Monday 16th March 2020 will live long in our memories. It was near the beginning of a full national lockdown in the UK, with all Sony Music employees being asked to work from home. It also just happened to be my first official day in my new role. So that Monday morning, I quickly mothballed my ‘90-day plan’ of coffees and catch-ups, and instead we all turned our focus to just one thing: ensuring the wellbeing of our people and what we could do to help support them through this unexpected change.
Of course, we gave out practical tips and tricks about setting up a workspace at home, getting the best out of remote working by establishing a routine, the importance of setting clear boundaries, and more. But most of all, we just wanted to make sure all our people were doing okay on a very human level and that they knew we were there for them.
That has continued to be our main message throughout the subsequent months, with our chairman and CEO in New York setting the tone early on by making sure everyone knew that video calls interrupted by a two-year-old looking for their beloved lost toy or the family cat strolling nonchalantly over the laptop keyboard, was all perfectly normal.
At the same time, as day-to-day work moved into the virtual space, we wanted to ensure employees could still get the learning and training support needed to develop and grow in their careers despite lockdown.
Our L&D initiatives
For our part in the learning space, we quickly turned our attention to working with some of our key partners to design and run a series of virtual workshops we developed specifically for them. We worked to create a feeling of ‘togetherness’ across our global businesses by opening up all of the workshops to every one of our markets around the world.
The result was a series of customized, highly-interactive workshops we held every two weeks, complemented by targeted LinkedIn Learning sessions we offered for all of our global employees. The combination of workshops were designed specifically for our people to take them through an interactive learning journey over the course of several months, to help them not only learn new skills but also how to adopt the right mindset to generate positive feelings and behaviors.
This included how to cope with sudden and unexpected change during lockdown, how to look for opportunities in the face of uncertainty and how to build their own confidence and creativity to help shape the future rather than be defined by it.
The impact we saw among the workforce
The workshops have helped bring our teams together across borders, evident by the smiling faces from 23 different countries all saying ‘hello’ in their native language. There were global connections being made left, right and center. Suddenly time zones didn’t matter, but feeling a sense of community and being part of something bigger did.
Simple feedback scoring for all workshops were a minimum 8.5 out of 10. But the biggest testament to their impact was that we’ve been asked (and said ‘yes’) to continue running virtual L&D workshops post-COVID for all countries, even as some employees have begun to return to offices in certain territories that are opening up again. We’re offering these as part of a blended L&D mix as feedback showed that the learning journey and workshop themes were just what people wanted. At the same time, however, the power of people coming together to share stories and build closer bonds, was also just what people needed.
L&D – our key takeaways
We have discovered a great deal during this time as a business about the virtue (and challenges) of ‘virtual’ today and in the future of L&D for our employees.
Firstly, people are incredibly adaptive. However, to build a sense of trust and empowerment, you need the right support structure and messaging in place, combined with a single-minded focus on employee well-being.
With the right support and with the right mindset, disruption can be turned into a source of positive energy, leading to new ideas and new ways of action in the future of L&D.
Second of all, most people want to learn, but many often feel they don’t have time. During this time of staying indoors, the time saved has allowed employees to spend more time investing in themselves and satisfy an appetite for learning.
Third, you don’t always need a grand and detailed master-plan, but simply a willingness to learn what is most important to people and the direction of travel to get started. Engaging people early on creates an iterative journey, by listening, responding and adapting to people’s needs as they change over time. Each person’s situation is unique and personal, so in a world fraught with uncertainty, a one-size-fits-all approach to talent is not an option.
Lastly, don’t overthink or feel that it’s HR that needs to have all the answers: creating opportunities for people to connect and spending time together to share experiences and stories is empowering in itself and should never be under-estimated. It’s these components that will help businesses devise successful strategies in the future of L&D.
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