3 tips from Adobe on moving employee training online in response to the coronavirus

April 3, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC

Like most big companies these days, Adobe was already working on replacing much of its face-to-face employee training with sessions in cyberspace, which began back in 2013. “We had been planning a big push to intensify training and coaching online next year,” says Danielle Clark, senior director of global talent development. “This has certainly accelerated that.”

“This” is, of course, the coronavirus crisis, which has kept all but a few of Adobe’s 23,000 employees worldwide working from home. But social distancing hasn’t interrupted, or even much slowed, Adobe’s training and development efforts, which are part of what makes it a coveted company to work for. After San Francisco’s “shelter in place” shutdown took effect in mid-March, Clark and her team quickly redesigned the company’s class sessions and moved them online—many in as little as 24 hours.

How’d they do that? Clark’s advice to any employer who would like to follow suit is threefold:

1. Less is more

Partly because technology makes it so easy, most managers’ first impulse is simply to shift as much current training and development content as possible into digital form and put it online. Instead, Clark suggests looking hard at everything you’re now making available to employees—and then cutting it roughly in half.

Deciding what to leave out can be tricky, but Clark points out that online attention spans are generally shorter than in person. That goes double now that homebound employees are probably grappling with unaccustomed distractions. The kind of training people want and need, and that is most likely to stick, boils each session down to “three key points,” Clark says.

“Between your own in-house content and what’s out there on the Internet, there are tons of content available on, for instance, EQ,” she adds. “But what do you most want employees to know about a given topic and use in their jobs? What are the three essential takeaways?”

2. Avoid one-way communication

Once you’ve figured out what those points are, and can present them concisely online, Clark recommends a thorough communication strategy. Except for training that’s intended to convey straight technical facts (on cybersecurity updates or compliance laws, for example), just moving a lecture-style class online won’t work. “People won’t be engaged,” she says. “They’ll spend half the session checking their phones.”

By contrast, the rule of thumb at Adobe is to make sure at least 50% of each training session is interactive. Trainers pose questions, run polls, moderate panel discussions, and invite audience comments. In late March, the company rolled out a worldwide platform that asks employees to “share their tips and observations about everything that’s going on,” says Clark. “So far, the feedback about that has been great. People love to hear from their peers.”

3. Have an outside online coaching platform

This is the final piece of Adobe’s online training strategy—and part of the reason the training team was able to adapt so quickly when COVID-19 hit. Adobe uses one called Pluma. The platform provides one-on-one skills coaching via in-app messaging and video chats.

Clark is a fan.“Pluma has been great for helping people see how to apply the training they’re getting online to specific situations, and to their own careers,” says Clark. Adobe plans to expand the Pluma coaching it offers employees over the next several months and into 2021.

By fostering bonds between individual employees and their coaches over a period of six months to a year, platforms like Pluma can prove especially useful in stressful moments—giving employees a way to get expert help with career strategy in these strange times, for instance, or even just giving them a place to vent.

Not only that, but “anxiety is distracting,” says Alexandra Connell, Pluma’s CEO. For training and development to be its most effective, she adds, “it’s crucial right now for companies to do everything they can to help people feel supported and stay focused.”

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