We’ve all had to rethink a lot of things in our personal and professional lives over the past two years. In the face of sometimes overwhelming stress and uncertainty, we were forced to find new ways of keeping pace with the rituals and routines of life and business while working remotely. Now that we’re mostly in the “new normal,” there are certainly elements of that experience that I’m glad to leave behind—but there are also lessons learned that I’m taking with me and believe will create better ways of living and working.
For example, on the personal side, I’m grateful for the lessons in patience, compassion, and understanding. I’ve learned to appreciate igloo dining in a Michigan winter, curbside grocery pickup, telehealth appointments, and driveway get-togethers with the neighbors.
On the professional side, I’ve been impressed by the perseverance of our clients and their dedication to the well-being of their workforces and organizations. When I stop and reflect on the last two years, I can’t help but be a bit awed at how organizations were able to move portions of their workforce or even their entire business to remote operations. Related to that, I’ve learned that a virtual leadership development program can be conducted with the same level of success as an in-person experience—and that there are long-term benefits that make virtual learning here to stay.
Prior to 2020, I would not have believed this to be true—and I don’t think our clients would have either. Although Dion Leadership had dabbled in virtual delivery of our learning content for a company with a small global workforce, we hadn’t seriously considered moving an entire program online for all learners. Our clients were firm that their leaders needed to be together in the same physical space to effectively learn, interact, and connect. We didn’t argue. After all, we had a good thing going with our in-person programs.
Then in the blink of an eye, in-person learning was no longer an option.
Yes, it was different. There were tradeoffs. But the results of virtual learning speak for themselves.
So what lesson am I taking into the “new normal” as an L&D professional?
Crucially, I’ve learned it’s time to go all in on virtual learning. There’s no need to turn back the clock for our leadership development programs, for a lot of reasons:
- It reaches learners where they are. In many organizations, the work-from-anywhere paradigm is here to stay. Virtual learning easily accommodates that shift.
- Learners have upped their virtual skills. Employees at all levels have become accustomed to interacting virtually, from quick check-ins with colleagues to longer, more formal meetings.
- It can be cost effective. When a workforce is disparate, travel costs to bring them together four or five times over the course of a program can be significant.
- Varied learning modalities optimize both schedules and engagement. In addition to enabling the interactivity and connection opportunities of an in-person session, virtual learning can be paired with self-paced prep work (like readings, videos, reflections, self-assessments, and other “heads-down” activities) and intersession group assignments completed at the learner’s convenience to keep momentum going from beginning to end.
If you are wondering if this approach merely fit a moment in time, I am here to report that our clients are embracing virtual learning as we plan and deploy a new round of leadership development programs this year, in 2023, and beyond. Some clients are opting for a mixed approach, bringing cohorts together for opening and closing sessions but going all virtual for everything else. Others prefer all-virtual programs even as their offices are reopening. Regardless of delivery mode, clients are now appreciating a level of flexibility that they hadn’t known was possible. They are also able to launch new programs and assemble learning groups at lightning speed.
Unlike floor stickers at six-foot intervals and elbow-touch greetings, virtual learning for leaders is here to stay. If you’re still skeptical, we’d be happy to talk to you about our approach to coaching and leadership development and the real results our clients have achieved. We’ve gone all in with virtual training. Maybe it’s time for you to do so, too.