Editor’s note: As we ended a difficult and unique year and entered a new one, the Training Industry editorial team asked learning leaders to write in with their reflections on 2020 and predictions for 2021. This series, “What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?: Taking Stock of 2020 and Planning for 2021,” is the result. Plus, don’t miss our infographic, “5 Tips for Turning 2020 Disarray Into 2021 Direction: Insights From Learning Leaders,” which shares insights from the series.

The chaos from COVID-19 has stirred up a lot of change, but much has remained the same. What can we bring with us when the dust settles to increase efficiency and collective impact?

For example, the need for collaboration and partnerships has always existed, but what have we experienced over the past nine months that can help us improve those partnerships? Web conferencing, while often forced in the past few months, has brought the opportunity to connect with people whom we wouldn’t have been able to previously due to cost or time constraints. Perhaps we can look forward to harnessing this opportunity even when the world reopens and face-to-face meetings are once again a possibility.

Recently, a group of talent developers was asked:

    • What problems need to be solved by talent development experts?
    • What are ways for talent developers to solve problems in the new environment?
    • What do talent developers most need in order to succeed in solving problems in the new environment?

Overwhelmingly, these talent developers talked about the need for empathy, connection through collaboration and partnerships, and access to resources. These needs are not new, but how we address them can be different if we combine the best of pre-, during- and post-COVID practices and opportunities.

What’s Changed

The changes brought by 2020 encouraged the shift to remote work, an increased sharing of resources and the realization that being connected creates the opportunity to be virtually anywhere at any time. Remote work has increased the need for technology skills, and many organizations took advantage of virtual training opportunities as they developed their talent. LinkedIn Learning’s 2020 “Workplace Learning Report” indicates that globally, 57% of learning and development professionals anticipate spending more on online learning. Over the past several years, the growth of online training has created space for professionals to connect with their colleagues in a way that promotes engagement across time zones. Virtual opportunities for talent development were on the rise this year — and they continue to grow.

What Hasn’t Changed

A few things that haven’t changed are the need for connection, the need for access to resources that are scarce but necessary, and the need for collaboration with others to solve complex problems. We are stronger together — and that hasn’t changed.

What Should We Bring With Us?

Looking beyond 2020 enables us to curate a vision for more compassion, connection and access to resources. Considering the opportunity to enter 2021 with a new mindset will help fill the days and months ahead with the skills developed by facing and overcoming adversity.

Compassion and Empathy

Having compassion and empathy for others allows us to demonstrate emotional intelligence not only in our personal lives but also in the workplace. Now is a great time to strengthen our listening skills; create flexible policies; and act with more empathy toward leaders, peers and others we work with — creating more empathy at all levels.

Connection

We should leverage our vast connections through technology to engage minds that we can now invite to the virtual table at nearly no cost. 2020 brought the opportunity to increase diversity of thought and ensure more voices are heard. The acceptance and adoption of widespread connection through technology has strengthened our global workplace.

Beyond increased connection in the workplace, 2020 challenged our connections with family and friends, as well. Many faced difficulties in traveling and visiting loved ones. Connecting with others through learning communities, regular touchpoints, and the creation of an environment of safety and trust provided an opportunity to engage with colleagues from around the world.

Furthermore, while there has always been discussion about work/life balance, when our work space and our living space merged, many needed to address work/life balance again to figure out when the work day and family time began and ended. Perhaps we will bring new tools for work/life balance into the future for a more balanced life.

Access

COVID-19 brought access to abundant resources in the workplace, and many organizations supported their talent with resources that included free virtual training. Talent developers saw the urgent need to guide remote workers through coaching and mentoring, which helped facilitate a quick transition to remote work. The need to gain buy-in from leaders, find funding opportunities, provide structured learning paths and find ways to provide access to resources remain ways to achieve success as we enter a new year.

Lack of access was highlighted in other ways in 2020. The shift to remote work amplified the need for wireless capabilities and connection in rural areas of the country. The topic of many conversations about access centered around creating ways to reduce bandwidth as remote work became a more long-term reality.

As the dust settles and we move forward from the chaos, leaders can identify more inclusive and resilient ways for employees to work remotely while continuing to accomplish their goals. From the disruption, we will hopefully bring new tools and adaptations into the future for a more efficient, connected and balanced workplace.

In 2021, embrace “new,” be open to innovation, take risks, design to the outermost edges and courageously design for all!

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