As a huge portion of the workforce settles into a new ‘abnormal’, at least one thing is crystal clear: When we come out on the other side of this (and we will come out), we will need to be stronger, more resilient, and ready to perform at unparalleled levels. Because, let’s face it, by all indications, the demands are going to be excruciating.
The individuals and organizations that successfully emerge from this crisis are the ones who are using this unprecedented time for unprecedented development. And here’s the good news: According to recent research conducted with Advantage Performance Group, 33% of those polled report that they have as much time as ever for learning and development and 42% report actually having more time. That means that a full 75% of us are well poised to leverage this shelter-in-place time to develop in place.
The Employee’s Role
If the current health crisis has taught us nothing else, it’s that we’re all in this together. The same holds true when it comes to leveraging this shelter in place time for development. Individual employees, leaders, and the organization all have a role in making it happen. And for employees, it boils down to finding the time and the resources for do-it-yourself growth.
Surprisingly, many employees are finding and capturing new pockets of time they didn’t have before… and you can too.
- Recommit the commute: If you’ve traded the average American’s 100 minute/day commute for a quick trip from the bedroom to the den, you’ve found extra time to learn.
- Mine the minutes: Fill those spare moments between tasks that can feel empty and disorienting now that your days are void of office banter and watercooler chats with quick development activities.
- Leverage the lulls: During those low-energy periods when you feel distracted and burned out (and tempted to scroll through the news or your social media feed again), learning can save you from making yet another visit to the refrigerator.
This ‘found’ time can be used either ad hoc – as it presents itself – or many people are finding it helpful to create a learning routine. You can establish a sense of normalcy and ensure learning happens by setting aside as little as 10-15 minutes at a particular time each day. Perhaps it’s reading at lunch, listening to a podcast during exercise, or capturing lessons learned at the end of each day. The key is to create a schedule and stick to it.
Once you’ve identified and set aside the time, then you need to identify the resources. The key here is to not drown in the ocean of options… because given the volume of offerings available, you could spend the entire pandemic just searching the possibilities.
The solution for many people is to curate a learning playlist. Take a low energy period and search for articles, podcasts, studies, videos, and webinars on important topics. Pull together all of those resources you have frequently thought you’d explore ‘when you had time.’ (Now is that time!) Keep the playlist on your desktop or phone for easy access and use when you have a few minutes here and there.
Beyond the nearly limitless content and media available, there are countless other activities that you can engage in to promote learning while also feeding the human need for connection.
- Invite feedback. This is the perfect time to gather information from others about what you’re doing, how you’re doing, and how you can add greater value.
- Interview an expert. Reach out to others (within your organization or outside) who have a reputation for being effective at what you’re interested in learning. Schedule short calls to gather their top 3 tips or strategies. Not only will you gain valuable insights, this also serves double duty as human contact during these isolated times.
- Crack a book. Identify a book that addresses your development focus. But don’t just read it. Deepen your understanding by summarizing its highlights in a short book report that you share with others who might benefit from it. Or convene a virtual book club to read and discuss a book of interest to you and your colleagues.
- Step up to a new responsibility. This is the perfect time when real and compelling work meets opportunities to grow. So, find projects, assignments, and challenges looking for someone to take them on.
- Capture your insights. Every article, video, conversation or experience offers a wealth of information—if you take the time to unpack it. This time of isolation allows us to go inside and reflect more deeply than usual. But don’t forget to capture new insights, learnings, and skills in writing (because given the chaos of this period of time, they are in jeopardy of becoming lost).
Especially now, individuals must own their development. And there are countless ways they can do that. But the reality is that the likelihood that action will be taken goes way up when leaders offer their active support.
The Leader’s Role
Many leaders struggled to support their employees’ development before the pandemic; and the new virtual environment offers even greater challenges. Yet, this is the ideal time for leader to learn as well… and to develop new skills and institute new routines and practices to enhance their effectiveness now and after this crisis passes.
- Revisit and update existing development goals, taking into consideration what’s needed now and what’s going to be needed in the future.
- Offer more than moral support. Remove barriers, offer concrete suggestions, and provide the actual resources employees need to pursue learning goals.
- Find creative on-the-job, in-the-workflow ways to enable the development people need. Classes might or might not be available and our go-to activities may not be what people need right now. We must to challenge ourselves (leaders and employees alike) to look harder and get more creative.
- Build development debriefs into each conversation with employees. While this has always been important, it’s even more critical now given the distance and disorientation experienced by many. Employees need help pausing and processing the product of their efforts. From a leadership perspective, these conversations may also offer insights that will benefit others on the team.
The power of individual choices and leaders who appreciate and enable development can’t be overstated. Yet, when executive and organizational support are added to the mix, you’ve got an unbeatable formula for success.
The Organizational and Executive Role
Working with organizations across the US over the past several weeks, it’s clear to me that considerable effort is being invested in supporting the growth and development of the increasingly virtual workforce. The most effective practices I’ve observed range from simple and completely budget neutral to more sweeping and systemic.
Finding approaches that align with your organization’s situation and resources is key. Here’s a starter list.
- Put your money where their minds are. Send a clear message about the importance of development by continuing to fund relevant learning. Offer a small stipend for educational reimbursement to signal your commitment.
- Endorse and promote learning efforts. Even if money is tight, support is free. The ‘do-it-yourself’ approach to development previously described costs literally nothing and can immediately magnify results.
- Lead with learning. Encourage executives to demonstrate a growth orientation. They need to highlight what the organization and they personally are learning throughout this process. It’s critical to emphasize the insights derived from challenges and mistakes and to publish lessons learned during this time.
- Make resources available. Even MIT is making all of its classes available for free. So, open the vault and let people access the learning that is available within your organization. Remove level or audience requirements; now is the time for a generous approach to development.
- Think beyond the class. There are countless cost-effective alternatives to traditional classroom learning. Beyond virtual workshops and webinars where so much learning is happening now, there’s also microlearning, structured developmental experiences, self-study, and coach-based development. This is a wonderful opportunity for low-risk experiments that will perhaps spark new practices that will serve all of us well after the crisis passes.
We’re going to come out on the other side of this and look back on this extraordinary period and ask ourselves: How did I use the time. I hope your answer includes learning. Because we can all make the most of sheltering in place by developing in place as well.
Feel free to download this infographic/job aid that summarizes this article as well as a reflection, discussion and action guide that employees and leaders can use to plan how to make development happen now.