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Published in Talent
Workforce development consultants see both pros and cons with virtual training that’s expected to last well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Workforce development consultants see both pros and cons with virtual training that’s expected to last well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consultants see long-term role for virtual workforce training despite limitations

BY Sunday, March 27, 2022 06:29pm

As employers and workers return to in-person interaction, virtual team building will remain a convenient or even preferred method of professional development for some West Michigan companies. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has emboldened company leaders to explore the possibilities of virtual team development, said Michelle Steffes, founder and CEO of Byron Center-based IPV Consulting LLC. 

Virtual training was rare and lacked interest prior to the pandemic, but both employers and workers have grown more accepting of the new training and team-building method, Steffes said.

“I really don’t think it will ever go away at this point because there’s always that option, and I think a lot of people do appreciate that option,” Steffes said.

That includes more hybrid training and coaching exercises — as well as conferences — that mix virtual and in-person components. While this can accommodate more employees, it also requires more tech infrastructure and preparation.

“I would say that’s probably a new industry that’s exploding at this time … and even with some of the conferences and so forth that I’m doing,” Steffes said. 

Virtual training became necessary for businesses offering professional development services during the pandemic, said David Robb, co-owner and managing partner at Express Employment Professionals’ Grand Rapids location. The company offers free webinars for larger groups as well as paid professional development and training, typically for smaller teams. 

Webinars have allowed Express Employment Professionals to grow its audience with each virtual event, increasing attendance from about 300 attendees to averaging 500 to 1,500 attendees. Participants are both local and from across the country, he said. 

The demand for virtual services also led the company to transform a conference room into a studio, Robb said. 

With mask mandates going away and COVID-19 case numbers decreasing, Robb has seen a resurgence of people who want in-person training, though he also expects a mix of in-person and virtual events to remain the standard.

Pros and cons of virtual

While virtual workforce development and team-building are likely here for the long term, workplace personalities and expectations will affect the engagement and success of virtual formats, Steffes said.

“There are still some people that just can’t seem to be engaged unless they’re in person,” Steffes said. “I think it has a lot to do with personality type and expectations, and I think that’s always going to be the case.” 

Conversely, some workers may be more likely to open up in a virtual format instead of feeling pressure in person, Steffes added.

Virtual workshops have become more interactive and provide capabilities that in-person versions lack, such as being able to stop and answer questions in the chat bar during a presentation, Steffes said.

Virtual training also offers business leaders the option to choose which team members are in discussion groups. Virtual training also can help businesses with multiple locations to more easily connect, Steffes said. 

For Steffes, virtual training and coaching has allowed her to expand her client base, as it’s easier to connect with companies outside of Michigan and even outside the U.S.

Virtual training also can save time and be more convenient, Robb said.

“We still actually see a strong preference towards people wanting to engage virtually, even people who are local who could come in person. We still see some of those who would rather do it virtually,” Robb said. “At this point, it doesn’t seem like it’s a COVID sort of thing, it’s more timesaving.” 

To Jim Jensen, founder and principal of Dynamic Teams, in-person professional development remains more valuable in some instances. The Kalamazoo-based company offers relationship development services to leadership teams. 

Jensen works to develop leadership teams with trusting relationships so they can have healthy conflict and productive, challenging conversations. 

“If you don’t have a team that’s already there, where they have that trust built in and that psychological safety that’s part of their culture, Zoom meetings are not the place to have challenging conversations,” Jensen said. “People talk over each other, they can’t hear each other, they struggle to get a word in, and if they do get a word in, it’s not heard.” 

While this psychological safety may exist for some leadership teams, others may lack the confidence to challenge a leader or dominant team member and may avoid bringing it up during a virtual meeting, Jensen said. 

Virtual formats also can cause team members to miss nonverbal clues, which are important to understanding team dynamics, Jensen said. 

“It’s not that you can’t do that over Zoom, but it’s just much more difficult,” Jensen said. 

Read 1018 times Last modified on Monday, 28 March 2022 09:18
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