The remote learning revolution
Kimble Vowless shares his thoughts with Dan Tohill on the incredibly unique year that was 2020, how he managed working 80-hour weeks urgently training people in the health sector, his tips on virtual working and the 'remote learning revolution' sparked by COVID-19.
Listen to the interview here:
Or read the interview summary here:
Dan: I understand you've become an independent consultant as of last year. How has that been going for you during this year of COVID?
Kimble: When I left in December, there were these very minor media reports about this thing that was happening in China and of course by March, we were in full-blown lockdown and this wasn't on the plan, but it wasn't on anybody's plan of course.
I'd fortunately spent enough time getting out to the market, networked and started picking up clients. When COVID hit, a lot of companies immediately started to pull back work as you'd expect. But one of my healthcare clients could see a tsunami of work coming, and they needed to scale their workforce rapidly. They asked if we could help and the work was immense during lockdown. We were doing easily 80 hours a week.
Dan: Obviously your focus was in the learning development space but are you able to share what sort of work you had to do? And how you had to prepare these folks?
Kimble: There were several things. Our clients were running a contact centre and they were just getting flooded with calls, as you can imagine, with the fear and uncertainty that was in the world, as well as New Zealand. They knew they had to scale up their contact centre workforce as quickly as they could.
That meant quite a radical rethink on how they did what they did. So, like a lot of contact centres they rely on quite a long induction process that can be anywhere from a week to a couple of weeks or even longer.
We were in the space where we didn't have that time. We got a day and a half. And then, the other challenge of course was, they couldn't necessarily come into the office. So we had to get really creative, really quickly around how we maintained the standard, so that people were sure they were getting skilled people at the end of the phone line, answering their questions in the right way and at the same time, meet that demand as quickly as possible.
Dan: Yeah. How many folks were you inducting?
Kimble: The highest we got to was 40 a day and we were building towards 300 or 400 a day if we had to in a worst-case scenario.
Dan: Did that extreme pressure help some other departments make decisions just that little bit quicker?
Kimble: Yeah. It was a team effort. The whole organisation had to get behind making this thing work. At the risk of sounding cliched, we were saving people's lives.
So that understanding between the different areas around getting this done and what needed to happen was outstanding.
Dan: Obviously you had to do things at pace, but what are some of the learnings or techniques you used that our listeners could reuse and amplify?
One of our biggest learnings for remote delivery was around the importance of that social connection. How do you get the opportunity to have human conversations and human interactions while at the same time delivering to a fairly pressured kind of timeline?
Teams has been an outstanding piece of kit that we've come to work with very, very closely.
An example your listeners could use could be a channel on Teams that's just for social chat. A lot of those informal communication networks that we relied on in a normal work environment have gone. So dedicated channels for the cat videos and your general chit-chat was really important, having opportunities for people just to kind of blow out a little bit and socialise digitally is really important.
From a learning perspective, creating and maintaining those collaborative learning moments that you take for granted in a face-to-face working environment. Using the technology for things like breakout rooms so that people can go away and do interactive exercises and come back, using platforms like mural or miro that enable and duplicate that post-it experience.
Dan: When COVID and lockdown happened, we were all forced to move things into a digital environment but noticed this actually made some aspects of our workflow easier to manage. Did you experience this?
Kimble: Yeah, absolutely. I think the remote learning revolution, if I can call that, was going to happen anyway. It was already starting. COVID provided us with a beautiful laboratory to just really double down on how we could really make this work. I think the benefits of that, we'll see continue forever and a day because it's forced us as an industry to collectively think very differently around what work and learning can look like.
Dan: Have you got one more tip for our learners?
Kimble: I think the one thing, would be the nature of leadership. Leadership must now adapt like the rest of us. There was a lot of discussion in the social media space and LinkedIn around what is the future of leadership? It's a perennial topic. It's less about a hierarchical thing. We are all being required to show traits of leadership. We’re all being required to demonstrate the ability to shift our mindset, to be more adaptable, to be more flexible. We are being challenged to be more completely human at work and that means being vulnerable, saying “I'm not myself today because stuff has been difficult at home or, I'm feeling ill mentally”. That needs to be okay. These are boundaries now, that we are pushing and moving beyond, in ways that I think we've never really done before and it's gaining momentum. I think it's tremendously exciting.
Dan: Any final thoughts for the learning profession?
Kimble: Yeah. I think the future is bright for the learning profession. I think the onus is on us to step up and to show that we've got some real value, that we can add to the table to help people and the organisations they're part of to go to these new places the environment is demanding of them. I think it's a really exciting time.
A bit about Kimble Vowless:
Kimble has over 20 years' experience in the field of learning and capability. His background includes roles in the government sector, “for purpose” organisations (not-for-profits), and large corporates. He has held senior roles at leading New Zealand organisations, ranging from learning, organisation development, strategy, change management, and product ownership.
In December 2019 Kimble decided to embark on a new phase of his career, launching Be Outstanding Ltd. Driven by a desire to help people and organisations extend their capabilities to meet the challenges of these changing times. Kimble provides thought leadership in the fields of learning and capability strategy, programme management, learning solution design and implementation, and leadership development. He is a keen advocate in the fields of self-leadership, mindfulness, mindsets for success, resilience and purposeful living.
Kimble is an experienced leader, learning expert, engaging facilitator, and accomplished public speaker.
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About the author
Dan is CEO of Inspire Group, he is a learning specialist with a background in business psychology, which provides an academic underpinning to his innovative and pragmatic solutions. Over the last 30 years Dan has led a number of high-profile learning initiatives in New Zealand, Australia and Asia.