Kids home from school. Self-quarantines. Offices closing. Market turbulence. Conflicting information. People working from home — at scale — for the first time. Travel bans. Social distancing. 250 is OK. Now it’s 50. Now it’s 10. Airport screenings. Extreme concerns for elderly family members.
It’s a lot. (Deep sigh.)
As we adjust to this new version of normal, we are all looking for ways to help our people cope with these changes and stay connected to each other. Many of our leaders are asking how we could leverage learning to do this, questions such as:
- Can we get a short list of really targeted, very specific training that our people could take while their project work has slowed?
- What is our guidance for our new joiners — who may not be going into an office for a while — as to what they should be learning right now?
- How do we take advantage of the time people have now — and may have in the weeks ahead — to invest in skill building?
All of these questions warm my heart. I love them. They come from leaders who care about our people, who believe in the power of learning and who don’t want to let a good opportunity go to waste. Music to my ears.
Here’s the thing. Right now, stress levels are high. Understandably so. As humans, we crave certainty, and there are many questions that simply can’t be answered right now. How long will this last? When will my kids go back to school? Will I be brought back onto my project once this is over? Will my parents be OK?
Uncertainty creates stress, and stress is an antidote to learning.
The more stress we experience, the more quickly the primitive parts of our brain take over. Blood flow is redirected from the prefrontal cortex (the part of our brain responsible for executive functioning skills) to the amygdala (the “fight or flight” center), ensuring we are ready to act at a moment’s notice. Interestingly, short-term memory is enhanced — but transfer to long-term memory is impaired. Another way to say this: We can take information in today, but we won’t remember it tomorrow.
Learning is an ideal way to foster virtual community and human connections — but we need to be cognizant of our limited ability to learn in times of high stress. Does that mean we should say no to the requests for learning recommendations? Of course not. But we should be careful to select the right kind of content and keep our expectations realistic with respect to learning outcomes.
Content on areas such as resilience and leadership are ideal right now. Content that helps us maintain perspective, that helps us be better listeners and more creative colleagues is ideal. Introductory content, content that keeps topics high level, fantastic. Deeply technical content? Hmm. Let’s try again in a couple of weeks.