The day the country went into lockdown back in March, I should have been on a long-anticipated training course in Leeds. A previous course had been cancelled because of small numbers and I was really looking forward to getting together with a dozen or so others and thrashing out some ideas and insights into PR strategy.
It’s something I find fascinating – how to put together a kick-ass campaign for a client that will not only show where they need to be but how you will help them arrive at that point. I read up on the subject, went through notes from similar courses other people had been on and was as ready as I’d ever be.
So when the organisers rang the afternoon before it was due to take place to say that unfortunately it was cancelled as the agency hosting the event had taken the decision to work from home, I was gutted.
At that point, we thought lockdown might last about three weeks – nobody knew that six months down the line we’d still be living under stringent restrictions. Regardless of that, it would no doubt have taken months to reorganise the tutor, find a venue, invite participants and so on.
Essentially, that much anticipated training would just have to wait. Sigh.
But as lockdown dragged on and everyone had to adapt to working from home more or less overnight, along came video conferencing. From being a ‘nice to have’ to an absolute essential, teams in every sector imaginable switched from face to face to virtual meetings. We had quizzes, we had client meetings, we had team catch-ups.. all via our laptops.
Half a year on, most of us are now heartily sick of the sight of one another’s bookcases, kitchen tables – or indeed our own faces. But back in March, Zoom, Teams and the like was the way forward.
This was the case for education, too. When schools closed before the Easter break, my son received his coursework by email and face-timed his classmates to work on joint projects.
And so began a new age of distance learning. Our industry responded brilliantly with offers of free webinars on everything from copywriting to writing a TV pitch to social media advertising. Every member of the Faith team undertook at least one digital training session which meant we all had a taste of the many benefits that remote learning can bring.
It’s convenient: You don’t have to schedule time out of the office, worry about where to park or fret that there won’t be enough vegetarian butties on the inevitable lunch buffet (or is that just me…) If courses are live, you just dial in and away you go. Not a good time? Download the link later when you can also pause and rewind as necessary.
It’s still interactive. Most video conferencing platforms allow you to (digitally) raise your hand to ask a question or include a Q&A at the end. Screen sharing lets you see the speaker’s slides at the touch of a button.
It’s cost-effective. Guest speakers don’t need overnight stays, attendees don’t need a room in which to meet or to be fed and watered and there are virtually no admin fees therefore the cost of the course can be reduced or removed altogether.
It can still be one-to-one. We had a series of individual sessions with the brilliant Gemma Teed, a communications strategist who used Zoom to deliver her training. It’s been said that building a rapport across a screen can be difficult but when it’s one to one – provided you both have your camera on – it’s not difficult. You’re there for a common purpose and, unlike a webinar with hundreds of attendees, can talk through the points as easily as if you were in the same room.
With the right tech and a bit of know-how, you can even use virtual post-it notes that allow you to have a brainstorming session without ever setting foot in the office.
You can access the very best talent from anywhere in the world – and can dial in from anywhere as well. What had been a point of frustration – that the majority of courses I wanted to do were in London – is now simply not an issue. You sign up, you dial in, you learn. Let’s face it, if you have a decent wi-fi connection you could probably dial in from the moon.
As the world continues to rely increasingly on online alternatives, training via webcam will become an increasingly popular option. You may not have quite the same buzz as with a room full of like-minded people all fired up to learn; but then you won’t find yourself being shouted down by the same person or stuck when someone decides they want to ask a series of convoluted and depressingly irrelevant questions five minutes before the end and you’re rushing for your train.
Yes, you do need to be self-motivated but the rewards are plentiful and support is there if you need it. And, unlike courses held in a classroom environment, if the buffet is disappointing then you only have yourself to blame.