What do we do if our computers go down? What if we lose electricity for a week after a hurricane? How do we handle a loss of information?

These are the questions that most organizations ask when they think about a crisis. But in truth, most people in companies aren’t actively thinking about crisis management.

This is because — under the predominant definition of crisis management for the past twenty years — it happens in the background. We don’t have to think about what would happen if we lost access to information because we’re already prepared for it.

We have Y2K to thank for this: Companies all over the globe scrambled to find a way to keep business going should all the world’s computers suddenly shut down. Even though a mass global shutdown of our world’s technology didn’t end up happening, companies are now prepared for it. Today, this sort of problem is under the scope of crisis management.

But crisis management is (well, should be) a broader term: Preparedness for something that happens outside the norms of business.

This definition became reality all too quickly when the pandemic hit in 2020.

Organizations were entirely unprepared. It was a complete shift in the way business is done. An event on a global scale uprooting us from the normal that we’ve known. Like Y2K, the pandemic was a crisis totally different than any before it, changing the very definition of what it means to be prepared for anything.

Naturally, it took a while for organizations and their people to fully adjust. But now that we’ve been working in the pandemic for well over a year, we’ve become somewhat acclimated to this new environment. At the very least, we’re all much more used to change. And as things continue to change, just like with Y2K, we’ll be much better prepared in the future.

Where We’re At

In learning and development (L&D), we’re in the business of helping companies make these kinds of shifts. But there were a lot of changes that we had to adapt to as well. Here are some of them and what we’ve learned.

1. Virtual Work

Of course, the biggest change for most organizations—including L&D teams—was going virtual.

Companies everywhere uprooted their organizations and enacted a remote work format. For some, this proved a positive shift. For others, it was extremely difficult — whether for the organization as a whole from a technological standpoint or for individuals learning how to balance work and home life.

Regardless of our individual opinions on virtual work, we’re all more familiar with it and, should it become a necessity in the future, better equipped to move to it again.

2. Corporate Culture Switch

To that end, the stigma around work from home (WFH) changed and the notion that work-from-home resources somehow had it “easier” went away. WFH resources can be and are just as productive as staff who work in an office.

Now that we all got to experience the WFH life, we know this is not the case. This caused a reappraisal of WFH, legitimizing the format. It’s not a benefit to be given out but rather the new norm.

3. Focused Work

It turns out, a lot of people became even more focused on work when remote. Employees thought more about doing work — not just dressing and commuting for work. They had more time in the day to work, create and learn.

4. Faster Work

As a result, people worked faster and were more productive overall. The distractions of the office were removed, allowing workers to become more focused. For better or for worse, organizations could set (and meet) more aggressive deadlines.

5. Leaner Work

In the same vein, companies became leaner not only in their financial burdens like office space and physical property, but also in their information and processes. It takes less to get employees the information they need to get work done.

6. Different Content Types

We’re seeing more and more content geared towards remote onboarding.

Hiring trends show the difficulty of recruiting and onboarding during today’s talent shortage, which means companies need to have the right learning solution on hand. L&D professionals are meeting this need, whether it’s through VILT or eLearning.

7. Different Ways to Get New Ideas

Conferences used to be an important source of new ideas and ways of presenting information for L&D teams. With in-person conferences no longer happening at the scale they used to, new ideas in course design and content are more difficult to come by.

While instructional designers were always looking for ways to introduce innovation in courses, it’s now up to the individual to seek out ideas. Today, they are looking for innovation in other places like industry publications and newsletters, but conferences are still sorely missed.

Conclusion

L&D teams have had to adjust to this crisis just like every other professional. But we can use this experience to redefine how we incorporate crisis management into L&D programs.

The takeaway? Something is always going to happen. The important thing is not what happens, it’s what you do with it. Crisis management is all about keeping your cool and looking for solutions. When you’re in a position of leadership in any industry, you have to keep moving forward. L&D teams are now better equipped to help companies do just that.

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