There’s a first time for everything.
For many of us, living through the time of COVID-19 feels like a never-ending procession of unwelcome firsts.
For just about all of us, this is the first time we’ve ever experienced a pandemic. There are a few centenarians among us who may have been alive during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 but it’s unlikely they recall much of that time.
It’s the first time we’ve been told to stay at home. Used to socializing, dining out and traveling where and when we please, we now fill our nights watching “Tiger King” on Netflix and discovering our heretofore undiscovered talent for homemade baking.
For many office drones used to trudging into the office, it’s the first time we’ve worked from home in a sustained way. That is, if we’re fortunate enough to have held onto our jobs. Many of us are now experiencing joblessness for the first time, as well. COVID-19 saw to that, too.
At school, teachers en masse turned for the first time to online instruction as their primary instructional tool. Homebound students have to jockey for computer time with stressed-out parents doing double and triple duty.
For the first time, bus drivers, grocery store workers and delivery drivers found themselves classified as essential workers alongside firefighters, police and EMTs.
At Chief Learning Officer, we found ourselves conducting our biggest event of the year, the Spring CLO Symposium, in a series of virtual rooms rather than at a sunlit resort locale. Our editorial staff assembled the May/June issue of the magazine remotely for the first time in CLO’s 17-year history and our art director had to get creative since we couldn’t send a photographer to shoot the winner of this year’s LearningElite recognition for the cover.
After years of small steps and halting progress, all of us have begun a grand experiment in a new way of working. Armies of workers — those able to do their job from home — traded their 30-minute morning drive for a 30-second stroll from bedroom to spare room. Daily face-to-face meetings and coffee chats have been replaced by Zoom calls and Google Meets.
The global pandemic forced businesses large and small to adjust to a new and painful reality, kicking off this season of firsts. Some of these firsts will pass. With time, the economy will heal and jobs will return. Other firsts will last. Learning organizations that fail to rise to the moment may just find themselves left behind.
Some of the effects of these strange times are easy to see. Budgets tightened up and investments were frozen. Programs deemed nonessential went on ice. High-touch learning experiences like onboarding and leadership development went virtual. We don’t know — and won’t for quite some time — what it means for the future.
What we do know is the people who make up the community of learning leaders are resourceful, resilient and resolute. Since the pandemic shut office doors across the world, learning leaders have found new and original ways to connect with one another. Cut off from face-to-face meetings and their old ways of connecting, they’ve found new paths to share ideas and practices.
It’s been inspiring to see the many ways learning and development has adjusted to the new reality. In April, I hosted a webcast featuring Michael Molinaro, chief learning officer of New York Life, who talked about how his venerable institution quickly crafted modern learning pathways to support managers as they shifted to leading remote teams.
Judy Whitcomb, head of learning and HR at Vi (and perennial top-5 finisher in the CLO LearningElite), shared how her team laser-focused on delivering essential services needed to support the health and wellness of the senior citizens living at Vi’s retirement communities across the U.S.
Industry leader Elliott Masie assembled a working group of learning leaders to share practices and create a support network for learning professionals who suddenly found themselves out of work. Vendors and service providers raced to open up their services to the community, providing free access to platforms and education aimed at helping the industry navigate unprecedented times.
Examples like these show it’s possible to create some good that lasts during and beyond a season of unpleasant and unanticipated firsts.