By Tristia Hennessey

In this confusing Covid-19 environment that we’ve found ourselves in, we are surrounded with questions of: Why? When? How? What if?…. on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. Things don’t just take a little longer, they take more planning, more effort, and more mental energy that is simply more than we’re used to spending.

There’s the isolation of being and working from home, the lack of face-to-face interaction atrophying our communication skills. The all too familiar “Zoom Fatigue” that now plagues adults and children alike. Managing work and home responsibilities when everything comes with an added layer of challenge is more than a minor adjustment. The truth is that Covid-19 will continue to be a part of our daily lives long after vaccines are widely distributed and willingly taken by more than 60% of the population. I think we are all hopeful that some day in the future, Covid-19 will become common to us like a Cold or the Flu.

As always though, we will adapt. We adapt our rules, our processes, our behavior, our habits – we use change as a means of survival. The training world in many ways had to change and adapt to new circumstances under the pandemic, which resulted in most, if not all, in person training to  come to a grinding halt after March 2020 – with good reason. A year later, we’re not out of the woods yet, but we have more systems in place to keep people safe.

Now that I’ve had a chance to travel for both work and pleasure in this environment, I feel better able to evaluate why, how, when, and where it makes sense to restart in-person training.

Why to restart training during Covid:

If you have urgent business deficits or demands that are not being met, especially which were previously proven to be remedied or alleviated by in-person training, then it would be worth considering resuming in-person training.

If you have a large number of new staff who have not yet been onsite and are lacking engagement and interaction with core leadership, it might be time to consider an in-person onboarding or training event.

How to restart in person training during Covid:

Carefully. Adhere to the rules and make sure EVERYONE that attends observes and respects safety protocols and guidelines.

Your attendees – Consider employing agreements and liability waivers. Offer alternatives for attendance. Don’t force people to show up who aren’t yet comfortable or ready to be there in person.  If you need them in the office, consider using rotating shifts to avoid having too many people in the space at once. Appointing safety & sanitization “liaisons” or “officers” on a rotating schedule may help spread some of the additional responsibility of keeping spaces or venues clean for longer training events.

The Venue – Consider spacing and distancing when choosing venues and arranging physical layouts and seating in classroom environments – a bigger space will be necessary, so that people can socially distance comfortably. Instructors and trainers may need equipment such as microphones, projectors, and screens to ensure that socially distanced attendees can hear and see what is being presented. You may consider using recordings and event apps to help manage your online and in-person content.

Meals & Snacks – Meals that used to be buffet or family style need to be pre-packaged and individually wrapped. Consider using meal delivery apps for main meals and give your attendees gift cards to choose their own meal. Or, look to local restaurants than can provide Covid safe catering with healthy and nutritious options. And don’t forget to account for your keto, paleo, vegetarian, and vegan attendees.

Travel – Air travel has been pretty good in my experience, although even less food and drink is on offer on most flights.  Airlines already have strict protocols and standards and they have upped their game even more since Covid. People are used to complying (for the most part) with safety protocols while in the air and airline staff are used to telling people what to do.

Lodging – Hotels, despite some additional safety measures and of course masks in public places, appear to be suffering the most in all of this. The impact of the pandemic and the loss of business seems to be debilitating. In order to compensate, they have had to eliminate crucial staff and standards might not meet what people are used to, despite sanitization efforts.

What this means for you and your training attendees?

If people are traveling to your event, don’t skimp on hotel rooms. Think about providing attendees with a cleaning care package for their stay (since regular/daily cleaning is a thing of the past). Even if you are booking within a “known” brand, consider sending an event rep or training coordinator to check the facilities in advance.

During your training event – Remember that things will inherently take longer and people will need more frequent breaks. Remember to carve out time for cleaning and sanitizing between sessions and during breaks. Consider shortening sessions and/or starting later and ending earlier than you would have before the pandemic.  Attendees who have been at home for a long time may need to build back up their social and public stamina before clocking that 8 hour training session the first day out.

When to restart in person training:

When to restart will vary depending on your business needs and the readiness of the organization.

If you have a large number of new hires that were supposed to be office based, then you might be ready sooner with the appropriate safety protocols.

If you have new equipment or new workflows in an open manufacturing facility that need to be updated, then you can probably socially distance well in that environment.

If you typically delivered in-person training multiple times a year and your attendees are anxious to get back in the classroom and you can find the right venue with appropriate space for social distancing, then you are probably ready to get started.

In short, the when will be when you, the trainer, your organization, your customers or partners, are ready – then it is time to bring them back into the classroom, with awareness and safety.

Things to remember…

  • Prioritize emergent business needs or areas of critical deficiency.
  • Don’t push those that aren’t ready.
  • Leave enough time because everything takes longer.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing during before, during, and after takes more time and more people.
  • Trainers and instructors may need additional audio/visual equipment to be effective in a socially distanced venue.
  • Be patient with yourself and others. We are all trying to make it work in a difficult environment.