Author: Joanne Frearson
To succeed in the workplace, you not only need to have the right skills and training, but also be able to build connections with your colleagues and work productively as a team.
Before lockdown employers would send their employees on a one-or-two day course, to keep them up-to-date with the latest techniques, where they learn face-to-face with their fellow peers.
The virtual training room
But as Covid-19 hit training has moved to a virtual environment, although some rules are starting to be relaxed, it is unlikely classroom training will return to normal anytime soon. Without the familiarities of being able to interact person-to-person, how is it changing things in the training room?
“A lot can be lost without having face-to-face connections in a virtual training environment,” says Justin Thomas, Financial Trainer Instructor at AMT Training, who provides financial training to investment banks, sovereign wealth funds and private equity firms.
“In a virtual environment it is harder to create that immediate presence a trainer can make in a face-to-face situation. Things move along a lot slower and a fast past training room environment does not work over the Internet.”
He explains people’s reception to information is a lot different in front of a computer screen. Courses have been redesigned to reflect this Thomas does not spend more than 30 minutes talking to the group and takes time making sure there is social interaction between everyone.
“It's very easy for them to say hello over coffee,” Thomas says. “It's very easy for them to chit chat and make conversations. In a virtual environment if people are coming together for the first time, you find as a trainer, you have to enable that conversation. You have to think about ways of how you can break the ice effectively.”
How to build rapport virtually
One way to help build rapport is making sure students initially have their cameras switched on. Thomas makes sure he joins the session early, so he can welcome any early birds to the course. He also has icebreakers planned once all participants join online, so people can start forming connections with each other.
“One of my favourites is where you have to describe something that you're holding, whether it is a pen or a note pad,” he says. “Someone had a Rubik cube, for example, but they had to describe it and not show it on the screen and everyone else in the group had to sort of guess what the item was.”
The challenge of not always being able to see faces
But there can be lots of challenges operating from a virtual environment from Internet connection to managing the expectations of participants. There is also the challenge of planning lessons, particularly if he has to run very long training sessions.
“Everything has to be choreographed in a bit more of a structured way than you would have in a face-to-face classroom,” Thomas says.
But the biggest challenge is the inability to see faces. He says: “In a classroom environment, you can take the temperature of the room as per se by looking at people's faces and seeing their expressions. In a virtual environment, you don't always have that. That's one of the other challenges as well.”
Thomas encourages participants to share their faces over camera at various points throughout the day to be able to get that temperature check.
“Throughout the course of the day, you might not want to keep your camera on, but certainly whenever we have a break and we come back on, we jump on for two or three minutes, everyone has their camera on,” he says.
“We do the same after lunch and we do the same at the end of the day. So there are certain points in the day if it's a long day program where you can try to gauge their expressions, but it's never the same as being in a classroom.”
Motivating people in a virtual environment
Thomas’s tips to motivate people in a virtual environment is to be more direct as a trainer and specific with learning outcomes so they get an understanding of what should be covered and what skill’s they need.
Tasks also should be short and frequent and being able to provide feedback which encourages them. He also thinks it is a good idea for students to do presentations as well about what they have learnt.
He says: “Anything that gets the participant being able to demonstrate their learning is also quite useful to encourage motivation and also relevant knowledge checks. You know, simple things like online quizzes.
“In a face-to-face environment, we would normally do this at the end of a program. What we're finding now is that on a daily basis brings a bit of a leader board type environment, which students find it interesting because it's quite competitive.”
He thinks once lockdown is over training will revert back to face-to-face as people miss the emotional connection you only get by seeing people in person. But, he does not expect virtual training rooms to go away completely rather they will become part of the classroom experience.
For the immediate future the virtual classroom will be a new tool to help employers become more productive and train their teams.
Justin Thomas, CFA, is a Financial Training Instructor: Investment Banking at AMT Training.