This week’s Secret L&D manager is German and has been working for one of the big management consulting firms for 13 years. She is part of a virtual L&D team responsible for internal training solutions for a global group of analysts, specialists, and managers across multiple time zones. In our previous interviews she has shared how and why her organization got started with live virtual training solutions, and what they have learned along the way. In this post she shares more of her experience and looks forward to the future of virtual delivery.
Which topics have you learned work well virtually and which haven’t taken off?
As I mentioned earlier, we first used the live virtual delivery format for what we could call hard skills. This included technical skills and software training. Training on Excel, PowerPoint etc. We then used virtual delivery formats for training where there were a lot of tips, dos and don’ts. For example, how to build effective slides and engage your audience. If the training is about showing something directly and then facilitating a conversation about this, then virtual training actually works very well.
We have also had really good experiences with softer topics too. Many of our leadership programs are now delivered virtually. For example one of our management development programs has a kick-off webinar, two one-one-one coaching sessions and a wrap-up webinar —all facilitated virtual—as standard elements, plus during this journey the participants meet for a two-day residential workshop. The feedback from our managers is that this is one of our most popular and successful programs. We also have a lot of softer topics where working virtually is part of the training goals. For example, “Presenting in a virtual environment” or “Leading virtual teams”.
One big challenge or obstacle in a virtual space is how to build up trust. You have so many things which are lacking in a virtual space which are usually vital to building up trust with someone, right? This could be the immediate reaction to the other’s physical presence – smiles, body language, eye contact, even smell – anything. We’re all humans and we react to one another’s presence. But what happens when there isn’t a physical presence? Tackling this kind of virtual training topic in a virtual training environment makes absolute sense.
Are there some topics that you’d never wanted to go virtual with?
That’s actually a good question. Some training concepts are not at first glance suitable, but over the years I have learned that it is really a question of design. The technology does have limitations, but this is continually improving. I would say the obvious ones that don’t transfer as easily to a virtual deliver format easily are those programs where there are a lot of role-plays required. It’s difficult when the softer expressions, body language etc. are important training elements. But even these can be approached in different ways.
It depends on the situation, the participants’ situations and our training goals. When I want to adapt communication, soft skills, leadership training, etc. for a virtual context I think it’s possible to do that training or program also in a virtual setting. In fact, I will say that it makes a lot of sense to do it virtually as this is the manager’s reality! Yes, it can be difficult with topics like assertiveness, difficult conversations, giving feedback etc. On a tiny little screen, their body language is not really visible. I don’t know what their legs are doing, but I can see what their shoulders are doing, and maybe their arms, hands and face – and this is reality. If it’s leadership in a virtual environment or difficult conversations in a virtual environment, the virtual training setting works perfectly.
If you’re trying to practice something you only ever do face-to-face with people, then it’s not as strong but it still can work. I can only think of a couple of our programs which maybe aren’t so suitable for virtual delivery, but it’s really only a few.
Do you see a change in the way you’ll be using live virtual training in the future?
Yes and no. I think there’ll be a shift in L&D generally, and also inside our firm. On the one hand, we don’t want to fully give up on the residential trainings because it’s still a very different experience and people really do like them. You are spending maybe three days with each other, rather than three hours online. It is completely different – you get to know people, you have a different level of peer exchange, you establish defined accountability partners etc. If you are meeting in person you also talk more broadly about things which are happening in the business and topics which are very sensitive things. Often this is outside of the training, too. In these longer residential trainings, you often build friendships with colleagues that are important for the rest of their working life. It’s a different experience.
On the other hand, the internationalization of our people and company means we are finding that the people who require a certain skill and want to develop it are not actually based in the same location. Bringing people together for classical face-to-face training is certainly a cost question – but also a time and environmental one, too! I think virtual training will expand because of these factors. There is of course an additional benefit – it is also good that people from different countries, with different work styles and different backgrounds have more chances and opportunities to exchange ideas and approaches.
So, from the human side we certainly still want that people meet each other in person – but really it’s a question of the topic and taking everything into account. I expect virtual training will increase because of the benefits it offers when done well. It makes a lot of sense when you have a topic which can be actually broken down into modules, and where it doesn’t matter if you have a week in between modules (or maybe a week in between really helps!).
Today, virtual delivery is being integrated into all of our approaches. All stand-alone residential training events will also have maybe a virtual kick-off call, some exercises in between, virtual coaching calls afterwards, and virtual wrap-up meetings afterwards etc. This leads to a blended learning journey so people can integrate training into their work life and transfer what they have learned. It is easier to incorporate virtual delivery into our everyday work life. I believe it will become more and more usual.