As an admitted training geek, there are certain, tactile things I love about being an instructor: munching on a crunchy Tesco salad while I scribble out my big flip charts the night before giving a course; greeting everyone on site and hearing their stories and seeing how they all interact throughout the day; even the sight of post-it notes everywhere, and little dishes of brain-powering sweets and piles of pens. And, of course, the joy of helping people learn.

I love the whole experience of training. However, this past year has forced each of us to learn new ways and shift from the real to the virtual. It hasn’t been easy on anyone. New technologies, new platforms and juggling family, home-schooling, and work have been nothing if not heroic.  But, necessity has been the mother of re-invention, and we’ve all gotten on with it. Perhaps surprisingly, if listening to my students is any indication, we’ve actually done pretty well, all considering.

But now, thanks in part to advancing vaccination programs, our personal and business lives are starting to see a glimmer of normality, including beginning to return to “old school,” in-person training. To get back into the room.

While I appreciate the transition, I’d recommend caution. Aside from the COVID-related health risks which we’ve all become familiar, we also need people need time to readjust and ready their psyche for going back to ‘business as usual’ – or should we say, ‘business as pre-pandemic.’

We can’t underestimate the emotional impact of last year. This is particularly important in a learning program; one of the first things you learn as an instructor is that students need to be ready and willing to learn. That’s hard enough to achieve as busy professionals, let alone if you’re also coping with the dread of re-entry.

Here’s an exercise (yes, we trainers love exercises): close your eyes and imagine yourself in a hotel meeting room or conference centre surrounded by fellow trainees you don’t know very well – perhaps for a few days at a time. Are you ready? If your answer was “no,” you’re not alone. There are several articles surfacing now on this and other related topics, including the emerging trend of hybrid office schedules and phased-in resumption of indoor, shared working, including training.

Others are talking about a permanent shift to newly evolving hybrid models.

As Lynda Gratton writes in Harvard Business Review, companies need to tailor the balance of location and hours of working to people’s roles, from fully in-office 9-5 to working “anytime, anywhere.”

She says the key elements to consider are people’s jobs and tasks; employee preferences; projects and workflows; and inclusion and fairness.

“If leaders and managers want to make this transition successfully… they’ll need to do something they’re not accustomed to doing: design hybrid work arrangements with individual human concerns in mind, not just institutional ones.”

Meanwhile, training expert Erica Farmer offers a range of scenarios companies can choose from to create their own new, hybrid training model. “We’re starting to see more innovation, creativity and fun than ever before, and what comes with this is a new mindset and skill set,” she writes. “Now, more than ever before, we need to design our learning with the learner at the centre, as we can easily fall into the trap of isolating subgroups or individuals based on our own preferences, skill, or mindset.,”.

Seeing a renewed focus on the employee/learner is music to my ears as a trainer. In my line of work, it’s always about the learner. I’ve found the shifting landscape from in-person to virtual to who-knows-what in the future is a challenge but an enjoyable one. And I’m excited to see where and how our field can evolve. I’ve also been fortunate to work with In Professional Development, who always seem to be working to keep the learning experience positive and supportive.

Bottom line for me: I might have missed the hands-on nature of in-person training, and I can’t wait to get back into classrooms. But above all, I want people to enjoy the learning process. I know that they’ll retain more, and their careers will benefit most if they’re in the right headspace – rather than just the right physical place.

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