Consultants see long-term role for virtual workforce training despite limitations
AAs employers and workers return to in-person interaction, building virtual teams will remain a convenient, if not preferred, professional development method for some West Michigan companies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged business leaders to explore opportunities for building a virtual team, said Michelle Steffes, Founder and CEO of Byron Center IPV Consulting LLC.
Virtual training was rare and lacked interest before the pandemic, but employers and workers are increasingly accepting the new method of training and team building, 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 appreciate that option,” Steffes said.
This 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 technology infrastructure and preparation.
“I would say it’s probably a new industry that’s exploding right now…and even with some of the conferences and so on that I do,” Steffes said.
Virtual training has become necessary for companies offering professional development services during the pandemic, said David Robb, co-owner and managing partner of Express employment professionals‘ Grand Rapids location. The company offers free webinars for large groups as well as paid professional development and training programs, typically for smaller teams.
The webinars have allowed Express Employment Professionals to grow its audience at each virtual event, growing attendance from around 300 attendees to an average of 500 to 1,500 attendees. Participants are both local and from across the country, he said.
Demand for virtual services has also led the company to turn a conference room into a studio, Robb said.
With mask mandates gone and the number of COVID-19 cases dwindling, Robb has seen a resurgence of people wanting in-person training, though he also expects a mix of events. in-person and virtual remains the norm.
Advantages and disadvantages of virtual
While virtual workforce development and team building are likely here for the long haul, workplace personalities and expectations will affect the engagement and success of virtual formats, Steffes said.
“There are still people who just don’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 it always will.”
Conversely, some workers may be more likely to open up in a virtual format instead of feeling the pressure in person, Steffes added.
Virtual workshops have become more interactive and offer features that in-person versions lack, such as the ability to stop and answer questions in the chat bar during a presentation, Steffes said.
Virtual training also offers business leaders the ability to choose which team members participate in focus groups. Virtual training can also help companies with multiple locations connect more easily, Steffes said.
For Steffes, virtual training and coaching has allowed her to expand her customer base, as it’s easier to connect with businesses outside of Michigan and even outside of the United States.
Virtual training can also save time and be more convenient, Robb said.
“We are still seeing a strong preference for people wanting to engage virtually, even locals who could come in person. We are still seeing some of those who prefer to do it virtually,” Robb said. “At this point it doesn’t look like it’s some kind of COVID, it’s more of a time saver.”
To Jim Jensen, Founder and Director of Dynamic teams, in-person professional development remains more valuable in some cases. 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, empowering conversations.
“If you don’t have a team that’s already there, where they have that built-in trust and psychological safety that’s part of their culture, Zoom meetings aren’t the place to have difficult conversations,” Jensen said. . “People talk to each other, they can’t hear each other, they have a hard time getting a word out, and if they get a word out, they’re not being 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 discussing it in a virtual meeting, Jensen said.
Virtual formats can also cause team members to miss nonverbal cues, which are important for understanding team dynamics, Jensen said.
“It’s not that you can’t do that with Zoom, but it’s just a lot harder,” Jensen said.