As many organizations begin to find themselves on the other side of a crisis, the path forward isn’t always obvious. Creating a learning plan for a return to the workplace is a complex problem with many variables. Beyond employee safety and security, employee engagement needs greater consideration. Learning leaders are once again challenged to develop a way forward that includes each member of the organization.

A New Buzzword: Reboarding

The term “reboarding” has surfaced as a label for a retraining period as organizations begin the return to the workplace. The parallels to onboarding are obvious, as both expose employees to a wealth of information and resources on how to be successful at the organization. This period isn’t as much of restart as it is a reset.

The key difference with reboarding is establishing the “next normal” and focusing on changes to the organization. As with any training program, it’s important to make efficient use of the learners’ time, and simply rehashing old content has a high tune-out factor.

When essential industries had no choice but to remain on the job, many quickly deployed learning content to communicate the best practices of working in close proximity. Other workers are slowly making a return and finding a changed workplace. Before they do, learning and development (L&D) leaders want to have a word with them about what they can expect.

Setting the Tone

Nearly any crisis can act as a catalyst for organizational change. The fallout from the coronavirus caused many businesses to fold and an even greater number to pivot. The people returning to these changed organizations must be informed on how they can remain relevant and successful in their role.

The reboarding process should set the tone for the employee experience in the near future. For instance, organizations must communicate any change to their vision or goals straight away. Employees must be able to understand any sweeping policy changes their employer has made, especially if it means breaking old habits or routines.

Employee Engagement

The coronavirus impacted the composition of the workforce in an unprecedented way. A Gallup poll showed a rise in the number of workers with access to remote or flexible work options, from 39% of workers to 57% as of April 2. This sudden change of venue can have wide-reaching effects on performance and engagement. While some remote workers have embraced the change, learning leaders should be acutely aware of the employees who have struggled with this environment. An imbalance of stress can lead to a loss of engagement in learning.

Reboarding is an opportunity for L&D leaders to combat uncertainty in areas that other organizational leaders may not cover in their communications. Employees may have uncertainties about the safety of the workplace, the overall future of the organization, or their own sense of belonging and value to the team. Learning leaders can use this time to demonstrate the organization’s investment in the workforce by focusing on continuous learning and development opportunities.

Staying Remote

A disparate workforce will likely erode the dominance that in-person, instructor-led training (ILT) once had on L&D. In its place will be a host of alternatives, most notably eLearning. The reality is that a considerable amount of the workforce may continue indefinitely as remote employees. Many technology firms, including several social media giants, have announced broad policy changes to offer remote work options permanently.

A recent economic study estimated that 37% of U.S. jobs could be performed completely remotely. While the flexibility to work from home has enabled many workers to remain with their organization, it complicates L&D programs. Creating a one-size-fits-all learning initiative is a thing of the past, especially when it comes to planning for a socially distant workforce.

Take a Training Inventory

The “next normal” for many organizations will involve a portion of the workforce that may never step foot in a classroom. Accommodating for this limitation will require the rapid adoption of new communication tools. Learning leaders should use the reboarding phase to take an inventory of their learning programs. Any gaps in accessibility could require the transformation of relevant learning content into more accessible formats, such as virtual instructor-led training (VILT) events, eLearning content and even one-on-one videoconferencing calls.

Learning content is also subject to this training inventory, as the shelf life of learning content has shrunk due to COVID-19 and broad changes to society. Though many of the precautions are temporary, some aspects of society have changed forever. Learning content must be aligned with these changes to avoid confusion.

Don’t Lose Momentum

A shortlist of reboarding tasks will need to include baseline efforts like ensuring any lapsed certifications or recurring trainings are up to date. However, a crisis should not disrupt learning objectives that involve multiple steps, such as leadership development, advanced skills development and even mentorship programs. The rapid expansion of communication tools like videoconferencing software can help to continue mentorship relationships despite social distancing mandates. Some advanced learning management systems (LMSs) even have these features embedded in the software.

While the “next normal” may create imbalances in workloads, support networks or day-to-day stresses, the importance of continuing learning efforts remains high. Strong leadership may be necessary to reinforce learning as a priority in day-to-day work.

Getting Back to It

While it may be difficult to determine best practices after a crisis, the consequences of a lack of communication and leadership are confusion and chaos. Learning leaders have a unique duty and privilege to help shape the return to the workplace with better learning options. Most important is an understanding of the changed working conditions that emerge after a crisis. Many employees may remain remote for the foreseeable future; however, their need for learning and development will not diminish. Accommodation will be key in providing guidance to teams, in whatever shape they may take going forward.