Working from home: ensuring staff are properly trained
Matthew Kay presents strategies for effective training and communication for remote staff
For many law firms, the transition to working either partly or fully from home hasn’t been without its challenges. Yet, it’s fair to say a lot of people are used to the new ‘system’ of work and are enjoying the flexibility that working from home can bring.
It can be argued, however, that it has been a step backwards in some key areas. One area which remains a challenge to find the right balance is staff training. Learning and development opportunities have often been negatively impacted. Training can be difficult to replicate in an online setting, but it doesn’t make it any less important to ‘solve’ the issue of how best to deliver training to staff. Their development can’t be put on pause and firms need to make sure it takes a high priority.
In the City & Guilds’ Annual Skills Index 2021, for example, 30 per cent of UK workers reported not receiving formal workplace training in the last five years. And 11 per cent have never received any training at all from their employers. At a time when we’ve all had to adapt to a new way of working, you might reasonably think that training would be more important than ever. After all, shouldn’t a key way of helping staff cope with a changed environment be ‘skilling them up’? But the stats show that, when looking across all industries, learning and development remains rather uninvested.
With that in mind, there are a number of important aspects of modern training and development that firms should keep front of mind when they are structuring training programmes. Some of these tips may prove useful when thinking about how to properly train remote staff.
Before your training and development sessions begin, you need to have thought about access to information and ease of use.
While it’s true that most people are used to working from home now, many of them still won’t have taken part in remote training. They are bound to have questions before the sessions begin around how they can access training smoothly and without a hitch.
Your firm might have an online portal containing training materials, or staff may be given short bits of ‘homework’ to do outside of sessions to improve retention. For example, we have an online learning management system, Vario Advance, which provides training and workshops on a remote basis to lawyers.
Making sure people understand the structure of the programme beforehand, and can access all these links easily, will help with engagement. Or perhaps your staff have questions about the format – will it just be a talk or a presentation? Can participants interject with a question midway through (e.g., using the ‘raise hand’ feature on Teams/Zoom), or will there be built in time after segments for them to ask questions?
The answers to these questions will differ from firm to firm, but what’s important here is staff communication. Since staff will be working remotely, with fewer people to chat to prior to the sessions beginning, there is bound to be less information-sharing.
To ensure they are comfortable with how the training is proceeding, communication is vital. Indeed, the recruitment company Recruiter, found 33 per cent of employees feel that lack of good communication has the most negative impact on employee morale.
Another crucial element lost in online training is the casual ‘chit-chat’ that delegates engage in with one another, prior to the session starting. You miss out on the scenario where everybody is sat in a conference room together waiting for their training to begin. In many instances, the delegates will be from different teams and won’t have met one another before. It’s therefore important to build in time for everybody to meet each other and break the ice.
There are many ways a firm can achieve this – a simple way is getting everybody to introduce themselves at the start of the session. This approach may work perfectly well for shorter one-off training sessions, but you need something more considerate and longer-form when thinking about longer-term training where the teams will be interacting on a semi-regular basis (e.g., a training programme with multiple sessions all involving the same delegates).
Your delegates need to be at ease with one another. A key reason or this is inclusivity – you must create an environment where all of the delegates feel comfortable enough to speak up and share their thoughts. For many people, this can be a daunting prospect even when they’ve had the opportunity to break the ice and get to know their colleagues, but it’s even harder when they haven’t had a chance to build a rapport with the other delegates.
Firms should also be aware that people on Zoom who are quiet by nature may not speak up. The person responsible for making sure everybody is vocal has quite the task on their hands here in an online setting. Often, in a real-life, they may spot somebody who is about to say something, but perhaps is feeling nervous and stops themselves at the last minute, or is struggling to get a word in over more vocal colleagues. In a real-life setting, it’s much easier to spot this and make an effort to draw their contribution out of them.
One solution is making clear before the session the contribution which is expected by each employee, with reassurance that it will be valued. Another could be asking each delegate one by one for their thoughts on a question and giving everyone a fair chance to make a point.
Manage the length of sessions
Overly long sessions tend to be bad for peoples’ ability to retain information. Indeed, the diversity and Inclusion (D&I) consultancy sitting under Vario, Brook Graham, recently carried out an empirical study on exactly this issue. It found almost 60 per cent of knowledge is lost within an hour of learning and that the average attention span has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds since the start of the mobile revolution. Brook Graham says that this signals a shift in attitude towards learning in which microlearning could be transformational for learners and businesses.
The way people consume information is changing, and will continue to change. People are increasingly gravitating towards bite-sized chunks of content that demonstrates the information repeatedly in different, creative ways (rather than just an hour-long PowerPoint with an external speaker). Learners are much more likely to absorb the information than if they were given the content in longer bursts
Alternative training methods
Technology has delivered many benefits to the realms of learning and development and law. There are now many tools for tracking the progress that recipients of training are making. Data is king and collecting data from your training sessions to work out what is and isn’t engaging people can be extremely valuable.
By using data analytics tools (or working with a partner that offers them), firms can track and tweak the training to better fit their cohort. Data allows the organisers of the training programmes to change their approach – sometimes even midway – to avoid banging their head against a wall with methods that aren’t quite working.
For firms looking to revamp the training and development it offers to staff, the most important question is ‘do we need to do training the way it’s always been done?’ A number of things – from the digital revolution right the way up to covid-19 – have changed the way people interact with the virtual world entirely and this needs to be taken into account.
When somebody says ‘training’ or ‘learning and development’, you immediately think of a group of people in a conference room, with an expert presenting a PowerPoint on a screen. But it really doesn’t have to be that anymore.
It’s time for firms to get creative and think of more interesting ways to train their teams, and to answer the ever-important question – ‘what will our employees really respond to?’
Matthew Kay is a partner at Pinsent Masons and managing director of Pinsent Masons Vario