The U.S. unemployment rate is skyrocketing. The stock market is uncertain at best. The restaurant industry has lost over 3 million jobs and $25 billion in sales as of March 1. The gig economy is at a standstill. Numerous employees have had to quickly figure out how to work from home, many while balancing child care and/or other caretaking responsibilities.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt daily life across the globe, businesses across industries are struggling to keep up. Now more than ever, they must look to learning and development (L&D) for the tools they need to navigate unprecedented change. The Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM ™) program recently hosted a virtual roundtable for alumni on facilitating a business response to the coronavirus. Learning leaders gathered to discuss their challenges regarding leveraging learning for business results during a period of unprecedented change. After all, “learning doesn’t happen without change, and change doesn’t happen without learning,” Anita Mihelic, CPTM, learning and development manager at ConstructConnect, Inc., said during the roundtable.

Change Management: It’s a Learning Process

In today’s dynamic business environment, effective change management gives organizations a competitive edge. In a global pandemic, it’s even more vital. In light of COVID-19, Danielle Hart, director of marketing at SweetRush, says, “Everyone is pivoting … adapting and trying to adjust to what could be our ‘new normal’ for some time.’”

Nicole Alvino, chief strategy officer at SocialChorus, echoes this sentiment, sharing, “As organizations are being forced to go remote and adapt to new ways of working, the need for flexibility has never been more acute. Organizations cannot rely on the status quo but must, rather, constantly assess and evolve their strategies to match the times.”

To help organizations navigate the pandemic, Social Chorus launched a workforce communications platform, or “Initiative dashboard,” offering insight on the “effectiveness of employee communications throughout the crisis.” The dashboard measures where, how and with whom coronavirus-related messages are most effective. Organizations that prioritize alignment and effective communication among team members will be better positioned to navigate the pandemic. Alvino explains, “In a time of crisis, effective, transparent employee communications is more critical than ever to keep all individuals informed and safe.”

L&D can also help organizations remain agile during the pandemic. For example, SweetRush’s “Thrive” team, which focuses on cultural transformation and change management, launched a “consultation and coaching program” focused on team alignment, empathy, focus and prioritization to help organizations thrive during these uncertain times, Hart says. A virtual team-building workshop and “change management 101” workshop are also in the works.

“Dramatic change, such as shifting from an in-office environment to a virtual one, can cause isolation and a lack of collaboration at a time when companies need to be more innovative than ever,” Hart says. L&D has the opportunity to stay “close to the lines of business” and deliver learning solutions to increase “empathy and connectedness” through experiential workshops and coaching. Alvino says that “L&D is a critical ingredient for organizational agility during crises like COVID-19, allowing leaders to strengthen and equip their workforce to tackle the challenges and changes that may come.”

To improve organizational agility, learning leaders themselves must also remain “flexible and “very quick to adapt to change” during the pandemic, says Lee Berkman, an enterprise account executive and virtual training expert at CloudShare. For example, training organizations specializing in in-person delivery should transition to virtual delivery to ensure access to training during COVID-19. While this transition may seem daunting for some learning leaders, Berkman encourages them to “get out of their comfort zones.” As the pandemic continues to impact business operations worldwide, “this is not the time to be nervous [transitioning to virtual delivery],” he explains. If an organization doesn’t have the bandwidth or expertise to make this switch, partnering with an external training provider with extensive virtual delivery experience can help.

Change management is a learning process. Whether it’s switching from in-person to virtual training delivery or launching a new change management workshop, L&D is uniquely positioned to help organizations navigate COVID-19’s impact on the business.

Your People Are Your Greatest Asset

There has never been a more critical time for organizations to invest in their people. The more tools employees have in their proverbial toolbox, the more they can contribute to key business goals. With most non-essential employees working from home in light of the pandemic, many are looking for remote learning opportunities. Also during the CPTM roundtable, Eric North, CPTM, district training officer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said he’s seen “a significant influx” of learners seeking out online training that was already available but that they “just weren’t looking for.”

During these uncertain economic times, employees are looking to advance their professional development and learn new skills — and businesses should help them do so. Alvino says, “By committing resources to continuous learning and development, organizations will be far better positioned to not only maintain continuity [during the coronavirus pandemic] but react and adapt to a constantly evolving landscape.”

Many employees across industries are fearing budget cuts and layoffs in light of the pandemic’s economic toll. However, L&D has the opportunity to prove its value to the business. After all, says Arturo Schwartzberg, co-founder and chairman at SweetRush, this is a moment of disruption, and change management and culture development is paramount. “Who will lead this charge if your L&D team is crippled? Who will teach your people how to lead remote teams or be a remote worker? Who will show managers how to be leaders, especially now, when leadership is so needed?” The answer is L&D.