Upskilling and keeping staff engaged through COVID limbo

Attempting to plan for the future has been challenging throughout the pandemic, but the extension to the furlough scheme may allow HR professionals to take a breath and look ahead.

As businesses continue to endure the ravages of the pandemic, they will want to ensure they have dynamic, resilient workforces equipped to face up to the challenges ahead.

Online learning and education

Now more than ever, online learning is a crucial tool for employers. For businesses with staff on the payroll operating at reduced capacity, investing in online learning may be an incredibly valuable way to allow employees to study around any work commitments, while engaging and empowering them for the future.

And this investment needn’t be expensive. Employers who are able could consider sponsoring staff through industry recognised qualifications like Executive MBAs. Online specific learning providers which have designed their courses with accessibility and flexibility in mind have done all they can to reduce costs, while assuring quality with university-validated courses, in order to make MBAs a viable option for many.

Providers offering MBAs with a range of learning pathways allow employers to select tailored programmes that best suit organisational needs.

This investment in employee development could provide a much-needed boost to confidence, motivation and wellbeing throughout a period of uncertainty. Supporting employees to develop professionally brings new benefits and ideas into your organisation, as well as contributing towards staff loyalty.

Beyond these factors, on a practical level, there’s the possibility that investment in learning and development could be eligible for tax breaks for employers where courses are specialist.

Culture club

Aside from online learning, employers could utilise the expertise and insight of staff whose workload might be reduced to focus on an internal culture project.

Even in the strongest organisations, culture and cohesion will have been affected by the pandemic, and workplaces must make deliberate efforts to recover this.

Internal culture is being constantly created and shaped, and it can be rare for management teams to get chance to spend time deliberately cultivating their culture.

For some companies this strange period may provide that opportunity, and for it to be people led. Creating space for staff from across the organisation, with a range of perspectives and skills, to collaborate and consider what the organisational culture means to them and how they want it to look post-pandemic, is an invaluable opportunity to reconnect.

This project could work to define what your organisational culture is, including its strengths and weaknesses, then consider what influences company culture and how this might have been affected this year – from leadership, values, and policies to environment and communication.


With a similar focus on culture and values, employers could facilitate opportunities for staff to interact with their local community through charity collaboration or CSR projects.

Times of crisis can be a test of a company’s commitment to CSR, and linking your employees with local organisations affected by the pandemic – or who may be providing an essential service – allows them to utilise their skills while developing in a different environment and building local connections.

Such work can also help to reconnect and refocus staff, who have spent long periods apart, around a shared purpose.

For your organisation, this is an organic way of building brand awareness and community understanding, while demonstrating your commitment to your values both internally and externally.

Throughout this incredibly challenging period for employers, there are opportunities to upskill and reskill workforces that bring new and revitalising benefits for individual staff and organisations.

Clare Holt is deputy programme lead at online learning firm Learna