on in the classroom.  There was a lot less “I’ve just got to go to another meeting at 10” and not a single “you’re on mute”.  Disruptions generally, were kept to a minimum and people’s time on the course was much more protected.

As for the engagement – it was off the scale!  I’d forgotten how passionate people are when they are truly engaged in a topic and giving it their full attention.  Plus, you could actually see that split second of puzzlement when they hadn’t quite understood what I said but were nodding their head and agreeing with the concept – easily missed on a small screen or if a camera is turned off.

The breakout room functionality in Teams and Zoom is great, but it doesn’t beat having those groups in different parts of the room and being able to hear snippets of conversation that you would have missed in a digital setting.

That said, virtual training absolutely has its place.  When you are a global organisation, it can make arranging training much easier as attendees from around the world can all attend the same session and there is no additional cost of flying the trainer and / or the attendees to a central location, as well as hotel rooms, subsistence, and all of the other costs of travel.

Being able to continue investing in the development of staff during a global pandemic meant that when they came back to work, they were equipped with new skills and knowledge that may not have been possible if they were still working as they were pre-COVID.

Digital tools, such as Miro and Mural have become common place, allowing staff to collaborate in ways that we could only have imagined and even those of us who were previously wedded to pen and paper lists are utilising tools such as Microsoft Planner and Todolist

Can Classroom and Virtual Training work together?

I truly believe that classroom and virtual training can work together, hand in hand and sometimes a hybrid approach allows more flexibility for organisations, particularly those with a large headcount.  From a trainer’s point of view, it’s always a fun challenge to come up with new ways of engagement, both online and face to face and there’s always a new tool or technique to try out.

The PMO Perspective

This experience mirrors that of the PMOs in organisations who have been taken on a similar journey when it comes to engagement and impart wisdom. It is important for PMOs now to acknowledge the benefits and pitfalls of each approach in order to provide a balanced set of opportunities for learning and sharing to their internal Customers.

Now that many are settled in a particular way of working, PMOs should be mindful that a straight up change may not be the best approach to re-engage those that have been working remotely for a long time.

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Helen Digger

Helen Digger

Published: 23 August 2022

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