I have a cold, or do I? Thoughts on COVID-19 and Learning


I just returned from a trip to Mexico. My first day home, on Monday, I started to not feel well. By the next day I was sniffling and downright sick. Not a good feeling ever, but in the midst of the COVID-19 virus and an overseas flight, it was a frightening feeling. I read everything on the symptoms and reached out to my doctor, while quarantining myself at home.

Turns out I have a cold. Phew. But it certainly raised awareness for me and my family. Where had I been? Who had I seen? What if…

I have been following posts on what this is doing to business and how companies need to adjust. I worked in two offices while in the Bay Area and saw how rapidly any virus spreads in that environment. I also saw the networking benefit. Fortunately, I am now back working at home. Having a virtual team requires a cultural adjustment that not everyone trusts. Tech really helps: instant messages, video conferencing, regular schedules. Like most things today, tech is the tool that enables a good culture to work.

The operative word is ADJUST

Many people worried about how COVID-19 is affecting business. Some are experimenting with remote work as a result. I have one client who has already adjusted a face to face workshop to be a series of virtual workshops. How will we all adjust?

Once again, in a world that is constantly changing, we all need to adjust. Two pieces of reflection from my perspective: 1) it leads to increasing the need for remote work and 2) it leads to the need for an adaptive mindset. Let me address remote work in this post.

Remote work today

As someone who has worked at home for 15 of the last 20 years, I have lived through the adjustments needed to work effectively and productively at home. I found a plethora of articles on how to manage people working remotely and how to work well remotely. Basically, here are three key concepts to help make the adjustment.

First of all, we all know much of our work today is global. That changes the paradigm whether you are at home or in the office. To be global, we need to be patient, be clear and assume the good. Drastic differences in time zones mean we need to plan ahead and allow time to communicate. Cultural sensitivity helps us to start conversations with pleasantries and to remember to reiterate main points. Time zone gaps mean that our train of thought is constantly interrupted; so, we need to help people remember topics and be clear. As Americans, we often “cut to the chase” and leave out the details.

Being hyper organized really helps too. For example, I recently received an email from someone with a calendar invite. While the name was familiar, I could not place it. Searching email just found the appointment. I then searched LinkedIn messages and found our original contact. I added notes to the upcoming meeting to help me just before the meeting.

Secondly, use technology to keep it personal. In communication, research shows us that we learn the most from body language and vocal intonations. Email is a poor substitute for that. Whenever possible, use video techniques to build up the team. Allow everyone access to tech tools that enable sharing and visual connections.

Nothing replaces the personal touch. Recently, I worked for someone in EMEA, while I am in the Pacific Time Zone. Our one-on-one meetings were always just audio calls, even when using the video conferencing system and often cancelled. While I felt trusted and not micromanaged, I did not feel connected or aware of what was happening. Google, in a Fast Company article, suggests setting up short calls with teams that allow conversations and discussions. Have some fun and some personal time with the team.

Lastly, keep up with time zones as best you can, without going crazy. As a global remote worker, I can testify to the tendency to work long hours and try to keep up with all time zones. As a manager, be aware of what your team is doing time wise. I have seen many examples of emails sent at 10PM and 6AM. Is that a practice or someone showing how “hard” they are working? Set an example and work with them on establishing the norm vs. the exception. Establishing a norm for the team and clarifying expectations, etiquette and standards will help everyone.

Working from home

Now is a great opportunity for us all to show how productive we are virtually. For those who are new to the concept, it does take some practice. There are mighty temptations out there! I find my routine and natural curiosity help. I also constantly remind myself to remain organized. I love belonging to a remote team who keep in touch. My tools of choice today are Zoom, Google Apps, and good old Post-it whiteboards. And the team, of course, includes my two dogs.

The changes in learning

I have heard lots of curiosity about moving to virtual. Have to admit that evokes a sigh from me. Virtual is good, don't get me wrong, but it is but one piece of all that we CAN do. Let's skip straight to digital! I know, it is hard, but so is virtual. Think about what you can do with a real digital resource set. Be more relevant, be responsive to today's needs. And, IMHO, its easier to create a curated pathway than a full virtual class. So, here is my offer:

Contact me - I will help you do that!

I have completed many virtual workshops on how to implement a new learning platform or how to recruit champions to learning or the journey to Digital Learning. Need to talk about how this all affects your team? Let’s get on Zoom!

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