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Looking back moving forward – What COVID will mean to charities and their Learning and Development provision.


Looking back moving forward – What COVID will mean to charities and their Learning and Development provision.

February 2, 2021

In this article, I discuss some thoughts I’ve had on the impact of 2020 (and 2021) on learning and development teams within UK charities. I hope you will find one or two things of interest, things you need to consider and reflect on.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 was a rough year. So, I’m not going to start with cliches about ‘crazy times’ and ‘the new normal’. You’ve heard it all before. You have probably started to identify some of the challenges your charity is going to face in 2021 when it comes to the development of your volunteers and staff.


“The story of COVID through 2020 for the charity sector has been one of huge challenge, but also of resilience, flexibility, and innovation.”

Daniel Fluskey,
Head of policy and external affairs
Chartered Institute of Fundraising


People have learnt new digital skills

Do you remember a time when it felt difficult to use a new communication tool? You know when you were used to using GoToMeeting but found WebEx™ a pain? In 2020 we got to grips with just jumping on, and we got used to it usually working. We were forced to have a variety of tools installed, to keep our headphones close, to remember our passwords and to stop putting ourselves on mute (OK this still happens in most meetings but the drama isn’t there now!). It might not be the way everyone would like to communicate but we have got on with it, we have adapted, and we have made it work because it was a necessity.

As a nation, 2020, moved forward the use of this type of communication by a decade which for L&D has immeasurable benefits, such as:

  • We now have a more experienced and willing workforce able to participate in online sessions.
  • As a nation, we have more experience in a variety of communication tools and in taking part in live video and audio calls.
  • We have more volunteers invested in new technical solutions to allow them to stay in touch.


Productivity increases

Studies have shown that productivity and creativity have increased during lockdown for some office-based staff.

“The key thing businesses have learned from the sudden shift to home working is that it works for them and their staff… Survey after survey reveals that productivity has not fallen and that most of those working at home in lockdown would like to continue to do so when social distancing restrictions are lifted.”

Prof Alan Felstead
Research professor at the School of Social Sciences
Cardiff University

If this is the case in your organisation, what support will staff, and volunteers need in the long term? How can you capitalise on this change in working patterns, whilst supporting staff to keep a work/life balance and positive mental health?

Businesses changed their models, did you?

One of the amazing things to witness in 2020 was the way that businesses, large and small, adapted to the changing circumstances. From the family accounting firm introducing new solutions for digital signatures, factories changing production to masks or hand-sanitiser, the solicitors introducing an app to remove the need to post documents.

We have seen this level of innovation in the charity sector as well and I’m sure your charity has come up with new ways to raise funds, deliver training and support your people.

How did you respond to the rapidly changing needs? Did your models of working adapt, or do you need to revise these? Are your learning solutions sufficiently connected to the core needs of the charity? COVID is going nowhere fast, so have a think about your 2020 response and what worked (and what didn’t) to help to ensure your L&D team supports your organisation to succeed in 2021.

New skills and interests

How many people do you know that started a new hobby or learnt something new in 2020?  Many of us had time on our hands and a need to stay busy.  This now means:

  • For the organisation, you probably have staff, volunteers and supporters that can now do things they couldn’t before. Could these new skills and interests be useful to your organisation? For example, new fundraising ideas or outreach?
  • For L&D specifically, consider… how they learnt these new skills? How can you capitalise, replicate, and promote this type of learning? Can you apply the model of learning how to make sourdough bread in your L&D strategy somehow?

Mental health and wellbeing

2020 for most of us has meant sustained isolation coupled with the inability to be able to access support networks. Many charities have increased their offering for staff in this area, provided access to resources and added live sessions for staff to support them. However, we are clearly finding that the longer our isolation from others continues, the greater the impact on our mental health. Studies have found that as 2021 continues in lockdown, people are exercising less, spending less time on new hobbies and commitment to volunteering is reduced. This reflects my own feelings of lockdown in winter. Will this lethargy improve with the weather or will we have a bigger problem to deal with?

So, as you continue to support people, a long-term strategy will need to continue to be developed. This will include training for managers who are the first level of support for staff in this area. They will need strategies to support staff working at home, support parents juggling home-schooling amongst their day or caring for loved ones who are unwell.

Returning workforce

Have you seen the film Wall-E? It’s a Pixar film that came out in 2008 (if you haven’t, I’d recommend it). I won’t give you too many spoilers but due to circumstances outlined in the film, the human race has changed how it lives. They now ride around on hovercrafts, only talking to others via a screen and have everything delivered to them on request. You can see where I’m going with this? I’ve been struck many times about the amusing similarities between where we have been forced to go as humans and the film plot. As we start to come back into our community, society and workplace will we need help to re-acclimatise? Or will we quickly shift back into old ways of working or will our extended period of remote working mean we return to a different type of relationship with colleagues, new attitudes, and new working patterns? How will L&D mitigate for a smooth return?

Talking to a delegate on an online programme I have been running, I was also struck by the large numbers of people that joined new teams in 2020 that they have not physically met yet. They might have completed an online induction but how can we support their integration into their new team, a new place of work and, for some a whole new organisation they know only via remote working.

Stalled on the job development?

Although more online learning has taken place in 2020 (furloughed staff completing training, staff having to retrain, inducting new volunteers) business as usual training will probably have slowed down dramatically. If you think of this in the context of the 70:20:10 model this means that 10% of how people learn at work may have been impacted.

For those not aware of the 70:20:10 model it suggests that:

  • 70% of what we learn in the workplace is based on just doing your job.
  • 20% is informal learning through interactions, observation, and discussions with others.
  • 10% is formal learning (training, elearning etc).

Did you spot anything else interesting about the ratio? What about the 20%? Will we have also seen a reduction of informal learning development as people work remotely with limited interaction and opportunities for observation?

Does 2020 mean that staff have faced a 30% reduction in personal development opportunities? If they have, what will this mean to the business going forward and how will you address this shortfall?

Focus on the things we haven’t done

If 2020 was the year we push everything online, will 2021 be the year we try to tackle all the things we couldn’t do in 2020?

Questions such as these will need to be addressed:

  • How closely have you been able to monitor compliance this year when so many people have been furloughed or changed roles?
  • How have you adapted compliance training to take into account new locations and ways of working?
  • What do you anticipate the workforce will want/expect as they become able to return to the office? Will they want to continue to work from home a few days a week? Change their work hours? How will the organisation respond? Will they want more meeting to be online? Will they want more learning online?

I’m going to end with one last question, which is both a longer-term consideration and also sits on the fence between a challenge and an opportunity. That question is what will be the impact of 2020 (and 2021) on a new generation of digital learners joining our workforce.

Generally, each generation outshines the last with technology, I’m better than my Dad but my son is already better than me. Have you considered what will happen when the children and young people of 2020 arrive in the workplace? They won’t just have more experience with technology, but they will also have had first-hand experience of elearning, communicating online, attending live training on a scale never seen before. Will they be eager for more or will poor experiences mean they push back a decade of progress for digital learning? Time will tell!

What are your thoughts when reflecting on 2020? I would love to hear about your experiences and thoughts on how the next year will look.

Let’s have a virtual coffee – drop me an email on

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