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Can digitalization replace humanization

For sure, the level of technology that we are surrounded by these days has helped us to cope with the unfortunate turn that 2020 has taken.

One of the by-products of this accelerated digital transformation is that two of the most asked questions today in the business world are: “Do you see my screen?” and “Can you unmute your mic?” Funny, some would think, and it is to a certain extent.

Beyond the sometimes funny and awkward situations the WFH (work from home, as if we really needed a new acronym for this) brings, it is fair to say that the technology has, and is playing a big role, in maintaining a sense of normality on this planet.

The first striking example for me would be distance learning. I was amazed to witness how quickly the education industry turned things around and came up with solutions so that schooling could carry on, despite most of the countries being on full lockdown. It came with its own challenges and I must admit that spending those 3 months with my 6-year-old son was amazing and demanding, for both of us.

This continuity in education would have not been possible without proper internet network, solid educational platforms and not forgetting the myriad of applications offering reading, spelling, science, math and language learning options.

Those very same platforms can be used for communication in business and keeping contact with friends and family who sit several flying hours from us. The 2020 crisis has been compared with plagues from the past, there are for sure similarities, but today’s technology makes it ‘easier’ for individual and businesses to carry through.

Our industry, the learning & development, has been severely impacted by COVID. We are no exception, that is guaranteed! Our only lifeline was and still is digitalization.

To put things in perspective, a Regional Trainer, on average, would deliver 100 to 130 training days per year. This number does not include travel days, training development days, administration days, meeting with clients…it is, or was, pure face to face training facilitation. Well, when airports shut down those billable days stop overnight!

So pre-COVID, which is now a well-used term, Regional Trainers would be out of station 2 to 3 weeks per month. It came with its toll although some perks are linked to hard-core travelling. On top of that, you see people, you meet people, you see faces, breathe different ambiances, engage with your client’s business- you are almost embedded with the teams on the shop floor. There will be those lonely moments in your average to average + hotel room, watching more commercials than an actual full movie, eating those chocolate bars that you would not even buy while grocery shopping at home…but you would know that you will be engaging with people the next day.

You would wake up, go down to breakfast, abuse the buffet, come back up to your room, get ready for the day and wear the branded polo shirt the client supplied you with. A quick look on emails, then make sure today’s presentation runs smoothly, review the first few slides so your introduction and transitions are fresh in your mind and down you go to the lobby where you will be chauffer driven to the training location. You would then arrive on-site, shake hands with those friends and connections you have been interacting with for so many years. You would discuss the latest news over a coffee or tea and then the show must start. You get to the training room, set it up, make sure all is in order and start welcoming your participants.

4:30pm will show up on the clock and for you, it seems you have been interacting with your audience for a couple of hours. After bidding farewell, you are chauffer driven back to your hotel and then the evenings could take different courses: working in the room, working out at the hotel gym, going out with peers or a mix of all!

For the next day: change the participants, training topic, training location, sometimes country and repeat the logistics.

For a non-trainer or someone who reads those few lines and who is a stranger to this industry, the above recap of a typical day might sound appealing, boring or even scary. Welcome to the life of a Regional/International Trainer/Guest Speaker - pre-COVID.

At this stage of reading, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with the title of this article. Have I been misled?

Well I need to describe a typical day of that very same Regional/International Trainer/Guest Speaker, post-COVID.

Firstly, a lot of learning & development experts and specialists have had to find alternatives in their career as the projects they were engaged with either vanished, stopped, stalled or were cut down to a bare minimum.

For those still in action, the landscape has dramatically changed and their typical day has a very different flavor.

Let’s start with the travelling - this is gone! From flying every other week, being ‘Supramium’ status with the local airline, ‘Titanium’ with your taxi solution, ‘Zirconium’ with several hotel chains - you are now an unknown, standard traveller. There is nothing wrong with this but those privileged statuses were part of the perks I was referring to above.

So, this is one down.

Travelling a lot for business usually means travel allowances. Another perk that, if well managed, could substantially increase the end of the month number that hit the bank account.

This is two down.

Packing every other week keeps you on your toes. It is a mix of excitement and sometimes, in all fairness, a bit of tiredness. After all you must go anyway and for that you need your affairs in order whilst you are away: paperwork should be done, the family car brought to service, home internet speed upgraded, calling the maintenance for the kitchen water heater! All these details must be addressed and sorted, especially if you leave a family at home during your absence. You usually become more efficient at addressing all these topics as you know your days in town are counted before the next flight.

This is three down.

On top of this, and without a doubt the main loss for most of the learning & development industry personnel is seeing people, meeting people, seeing faces, breathing different ambiances, engaging with your clients’ businesses and embedding within the teams.

This is four down and this is a HUGE one.

In our industry, like in many others, digitalization cannot replace any of these benefits: no additional perks, no allowances, no keeping you on your toes, no shaking hands and breathing different ambiances.

Don’t get me wrong here, I am not trying to highlight the inabilities of the digital world. I am actually grateful we are tackling COVID with this level of digitalization. Without its capabilities, I would not even be in a position to write and post these few lines. So, thank you binary codes and megabytes per second!

In fact digital solutions have brought us alternatives to keep us engaging with participants, while delivering our training solutions. It has been now more than 7 months that 100% of our training activities have moved online. Fantastic proof of adaptability from an industry that offers a bridge between end-users or participants and corporations (small or large) launching new products and initiatives to adapt to the new normal.

It has also been 7 months that both facilitators (our Regional/International Trainer/Guest Speaker) and participants have been meeting in front of their screens to discuss a topic, learn new skills and engage on refreshing or new training modules.

The solution is working. Tremendous adaptations had to be made to the material, the way of facilitating the sessions and the training duration to ensure maximum engagement and knowledge retention. New housekeeping rules were introduced and online etiquette is essential to ensure the experience remains as pleasant as possible for all.

However, the solution has its own set of limitations.

Firstly, there are the technical limitations. They could be related to hardware or software and/or to the internet network. A lot of time has been initially spent to set-up, what appeared to be, a very basic internet connection so that a well-known global communication platform could work properly. One would expect participants’ hardware to be in working order as well!

The second limitation is very similar to business meetings’ set-ups. You can be seated around the table, but your mind drifts away and you are simply not adding value to the on-going meeting. I would suspect the same persons to be the ones not turning on their cameras during online training sessions or meetings. Yes, you are there, your name appears on the participant list but you might be doing something else while the group tries to move forward on several topics. It is even worse if you mute your microphone.

The third limitation is related to the surroundings. Pre-COVID, you would not expect a meeting or a training to be conducted in awkward places. Usually dedicated training rooms, training centers or ball rooms seemed appropriate to conduct such activities. It is disconcerting to see participants joining a training session while they are obviously not in the right environment.

You probably remember that I have qualified, in this article, the good people of the learning and development industry as ‘people-persons’.

This is probably the biggest issue that digitalization cannot yet address: the human interaction.

From the above 1,588 written words, this is the fundamental message: we miss you HUMAN BEINGS!

Digitalization, yes but… let’s go back to a blended approach as soon as the World is in order!

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