Companies are operating with a whole new workforce model, whether it’s a remote environment, a socially distant in-person setup or both. The companies that have found themselves largely remote have no way to collaborate with “watercooler discussions,” informal meetings, casual hallway talk or formal face-to-face meetings, all of which are critical to building and maintaining a company culture. With these changes, training and corporate communication have become a mission-critical business process.

Yes, you heard that correctly. Corporate training and communication are now a key driver in building culture and employee purpose. At a time when the kombucha on tap at the office isn’t available to enhance employees’ perception of their culture, the way employees feel about their work, their talents and their abilities has taken its place. The skills employees develop in their new remote workplace are playing a larger role in fulfilling their purpose. To facilitate this shift, new methods of training and communication are increasingly becoming an expectation, not just a benefit.

Keep the Feedback Loop Looping

Managers today have a lot to think about: Is my team productive while working from home? Are these virtual meetings worth my employees’ time? How cohesive is my team across this distance? Can we continue to mentor, upskill and build the smartest teams?

Great teams can help you pivot successfully, but transparent, direct communication to employees has become the new X-factor to ensuring that success. The irony is that employees now have free-flowing access to their leadership: no more top-down ambiguous goals and strategy or multilayered management oversight. From the bottom to the top, leaders are now Zoomin’ and groovin’ with their entire employee base. They are listening, learning and acting. Employees are heard, and work is starting to move rapidly with great ideas.

This openness of communication creates a new, positive emotional pulse that is starting to show improvements in productivity. Maybe it’s not where companies were before the pandemic, but many are close, and some are growing at unnatural rates (hand sanitizer and home fitness companies not included).

Create a New Culture of Learning

To drive best practices from managers to their staff, and vice versa, companies have to rethink internal communication and learning tools. The knowledge once absorbed through focused, in-person training sessions and all-hands meetings, and then reinforced through conversations among employees, now requires a new method of retention.

For example, managers need to take the pulse of their staff. One way to do so is to build a survey that directly and accurately measures what employees know and how they are feeling. They should be contextual to company goals, personal in tone and automated on a regular cadence. Plus, there should be an analytics discipline to manage and monitor results in real time.

What about knowledge transfer when most communication is remote?

“A Zoom meeting is great, but are my employees actually ‘getting it?’” an executive recently asked me. Whether they’re having a virtual meeting or just sending an email, leaders need to know that their team members absorb the information and understand what they need to know. Simply put, training is great, and content is great — but if people don’t remember it, it has zero value. People forget quickly, but if companies start to focus on this elephant in the room to ensure employees understand the information, productivity and job satisfaction can soar.

It’s true for any communication channel: Ensuring that employees understand what leaders need them to understand should be an essential business process.

Use Training to Connect and Engage

To use training to the fullest, it’s important to make the most critical training mandatory. Too often, businesses go through the motions of training with the mindset that it’s a “nice to have.” Moving beyond this approach takes achieving buy-in from the top down and having leaders across the company understand the “why” behind training and, more importantly, how to communicate it to their teams.

During this pandemic, challenge your training teams to curate training with empathy for people having to sit in front of a computer all day. Zoom fatigue is real, so by delivering bite-sized chunks of content and reinforcing it over time, you’ll see more engagement and improved knowledge retention.

Once the training is complete, survey your employees and frontline managers, and offer digital (watercooler discussions) on those critical topics. You’ll gain the human element of interaction and hear your employees’ voices. You can use discussion boards to encourage and share best practices on topics like working from home, dealing with homeschooling or coping with new anxieties.

Take Culture Out of a Regular Cadence

Actively work to create specific areas for your employees to interact together outside of the typical day-to-day interaction. Besides the recurring virtual happy hour, host a virtual show-and-tell for your team, asking each of them to tell a story about an object that means something to them. Learn a new skill together, or drive some friendly competition with a virtual trivia night. The key is to make it human, fun and organic. People are hungry to learn — about each other, about new skills and about new hobbies.

Organizing these virtual get-togethers will build camaraderie and trust and remind employees that we’re all in it together. Plus, it can feed their desire to grow in a year when it feels like time is standing still.

What the Future Holds

It may feel challenging to devote time and resources toward refining a company culture. Still, increased employment engagement (via new digital training and communication methods), along with the pulse you’ll have on employee feelings (via surveys and feedback loops) will blossom into an investment that is both personally enjoyable and commercially profitable.

Successful businesses know that their most important task is to hire great people and to train and communicate with them well. Now is an opportune time to reevaluate and retool corporate communication, invest in tools and techniques to measure this new communication paradigm, and prioritize a new culture of learning.