Engagement Communication

Episode 3: Still Learning At Home

In episode 3 of The 80 Percent, JD conducts an old-school investigation to find out how companies are helping their frontline workers continue learning from home.

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Episode overview:

Frontline jobs have been disrupted worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people have been sent home, furloughed while businesses figure out how to move forward and wait for restrictions to lift. They may not be at work, but that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped learning. How can maintaining engagement with employees while they’re home accelerate reboarding and strengthen workplace culture?

Thank you to Aston Moss from Briscoe Group Limited and our other friends for sharing their frontline stories with us for this episode.

Join us every two weeks as we tell new stories about how the 80 percent—the global frontline workforce—are making a difference in their organizations and communities. We explore how companies from a variety of industries are reimagining their frontline readiness to empower employees and transform the customer experience. You’ll take away practical ideas for improving your own frontline support strategy. And each story is told in less than 15 minutes. So you can listen to an entire episode while making breakfast or taking a walk after lunch.

You’ll find every episode of The 80 Percent on our website at axonify.com/podcast. You can also subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play and Spotify so new episodes are automatically downloaded to your mobile device.

Do you have a frontline story you think we should tell on the podcast? Let us know via podcast@axonify.com.

Thank you for everything you do for your people, organizations and communities.

Be well. Be safe. And be kind to the frontline.

About the Guest(s)

Photo of Aston Moss, General Manager of Human Resources, Briscoe Group
Aston Moss

General Manager, Human Resources, Briscoe Group

About the Host(s)

JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect
JD Dillon, Chief Learning Architect

JD Dillon became an expert on frontline training and enablement over two decades working in operations and talent development with dynamic organizations, including Disney, Kaplan and AMC. A respected author and speaker in the workplace learning community, JD also continues to apply his passion for helping frontline employees around the world do their best work every day in his role as Axonify's Chief Learning Architect.

Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager
Richia McCutcheon, Community Manager

Richia is a builder of all things, from communities and brands to relationships and partnerships. Over the last 10 years she has become proficient at connecting people over their shared values, dreams and favorite things.

Episode Transcript

Speaker 1 (00:00):
The 80% is brought to you by Axonify to learn how you can build training for your frontline workforce that actually works, visit axonify.com

JD Dillon (00:11):
Episode three: Still learning at home. Recorded on Tuesday, May 12th, 2020. Hi Richia.

Richia McCutcheon (00:18):
Hey JD.

JD Dillon (00:18):
I don’t know about you, but the days are definitely just blending together right now. How long has our team been working at home at this point?

Richia McCutcheon (00:27):
I believe he’d been home for about eight weeks. It’s been a long time

JD Dillon (00:32):
This is a challenging experience for everyone, but it’s also a learning experience. For example, what have you learned since you’ve been home?

Richia McCutcheon (00:40):
Well, funny enough, I started my role seven weeks ago, which means that I started working while they’ve been on lockdown and in this time I’ve learned that Slack and video conferencing are huge tools to accomplish any job when you can’t be in the office. Without those two things, it would have been very difficult for me to onboard quickly and stay in touch with my colleagues. I’ve also learned, I really don’t like to clean.

JD Dillon (01:06):
For me, I’ve learned I can’t cook. I’ve started two kitchen fires so far and we’re just getting started. But I’ve also spent a lot of time setting topics like resilience and thinking about how these topics apply to the frontline workforce and a lot of conversation within L&D right now is about helping people continue to learn and develop even while they’re at home. But most of that conversation revolves around people like us, people who can do their jobs away from the office or away from the workplace. How does this idea of learning from home relate to the frontline workforce, especially people who have been furloughed but can fully expect to return to their jobs once businesses reopened? That’s what our story is about today, but this story comes with a little more…. jazz…. a little more ambiance. Today we’re going to take inspiration from the classic detective stories of the 1930s and 40’s as we investigate how the frontline workforce is still learning at home.

I’ve heard a lot of frontline stories these past few months, a lot of talk about what companies are doing to help their employees during these challenging times. Now there was word going around about employees who’d been sent home weeks ago that were still doing their job training. I had to learn more, but who were these employees? Why were they still doing their training and what these companies tell me their stories outright or would I have to keep it under wraps? Little did I know this investigation would take me halfway around the world to discover the whole story. My first stop was local right here in these United States. I knew her as a midsize retailer, one that knew her customer service just as well as she knew her products. Her name was Isla Barter, and she gave me an update on just how much business had grown since we last talked.

Isla Barter (03:14):
We have 4,000 employees and 350 locations.

JD Dillon (03:20):
When it came to frontline training, her team always knew how to get people engaged.

Isla Barter (03:24):
90% of our associates were regularly participating. They were logging in about three to four times per week.

JD Dillon (03:32):
But what was happening lately was the frontline still learning. Even after things changed, turns out engagement had gone down, but not nearly as much as you think considering all of our stores were closed and everyone was sent home.

Isla Barter (03:47):
We lost about 10% participation. That being said, people that are engaged are highly engaged and we did see an increase in our frequency so people were actually wanting to participate more and we saw an increase of about four to five times per week.

JD Dillon (04:05):
They were still on the payroll, but this training was voluntary. What was bringing them back almost every day? Well, it all started with communication.

Isla Barter (04:14):
so there’s a lot of videos that are being sent out, updating people on the status of the business when we’re coming back.

JD Dillon (04:21):
But it didn’t stop there. Her team was also sending out training on topics employees would need once they got back to work.

Isla Barter (04:28):
Proper hygiene techniques and preventing the spread of viruses. But we’ve also just kept and maintained the content that we had in there before. So I think it’s been really important for us during this time to make sure that people are staying up to date and not losing that knowledge.

JD Dillon (04:45):
But this was just one company. Surely frontline employees weren’t doing voluntary training and other places. I mean it’s usually hard to get them to do any training even when they’re at work every day. So I headed out on the internet to visit another friend. It was time to talk business. Big business. Sarah Shopkeeper has 25,000 employees and 1800 stores around the world and they were all closed. But just like with Isla, Sarah’s team was still learning at home.

Sarah Shopkeeper (05:17):
We’ve seen on average 40,000 training sessions a week from our employees while they’ve been at home.

JD Dillon (05:24):
And just like Isla, Sarah’s engagement had dropped thanks to the pandemic, but again, it didn’t really go down all that much.

Sarah Shopkeeper (05:31):
We are now sitting at a 75% participation rate, which is a little bit lower than before. But what we’re very excited about is to see our frequency increase. So we are now at about 14 times month frequency.

JD Dillon (05:43):
For Sarah, it was all about connection, keeping people connected. So when it was time to reopen, they could do it quickly and safely.

Sarah Shopkeeper (05:50):
We put such a focus on our communication so that our employees could feel connected to their leaders and feel connected to stores so when they come back to work, it’s less of a restart and more of a continuation

JD Dillon (06:02):
And this meant introducing new training while employees were at home, so they were ready to go when the time came.

Sarah Shopkeeper (06:09):
So as we look to reopen stores, we’re shifting some of the training to make sure that our soft skills take into consideration how to sell an environment where social distancing needs to be a part of that.

JD Dillon (06:20):
Not only were employees doing the training, they were really learning.

Sarah Shopkeeper (06:24):
We’ve seen 6% knowledge increase in the specific reopening topics.

JD Dillon (06:29):
It sounded like frontline employees everywhere were continuing to learn at home, but I still needed more details, more specific examples. Then I got it. The lead I was looking for, there was a great story to be told in New Zealand at a sports and home goods retailer called Briscoe Group. So down under, I went metaphorically speaking to speak with Aston Moss, General Manager of Human Resources.

Aston Moss (06:53):
What do they say in real estate? The three most important things are location, location, location. I think in pandemic planning and most things I chair, the answer is communication, communication, communication. So staying in touch is critically important for us.

JD Dillon (07:08):
What I heard wasn’t a story about learning. It was a story about taking care of people.

Aston Moss (07:14):
The biggest challenge overall was giving them peace of mind and keeping connected. Now we’re very mindful that out of roughly 2,000-2,200 people, a lot of those people are more vulnerable from an income perspective and so their confidence around their ability to pay their bills, pay for groceries, pay the grant, whatever expenses they had was critically important.

JD Dillon (07:39):
for Briscoe Group the learning engagement they had already developed, which was upwards of 94% before the country went on lockdown, enabled them to take a new approach to frontline communication.

Aston Moss (07:49):
So we then started a body of work to go, what do we need to get out there? And a lot of that was messaging tied to employee concerns. Part of it was around welfare and wellbeing. Part of it was around messages from the company. So we’ve done individual talks with people getting out during lockdown and doing just cell phone videos and uploading those from some of our leadership team in particular. We’ve had some of our brand ambassadors. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have a whole stable of brand ambassadors who’ve done messages of Goodwill for our business.

JD Dillon (08:22):
Like the other stories I’d heard Aston’s team didn’t stop with communication. They took the opportunity to provide associates with training on new topics,

Aston Moss (08:31):
But we’ve released a whole new categories of content tied into work from home health and hygiene, all of those kind of considerations. So we’ve been really fortunate that we’ve been able to draw from all of these different areas and pools of material to have quite a wide ranging and rich set of material.

JD Dillon (08:50):
And that drove engagement up even more.

Aston Moss (08:52):
And we’ve seen that pay itself back in spades. We’ve engagement 98%, so participation at 98%, and frequency while we were sitting at around 11.4 when we went into this, we’ve had 15.9.

JD Dillon (09:06):
But why? Why were they engaging? Why were they coming back for more training almost every day from home it was because the associates felt cared for.

Aston Moss (09:16):
Our team knew we were concerned about them. They knew that we had their interests at heart, as well as being conditionally sensible and reasonable. We are a business. We’re there to make money and to satisfy customers through selling them a wide range of great products.

JD Dillon (09:29):
And the team also found ways to recognize associates for their efforts at home. A strategy that looks like it’s going to continue.

Aston Moss (09:36):
We’ve introduced incentive programs to really keep engagement going. We’ve done all manner of things including vouchers and swag and everything else. At the same time, we’ve also realized just how significant the value of that will be as part of coming out of lockdown and kind of our future strategies.

JD Dillon (09:52):
After five weeks of lockdown Briscoe Group seemed ready to get their frontline back to work and they know how critical frontline performance will be once the stores reopened.

Aston Moss (10:03):
We’ve got to make sure that our customer service, our product knowledge and all of our routines and processes are absolutely top notch. We have to play our best game ever so that every customer who does come in understands that our brand is there to satisfy their needs.

JD Dillon (10:17):
and it’s going to take the entire team to deliver that customer experience.

Aston Moss (10:22):
I’m incredibly lucky to work as part of a phenomenally engaged and motivated team, whether that’s our team on the frontline who have just been really keen to get back to work and work alongside their teammates and our customers. Whether it’s our support team who’ve worked tirelessly while we’ve been shut down. Whether it’s our finance team, making sure our team get paid across the country. Whether it’s our merchandise team, thinking about what are they going to do with all the stock that sits on the water on its way to us when our doors are closed. All manner of different functions have worked incredibly hard, and I’m really grateful for my team members who’ve worked so hard and diligently to drive engagement with the team.

JD Dillon (11:03):
And that was it. I had found the story I was looking for frontline employees around the world didn’t need to be clocked in for a shift to continue learning if their companies had made the effort to engage them in learning and development before the pandemic. This habit of continuous learning just kept on going and when the time comes for these employees to head back to work, they’ll be ready. And I’ll have another story to investigate. So Richia, what are your big takeaways from today’s story?

Richia McCutcheon (11:35):
I think it’s super cool that there are companies out here engaging with our front line employees and I think it’s a great opportunity for them to communicate and help them understand that they’re a support system for them through this time and make sure that they’re continuously engaged so that when they come back to work, they feel like they belong and that they’re safe and they’re being thought of.

JD Dillon (11:56):
Beyond the communications and the training tactics. Today’s stories showcase just how important it is to take care of your people regardless of their role and how making an investment in frontline engagement can make your business that much more resilient in times like this. This is a sentiment Aston from Briscoe group echoed when he said…

Aston Moss (12:13):
The front line for us eventually represents the bottom line. So everything that we can do to give them peace of mind, keep them engaged. There’s just incredibly important.

Richia McCutcheon (12:25):
It shows that the companies are really trying to make the frontline burgers especially feel like they’re important and they matter to the company no matter what the circumstance. So even though they’re not going into work, this is the company and management saying, you matter to us, we want you to do well, we care about you and we want you to be your best. When you come back.

JD Dillon (12:44):
I’d like to thank Aston Moss from Briscoe Group for taking part in our investigation into how the frontline is still learning from home. And thank you for taking the time to join us on The 80%.

Richia McCutcheon (12:54):
To listen to more of our frontline stories. You get subscribed to the 80% on your favorite podcast app. You can also find all of our episodes online at axonify.com/podcast.

JD Dillon (13:04)
We hope you’ll join us again in two weeks for another story about how organizations are helping frontline employees make a difference in their organizations and communities. I’ll see you then Richia.

Richia McCutcheon (13:16):
Talk to you then JD.

JD Dillon (13:17):
Until next time, be kind to the frontline.

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