Accenture’s Fjord Trends 2022 report identifies a phenomenon they call “Interaction Wanderlust”—a growing sense of sameness in digital experiences that goes hand-in-hand with screen fatigue.
It’s a topic we broached recently in a webinar hosted by Talent Management, when we sought perspectives and ideas from John Gilleeny, VP, Talent Development at SharkNinja, and Heather Colquhoun, VP of Talent with Aecon Group Inc. Here we take a look at some of the issues they and others have faced, along with some best practice tips and ideas for reimagining virtual experiences.
Learning as They Go
There was no guidebook for anyone when the pandemic struck. Employees, managers, and others in organizations of all types and sizes—and, literally, around the world—suddenly found themselves to a large degree interacting virtually.
Over the last year and a half, they’ve collectively tried, and learned, a lot about interacting in the online environment and attempting to address the Zoom fatigue that many have experienced. And there have been a lot of learners involved in this forced experiment: half a million businesses around the world are now using Zoom, representing 70% of the Fortune 100, more than half of the Fortune 500, and 85% of the Forbes Cloud 100, according to Zoom.
The role of HR and corporate trainers has been elevated during these times as business leaders have recognized how critical it is to ensure employees remain engaged and productive. HR and Learning and Development (L&D) pros have been called upon by leaders to help find new ways to connect with employees, no matter where they are working.
Attending to Safety and Security Needs
One foundational must do during the pandemic has been to attend to employees’ safety and security needs. Gilleeny says that SharkNinja has done this formally—providing managers with tools to help assess where their staff members were. Employees can’t begin to focus on learning or attend to higher-level needs until those basic needs have been addressed.
For some organizations like Aecon Group, which engages in large-scale construction projects in Canada, most of the workforce—7000 of about 10,000—were still working in the field as essential workers and not able to work from home. Their safety needs were different but equally important. “We couldn’t change their way of work other than to adapt protection equipment and safety practices,” Colquhoun says.
Supporting Employee Well-Being
Today as more workers begin to transition back into the physical work environment, organizations remain focused on their safety and security needs. L&D efforts have played a role, with many organizations developing courses and resources around mental health issues.
There’s also been widespread recognition of the critical role that managers and direct supervisors play in the employee experience—and, especially, the remote employee experience. But most managers have not been trained, and don’t have experience, managing in these settings. Like their L&D colleagues, they’ve learned and adopted best practices along the way.
Psychological safety has been equally important to both employees and managers, Gilleeny says, both in the physical and virtual worlds. Reimagining virtual experiences has been important to enhancing the overall employee experience.
Issues Organizations, Their Managers, and Employees Have Faced
Accenture has studied the issue of on-screen interaction and its impact on people. And they say: “Organizations must reconsider design, content, audience and the interaction between them to inject greater excitement, joy, and serendipity into screen experiences.”
By and large, employees have felt overwhelmed by the number of on-screen interactions required of them, a lack of control and flexibility in participating in these activities, and even concerns about personal privacy.
Organizations and L&D leaders like Gilleeny and Colquhoun have taken several steps to improve these experiences to provide the variety and flexibility employees crave while remaining focused on achieving desired training and business outcomes.
Best Practices for Addressing Screen Fatigue
“Screen fatigue is not going away,” Gilleeny acknowledges. “It’s the nature of the work right now.” Rather than trying to ignore that reality, he says, he’s embarked on efforts to create honest exchanges around the acceptance of this as the new reality. Communities of practice have been developed both to give people opportunities for interaction and sharing, and to harvest best practice examples and ideas about how to engage others most effectively only.
Breakout rooms have been one of the most useful go-to solutions for his and other organizations—not only for use in formal training sessions, but in team meetings as well. They provide opportunities for participants to engage more comfortably than in large group settings. And they can serve as ways to break up long blocks of time spent listening to someone present.
Colquhoun says that she has noticed a greater focus on storytelling during virtual meetings. Both instructors and talent team leaders, she says, have started telling more stories and, in the process, making better personal connections. Storytelling, she says, “provides a hook that helps someone listen with a different connection to the person, especially since some of these people have never met in person at all.”
Making online interactions more experiential has also been a helpful way to break up the fatigue—and sameness—of most of these interactions and engage employees in new ways. As Gilleeny says: “We peel away from the digital environment to let them go off and then come back together.” In considering these experiences and interactions, he says, he encourages managers to create “peak moments”—a concept put forth in the book The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.
The Heaths point to research that suggests that people tend to evaluate their experiences based on peak moments, even if those experiences weren’t necessarily positive overall. In relation to meetings, they say “the reason people hate meetings is that the emotion is deliberately squeezed out.” Making a concerted effort to “break the script” and do something different—something that can have a positive impact—can lead to peak moments and result in an overall positive recollection of the event.
Aecon, says Colquhoun, which has a branded Aecon University, has made efforts to create and provide a wide range of modalities for its training activities—content that ranges from articles, TED talks, interviews with staff members talking about their careers, etc., to provide variety and to engage different types of learners. Aecon also makes use of both pre- and post-work: maybe assigning a video to watch or podcast to listen to prior to coming together or assigning follow up work like self-reflection worksheets.
Having a variety of methods and modality can help build variety and better engagement.
It’s important to move away from focusing on a “one-size-fits-all” approach to online interactions and that’s something that L&D pros, HR leaders, and others are learning during the pandemic. Cultivating their experiences—good and bad—can be done by establishing communities that can come together to share experiences and best practices.
Importantly, these days training methods and activities don’t need to be expensive to produce or focused on high production values. They just need to resonate with learners. Something as simple as creating brief—2-3 minute—videos of subject matter experts around the organization sharing their knowledge can quickly lead to the development of a rich repository of information that employees can access whenever and wherever they want.
Along the way as new ideas and methods emerge and are tested, it’s important to seek feedback.
Feedback gathered in the moment, says Gilleeny, can be more useful—and more freely shared—than feedback sought after a training session.
In addition, finding time to meet with managers and others to determine what they feel is working and how employees are applying what they’ve learned back on the job can be helpful to build relationships and improve future virtual experiences.
Finally, Gilleeny suggests, take advantage of the feedback tools that may be part of your LMS—don’t hide feedback and reviews, make the information visible to all; these insights are important to continually make efforts to reimagine the virtual experience.
Interested in hearing more about the insights and best practice perspectives shared in our recent webinar? Watch the recording of Stop the Sameness! Reimagining Virtual Experiences to Combat Disengagement.