Returning to the office and classroom

We’ve been closely following the discussions around workers returning to the office, as well as canvassing our instructors and delegates for their opinions. Here’s what we found.

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Thoughts on returning to the office and face-to-face training

We’ve been closely following the discussions around workers returning to the office, as well as canvassing our instructors and delegates for their opinions. Here’s what we found.

The post-pandemic office

The Harvard Business Review makes a compelling case for returning to the office. While pre-pandemic offices were about getting work done, a post-pandemic office will become more of a cultural space – loneliness, the difficulty in creating connections & relationships on video conferencing, the absence of learning through observation and opportunity for unstructured collaboration are all reasons to go back.

They describe the office as the ‘Social Anchor’, a place that creates ‘human moments’, so when people return there are lots of opportunities to socialise and create connections.

Colleagues feel much more energised, can cement relationships and have more empathy when they are physically together. Don’t underestimate the idea collaboration that goes on around the coffee station or being able to ask a quick face to face question!

A piece in The Guardian quotes Nicholas Bloom (British Economist at Stanford University) where he advises against staff ditching the office entirely.

'Working from home is like beer or wine – it is great in moderation but is not so great in excess. One to three days a week seems to be the sweet spot. A few firms are planning five days a week post-pandemic, but I think that is risky and problematic. It is hard to innovate remotely, it is hard to maintain company culture and it can make employees feel lonely and isolated.”

Generation Z

Fortune reports that ‘The majority of Generation Z prefers hybrid work; 74% noted they’d prefer a job that offered both remote and in-person opportunities.’

Thoughts on returning to the office and face-to-face training

Many of this generation may have started work during the pandemic but are yet to meet their colleagues in person so want some in-office time.

Conversely, they report that workers need to feel confident their offices are safe to return to, but also that ‘The aversion of going back to the office is more of an aversion of going back to what it was’. They want purpose for their companies and more attention to wellbeing.

Inspiring Offices and Wellbeing

The Office of National Statistics reported that 2/3rds of London workers are happy to return to the office. However, how do we make great experiences that attract them back & make the office a success?

Forbes talk about making great experiences that make people want to return to the office & join your company while in 2020 CIPD said 44% of organisations were taking a more strategic approach to employee wellbeing.

City AM reports that Research by Dr Craig Knight has also shown that employees are 15% more motivated, engaged and have greater job satisfaction in visual and creative environments, with productivity increasing by more than 30% when participants have a say in creating their workspaces, or selecting the art within them.

Our Findings

We’ve been discussing the return of face-to-face training with our instructor team while taking regular feedback on the remote-delivery experience throughout the lockdown period.

We’ve seen an interesting and perhaps counterintuitive shift in opinion over time from many delegates.

Based on our early conversations last year we anticipated that there would be an overwhelming support for returning to the classroom when lock-down finally eased but things are not so clear cut.

In the first 6 months the main comments were:

  • remote attendance was very tiring.
  • group interactions and one on one time with the instructor were sorely missed.
  • lack of proper facilities at home meant long periods of screen time was physically uncomfortable.
  • Remote attendance was still a very effective and time-efficient learning format, but face-to-face training would be the preferred choice as soon as it was possible.

Over the last six months we’ve seen a slow but steady shift in opinion across a significant proportion of attendees - the benefits of remote-delivery have possibly begun to outweigh the downsides.

Thoughts on returning to the office and face-to-face training

Many delegates would still prefer face-to-face but we’re also hearing:

  • delegates have become more comfortable with communicating via video over video link; so fatigue has diminished.
  • instructors have developed more expertise in exploiting the ‘breakout room’ functionalities, improving their classroom management and therefore delegates’ experience.
  • Homeworking facilities have improved – multiple screens, recorded sessions and screenshotting are all adding to the experience.
  • Convenience of attending from home is becoming a real positive.
  • Still some concerns about exposure to COVID19 in public places and classrooms

Our instructor team are on balance a little more eager to return to the classroom.

  • Delivering remote sessions (particularly when delegates prefer not to use their webcam) requires a lot of effort to judge engagement levels and ensure individuals don’t get left behind.
  • Certain video platforms lack an easy way to break into smaller groups.
  • Delegates can often be distracted by work and home requests – this can be disruptive and hard to manage.

We also conducted a simple poll on an email to our subscribers and on social media. The question posed was ‘Do you feel your organisation will be returning to the classroom in the next couple of months?’ with the option to select yes, no or not yet. The result from a small pool of 20 was 36% yes, 50% not and 14% not yet.

As a result of listening to this feedback we will continue to offer a remote-attendance option alongside the classroom experience – this hybrid approach will enable our clients to choose their preferred format, and wherever possible we will try to apply the lessons we’ve learned over the last twelve months to the more traditional classroom experience.

There is an undoubted benefit of being able to have shorter sessions over longer periods – for longer-form training such as Graduate Training schemes a hybrid approach will mean we can offer:

  • classroom-based face-to-face sessions at the start of the programme to help build the team spirit of the group and assist with the instructor become familiar with the individual attendees and their learning styles.
  • shorter remotely-delivery sessions spread over a period of time to allow for a more efficient learning experience and the option to intersperse real-world experience with clients and co-workers to enrich the training experience.

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