By the time this article is out, around 600,000 people worldwide would be infected by COVID-19. Some of the websites are running a floating counter widget that flips and updates every few seconds, like the one you see on exit poll days or during cricket matches. To say this is unprecedented would be an understatement.
If one is to go by media reports, things are simmering down in China. On the other hand, countries like US, UK, Italy, Iran, Italy, France, Germany, many south Asian, African nations and our own are in a critical phase to affect measures to stop the spread.
In late January, when we first came to know of the cases surfacing in China, few of us could have guessed the scale of the pandemic that has followed. There were sporadic reports doing the rounds - of businesses shutting down offices here and there from across the country after discovering an employee or two who had been compromised following a foreign trip.
Historically speaking CoVID 19 might be the first case of a pandemic, where initial victims were recognized not only by their nationality but also by the companies they were working for.
Desperate times indeed call for desperate measures. But there was no preparation for this, no blueprints to follow, no elaborate plans, to deal with the scale of contingencies that are unfolding every passing second.
It is best we try to understand the problems that employees are facing while adjusting to the ‘new normal’ in the time of the Corona crisis.
We can quote reports here - numbers, surveys that tell how much the new breed of workforce prefers flexibility at the workplace. That however is irrelevant for the time being.
Things such as remote work that were a matter of choice only a while back are now being implemented as the new normal. It is estimated that about 70 percent organizations in India have already asked their employees to work from home, barring the essential services sector. This is irrespective of whether the roles and functions of employees are suited to such a set up.
Sure there are ramifications. But there are still greater risks to take care of – the safety and wellbeing of people.
Not employees, not workers but people.
However, even as companies are struggling to grapple with the realities of this measure to effect ‘social distancing’, there is a realization that WFH although necessary has its own challenges.
There is the matter of technical hindrances. Some may find that the infrastructure and tools available to them back home aren’t enough to deliver work. Others may not be as tech savvy. Still others will find it difficult to have the same quality of communications over calls, video or otherwise.
For those who have no prior experience working remotely or who haven’t done so for a long period of time, this new setup is going to pose challenges. The flip-side is that people will come out of this crisis becoming better attuned to tools and the etiquette of online huddles.
Then there is the consideration of the effects on emotional well-being due to extended periods of social isolation, and the sudden disruption of normal routines and lifestyle. It is a matter of evolutionary principle that human beings are conditioned to thrive socially.
Retrospectively, none of the tools available today were in existence during the SARS outbreak in 2003. There was no Facebook, no Hangouts, no Whats-app, no Zoom calling and no high speed internet. So, there is a silver lining there.
But there is a growing realization, even for those of us who have grown up relying on these that online communication can’t replace human interaction.
Isolation and social distancing, although necessary, is going to take a psychological toll on people, and adversely affect their sense of purpose, their engagement and consequently productivity.
And hence, there is a need to assess what kind of role, if any, can the learning initiatives play to enable organizations and employees to wade through this crisis.
It is true that L&D programs have certainly taken a back seat. But it is also true that as remote working becomes the new norm, employees are struggling, more so than ever with delegation, teamwork, collaboration, ownership and time management.
There is no dearth of technological wherewithal to design and deliver programs that can effectively reach out to learners.
Learning initiatives that are self-paced, can be delivered online as e-workshops or in the form of self-learn simulations, can address not only the manifold issues employees are facing in the new setup but also cut through the ringing monotony of the current crisis.
At the same time such initiatives can also give employees a renewed sense of purpose and continuity, as also the familiarity of their former routines. Something that is becoming more and more crucial as we wait out the lock-down cooped up in our homes.
It is but natural at times like these to feel lost, and confused and overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation. However, one must realize that while we are battling a curse we shouldn’t forget our blessings and continue to do our bit.
The innovations in L&D sector during the times of corona crisis, will not only help to bridge the widening gaps between employees and the leadership, but also set the tone of changes for how learning initiatives will roll out in the post corona era.
As Camus said, “What's true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves."
Perhaps there is a learning there.
Keep connected, keep learning and stay safe.