Adapting to online professional development - insight from Danielle Wallace and Roy Johnson in our Leadership team

Lock-down has brought about a whirlwind of change for many people, personally and professionally, as we adapt to new ways of working. Normally our team spends three days a week out of the WIG office with our lovely delegates. This time is spent facilitating our one-day development seminars, longer-term leadership programmes, running Organisational Raids or meeting our WIG members.

We, like many, were sent home with our laptops on the evening of Monday, 16 March, after calling round to all those booked to attend a module of our Future Leaders Programme the next day (the government had updated the advice to allow only essential travel at 17:00 that evening). When we left that day, none of us thought it would be for long – certainly not three months! Over that succeeding week, observing safety measures, we continued to postpone leadership seminars and programmes and were uncertain what this might mean for all our events in the future. 

From that point on we, like many others, spent our time adapting to online learning. We used all of the tools available to us, from MS Teams, SharePoint, Zoom, Google Meet and others to find the best possible way to deliver some sessions online. A few weeks later, with the help of our programme facilitators, we carefully designed some short, sharp online seminars and discussion forums to keep the all-important cross-sector conversations flowing, all the while supporting our members with the transition to home-working and the leadership challenges this brings.

Before then, we had focused our delivery in the Leadership team on face-to-face and hadn't really fully explored online learning. Now that have had time to reflect back, we can see some real benefits from online learning and we fully intend to embrace it further. A range of WIG members from across the country, and in some cases globally (we recently had a delegate in Dubai and a presenter based in Philadelphia), have been able to come together at the click of a button, to share ideas and explore techniques to work from home effectively, all from the comfort of their own home. Wellbeing and Resilience have become paramount for many leaders, and having the space and time away from the day-to-day job has been thoroughly welcomed. Delegates have found it wonderful to be able to take a step back, compare notes with peers and take away some top tips and advice to be implemented immediately. 

A key challenge we faced at the start of this transition, and one we have been working hard to overcome, is the networking aspect of our programmes and seminars, and ensuring the all-important conversations between the sectors continues at the same great WIG standard. At what is arguably a crucial moment for this communication to happen, we have utilised the varied capabilities of different tech platforms to ensure small groups of people can converse in break-out rooms. This ensures members are still able to continue building their networks with the same ease of a face-to-face session. 

The support and understanding from those who have joined us online so far have been overwhelmingly encouraging. There has been a positive amount of lenience in accepting everyone’s new working environments, whether children are playing in the next room, or a housemate is on a call only a few metres away. This acceptance has allowed us to continue to focus on leadership development whilst understanding the real-life challenges of home and work-life balances. 

Going forward, our aim is to take the lessons we have learnt during this period and build on our current leadership offer to harness inclusivity, innovation and opportunity, as well as capturing the power of face-to-face cross-sector networking that is unique to the WIG experience. We will be combining the benefits of online and face-to-face delivery to embrace a new blended approach.

To learn more about WIG's personal and professional development options, please click here, or email the Leadership team