Embracing online training during lockdown

Simon Horn

Simon Horn, technical development manager at Stewart Milne Timber Systems discusses the benefits of embracing online training in a locked-down world. 

As restrictions to safeguard against the Covid-19 pandemic continue, and with the expectation that many things in life will not return to business as usual for months to come, it’s vital that companies adapt in order to keep in touch with clients and continue delivering services.

Whether it’s in the form of meetings via Zoom or Microsoft Teams, or virtual learning and events, we’re lucky to be in such a connected world that allows for that all-important face-to-face interaction. Webinar has been the buzzword in recent weeks, and for good reason.

Alongside various other companies, we at Stewart Milne Timber Systems have embraced virtual communication tools to deliver as seamless a service as possible to our customers. Since April, we have delivered a series of training webinars to our clients Taylor Wimpey, L&Q (London & Quadrant) Housing Association and Countryside Properties, using the Microsoft Teams online platform to great success.

These online training sessions, each lasting two hours, have been well attended with nearly 300 participants joining from all levels and roles within the construction industry.

Not only have these sessions allowed us to continue engaging with our valued customers, they have also ensured vital training and staff development continues. As the UK’s leading provider of precision engineered timber system solutions, online training has enabled us to share our unrivalled expertise gathered throughout the past 40 years.

Topics have included a general overview of offsite manufacture, and a more detailed, technical look at timber frame construction, while others have been tailored for a more audience specific approach – tackling the commercial element and benefit, as well as the on-site construction efficiency improvement for our client London & Quadrant.

The benefits of switching to online

Stewart Milne Timber Systems has always engaged with training sessions and workshops, with each session important in ensuring industry standards are upheld, and that knowledge is shared and understood on the benefits of timber frame construction.

By throwing open our virtual doors, we have been able to welcome attendees working at various levels – from business directors through to administrative staff, those with technical, construction or commercial focuses, and everything in-between. These sessions have also enabled those in the industry to undertake a virtual video tour of SMTS’ manufacturing facility in Witney – but remotely, from home – and further strengthen their understanding of how offsite timber frame manufacture can benefit society and their own businesses.

Traditionally our training sessions would have been held for a maximum of 30 per event, however the simple switch to online has enabled us to increase our audience reach by almost 50% already.

Having an online open format allows people to join without the need for travel, removing the additional time commitment it entails. It also means companies and their employees are provided an opportunity to widen their understanding, skillset and training processes for perhaps the first time.

By eliminating the need to travel to an on-site workshop, both now and in the future, our clients’ costs and carbon footprint are greatly reduced – tying in perfectly with our sustainable values.

What you need to consider before logging-on?

1. Does your content translate to online? 

Care must be taken to consider how best to adapt training for an online audience. You must recognise that, while the content and key messages may remain the same, interactive elements and visual aids may not translate as well to this new platform.

2. Which platform suits your needs? 

Before we kicked things off, we trialled various video and webinar platforms before settling on Microsoft Teams. It may vary depending on your company and approach, but we found that this platform works well for us as it allows us to utilise the ‘Chat’ facility. Attendees can type in questions throughout the workshop, and I can address these at the end of the session without interrupting the flow of the presentation.

3. Visual tools are still important.

I still use samples and graphics heavily, even online, as this helps bring things to life and allow attendees to obtain a better understanding. It’s also important to spend time discussing these to make sure the learning is taken away, particularly as participants are now viewing through a screen, opposed to in-person.

Looking ahead to post-lockdown, what does the future hold for training?

We are always learning and adapting as the world around us changes and new tools are available to us through technology. These online training sessions may have been necessitated by the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak, but that does not mean they will be forgotten about when things begin to return to the way they were. The opposite, these online sessions are here to stay, being a really positive and efficient way to engage, and will simply become the new normal.

Our online training programme has revolutionised the way we can communicate and interact directly with our clients. Feedback from attendees has been overwhelmingly positive – Susan Parkins, future talent manager at Taylor Wimpey even heralded them as “truly amazing”. The incredible response means that plans are now in place for the online training sessions to be a regular forum in the months and years to come, in tandem with the in-person training for those who do visit the Witney offsite manufacturing facility, or that is delivered out on-site directly to clients’ construction teams.

Watch this space as we embrace the virtual world and explore further ways in which to bring our products to life online in 2020…and beyond.