While the focus during the first wave was skilling, building leadership resilience and people management capability, the second wave is an opportunity to strengthen the cultural core of the organization and pay more attention to employee mental health.

The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic had far-reaching effects and continues to have a lasting impact on many industries. As industries are slowly reeling from the effects of the first wave, a new strain, and possibly deadlier mutation of the virus has gripped the nation. Looking back at last year, the L&D Departments of organizations emerged as the ‘Heroes of the Crisis’ in a time when workforce, work-styles and workspaces were disrupted. As companies looked to training, adjusting and enabling workforce, organizations’ L&D Departments have worked at light-speed to adopt and adapt to digitization & automation and forayed into the market for digital tools headfirst.

Braving through the pandemic as state governments impose temporary lockdowns and stringent curfews once again, industries are forced once more to look at how best they can be prepared for the next wave and continue operations in hybrid agility. BW People spoke to industry leaders to understand how L&D departments can leverage the knowledge of the past and prepare better for the second wave?

Taking stock of the first wave

The knee-jerk reaction of many organizations, considering the unprecedented nature of the pandemic was making the best use of available time. Companies digitized their learning modules, took to organizing online webinars and learning sessions from experts that established a sense of standardization across geographical locations and inadvertently put all organizations on a level playing field in terms of digitization.

Talking of the main focus last time around, Shabeen Narang the head of the L&D department at TVS Credit explained, 

“Our main focus was on building a future workforce with tomorrow’s skills and reskilling current teams on communication tools, businesses capabilities. The first wave also meant spare time for seniors to learn. It also created opportunities for the workforce to learn through digital modes as travel was banned. It meant L&D needed to drive the adoption of new ways of work”

Another factor that cut across all industries was the need for emotional empathy and finding inspiration in troubled times that affected employees’ personal lives, personality and professional capabilities. The need to bring forth success stories that can be emulated became a challenge.

“As the world became more digital one big challenge was to identify how to “find” and harvest success stories at all levels digitally and convert them into meaningful learning material. Another challenge was to find flexible digital interactive simple methods to help people at all levels to learn new skills and practice them” Shabeen points out. 

Need for Anti-Fragility

Clix Capital’s seasoned CHRO Aditya Kohli surmises that the focus during the first wave was Skilling, Cross Skilling, Building leadership resilience and people management capability. He believes that now, it will be an opportunity to strengthen the cultural core of the organization.

“During the first wave, I believe many L&D departments were very heavily focused on the quantum of training, that is getting more people (training hours) through the process rather than looking at the strategic impact. This time around it would be a good opportunity to build a strong foundation that focuses on Culture, Experience and Engagement” he goes on to add, “From an L&D perspective, it may be time to do a few but high impact interventions that help build Strategic agility, Business Resilience, Digital Capability, Automation and most importantly leadership skills to make the business and leaders anti-fragile.”  

HR Consultant, Founder & Managing partner of Marching Sheep, Sonica Aron added that one must also factor in that last year was also a crucial year for building employee experience and helping employees beat the detrimental effects of work from home, burnouts, productivity dips, cultural issues, feelings of isolation and disengagement as people could no longer see their colleagues, superiors and physical workspaces.

Sonica feels, “This time, we need to arm our leaders and managers to balance business results and employee experience, build psychological safety in teams and drive emotional resilience to ensure sustained productivity. These are experiential interventions and need to be treated as such”

Top L&D trends for the second wave

While Digitization and Automation were widely adopted during the first year of the pandemic, we asked leaders to conclude by predicting what they think will dominate the year to come.

CHRO Aditya Kohli believes that while new technology has gained traction, a lot more can be improved. He predicts that Hyper-personalization (as opposed to the mass skilling programs) where learning is tailored for individual needs will become popular. He added that learning in the workflow where skilling programs will integrate current and new capabilities on-the-job and learning through simulation will be the new drivers of growth in the L&D realm. 

Explaining simulation he says, “Building skills require practice and more often L&D programs don’t have the ability to provide that rigour. Today, with the Simulation technology available a learner can spar with a virtual Avatar to especially develop behavioural and leadership skills”