Keeping Learning & Development Going During COVID-19

A woman participating in a remote learning session

We’re all facing drastic changes in our work situations right now. At Jimdo, our focus has been on helping our small business customers through the pandemic. And at the same time, we’re trying to provide resources for our own employees as we adapt to working from home. 

That’s where my job comes in. As part of Jimdo’s Learning & Development group, my team and I create the professional development curriculum that in normal times can keep everyone’s office and work life running smoothly. Those resources have been put to the test over the past weeks while we’ve transitioned to remote work. 

The area of learning & development has understandably taken a hard hit during the COVID-19 crisis, as companies large and small focus on their immediate health and financial concerns. But as the “new normal” sinks in for the weeks and months ahead, we’re looking for ways that we can keep the learning going for our employees. I wanted to share some of the lessons we’ve learned so far for L&D professionals who are looking for ways to continue their curriculums too. 

The Jimdo Academy

Back in February 2020, we had just launched a new “Jimdo Academy” as the basis for all of our training and development materials. Topics range from labor law to conflict management, from interviewing skills to successfully managing high workloads. The idea behind the Academy is to give employees a chance to learn in the way that suits them best, whether that’s independently, via a lecture, or by interacting with colleagues. 

Resources and classes are available both online through our internal Academy website (built with Jimdo’s own website builder), and in-person in our office space in Hamburg.

A screenshot from the Jimdo Academy website

Jump ahead two months, and we’re all in a situation we never expected to be in, with our office temporarily closed and our employees all working remotely. Even so, we felt it was still important to offer learning and development sessions, even when times are hard.

We quickly decided that our only option would be to move all our Jimdo Academy training and development events to online sessions. 

Finding tools to move workshops online

With the technology available for online lectures and interactive workshops, all we needed to do was start trying out the tools. Jimdo works with a selection of partners for Academy material, and they have done a great job finding tools for arranging efficient interactive learning sessions. 

The workshops that we offer at Jimdo are meant to foster a high level of interaction between the participants in the group. Participants are required to go through a set of prep materials beforehand. That way everyone can dive right into the session instead of spending time going through background, models, and methods.

 To maintain this focus in the online workshops, we are using tools that offer virtual space for groups of a certain size (our workshop groups are maximum 12 participants), as well as the option of breakout spaces for smaller groups to do tasks and discuss topics together during the workshop. We also have the option to use tools that offer virtual pin-boards for collecting ideas and input from the participants, just as if they were physically together in the Jimdo Academy space. 

Online lectures

We structure remote lectures by doing a live stream where all employees are invited to take part. The viewers join the lecture via a streaming link, while the lecturer, moderator, and technology responsible join the session via a different link. The viewers have access to a dedicated chat room, where they can ask questions and share input with each other during and after the lecture. We also record every lecture so that we can share the content internally and (in some cases) externally later on. 

More focused sessions: “nugget learning”

Now that we have the right tools in place, we’ve focused on shaping the content to fit people’s needs. In a remote work environment, employees have to take in, interpret, and understand much more written information than usual. Adding a long workshop session on top of that can seem a bit daunting. That’s why we’re shifting to more “nugget learning”: chances for short but more intense learning and development input. 

While normal workshops are 2-3 hours per session, nugget workshops have sessions capped at 45 minutes. Participants complete the preparation materials like they normally would, but they also have small assignments to finish in between each short training session. 

This gives participants more space to learn in short but intensive portions, without lowering the quality of the content. 

With this approach, we have kept our original plan for what we provide training on, and instead of cancelling formats we have added more. We are just learning to break them down slightly differently.

More time on “soft skills”

We’ve also seen that employees can benefit from more input on valuable soft skills that might help when spending time in social isolation. How can we still stay productive? How can we keep a sense of structure in our days? How can we make sure we maintain a healthy mind in a situation that none of us has any prior training with? The L&D team sees it as our responsibility to support our colleagues with these kinds of questions as we all go through the current crisis together.

Positive results and participation

So far, the responses from our colleagues have been positive. There is a sense of appreciation that we are still providing the same (and more) learning and development opportunities. 

In some cases, we’re actually seeing more participation than before. People are more curious and more willing to try out new sessions than they might have been in “normal” times. 

There are lots of reasons why people might participate more right now than they would in-person in the office. But one thing we’ve realized is that it’s simply easier to take part when you only need to click a link in a calendar appointment to join. This leads us to believe that offering more online learning formats could make them more accessible for some colleagues in the future. 

Time will show how long society needs to maintain social isolation. We all do what we need to do in order to contribute to society in this period of time. But we in the L&D team at Jimdo can already say that we will stay open minded and curious about offering training online, also when society is “back to normal” again.

Anne-Line Löffka works as an HR Manager at Jimdo, specializing in Learning & Development and Employer Branding. If you would like to know more, feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn.

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