Communications training in a hybrid environment: Hurdles and solutions

by | Jun 21, 2021 | Analysis, Public Relations

This article is based on the newly published research report If You Thought 2020 Was Challenging; The Future of Professional Development in a Hybrid Working World, available at no charge for a limited time from Barks Communications.

If you thought rearranging your approach to professional development in March of 2020 was tough, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Suddenly and without warning, everyone was forced to adapt to a pandemic-induced remote learning regimen. Zoom became a verb as well as an integral part of our everyday workday. It could have been worse for 2020 involved a simple one-to-one exchange. We swapped in-person training and strategy sessions for remote learning.

First, the bad news

Unfortunately, the transition this time around will not be a time of wine and roses. The changeover to hybrid offices and professional development programs is going to be harder. Why? In many instances, we will be moving from a single method—remote learning via video—to a dual system that includes both in person and remote training.

Here, I am talking about hands-on professional development programs like media training, presentation skills preparation, and advocacy training since that is the ballpark in which I play. here are some of the ground rules:

  • In person learning takes place when participating executives are all in the same room with the consultant guiding their workshops.
  • Remote learning occurs when those learners join from elsewhere on a video link (note that I will avoid the term “virtual” since it implies something not quite real; you no doubt want your company’s skill building efforts to be quite real).
  • Hybrid denotes a learning situation including both in person and remote participants.

We live in interesting times

No question about it. Grooming your company’s spokespeople on this uneven hybrid playing field will be confusing at times both for the business and the learners. Worse, it risks placing remote participants at a disadvantage in terms of promotions, pay raises, and reputational profile.

It’s a grand experiment and all of us are the guinea pigs. To help guide you, use the following principles while adjusting to our novel and unproven hybrid environment:

  1. Work toward equitable learning for both in person and remote participants.
  2. Work with a consultant who has done the research and thought through the new landscape.
  3. Hold open and honest conversations about your technical and instructional strengths and challenges.
  4. Prepare for the fact that you need to hike your professional development budget to allow for the increased size of the hybrid training team and for the added sophistication required to execute the project.
  5. Avoid substandard all-remote sessions for interactive learning; you will never get your bang for the buck.

Constructing your own system

An EducationWeek opinion column by Larry Ferlazzo is headlined “‘There Is No Playbook’ for How to Do Hybrid Teaching.” In that piece, Texas language teacher Gery Moreno says, “Do not assume that the delivery method that worked in person will work virtually. You might not realize that you adjust your teaching pace much more efficiently when in person because you can read the room better. You have to consciously stop and check for understanding much more when you teach virtually.”

One cornerstone idea to bear in mind in this improvised communications environment: Never lose sight of the guiding tenets that must be present in any participatory training workshop series. Take media training an illustration. Whether held in person, remote, or hybrid, the focus must remain on:

  • Message development, refinement, and discipline
  • Simulated practice rounds that imitate real world settings
  • A sustained professional development program focusing on the long run

What is the answer?

There is no silver bullet given so many moving parts. That said, there are steps that smart companies committed to a brighter future will take.

  • Beginning right now, commence conversations about the imminent changes, and be sure to get your CEO’s buy-in.
  • Aim for a level playing field when engaging in hybrid professional development. Avoid favoritism of one cohort or the other.
  • Look under the hood of your technology to determine your capabilities for moving into this hybrid learning world.
  • Refuse to settle for second-rate learning methods, such as offering a recording as equal value.
  • Work only with consultants who have this big picture in mind. Some will have given hybrid learning due thought; others not so much.

The klaxon is sounding. Will your company heed the warning? Businesses that thrive—those with strong, future-oriented leadership—are poised to outrun the competition. Which side are you on?

Ed Barks
Ed Barks works on extended engagements with Fortune 1000, Inc. 500, and association clients that want to refine their message and sharpen their executives’ communications skills. He is the author of three books: Reporters Don’t Hate You: 100+ Amazing Media Relations Strategies, A+ Strategies for C-Suite Communications, and The Truth About Public Speaking.


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