Screenshot of people taking part in the virtual training session on Zoom

Is virtual training here to stay? That’s one of the big questions of the moment.

When the first UK lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020, many trainers struggled. Most of us are “people” people so the thought of losing face-to-face contact with delegates was daunting.

Of course, as the weeks rolled into months with no sign of COVID restrictions abating, we had no choice but to roll with the punches and find new ways of working until we could return to the classrooms.

I mean, you already know this – you lived through it too.

But who would have realised two years ago that, when the world started to open up again, many trainers who had hated the thought of virtual training sessions would have adapted so fully that they’d feel less than ecstatic about going back to face-to-face?

Concerns about face-to-face training

This is a hot topic within the Trainer Talk community at the moment. While there are trainers who are thrilled to be back in classrooms, others are more reticent.

There are many reasons for this.

Yes, some concerns are COVID-related. Some people don’t feel quite ready to return to busy training rooms.

There’s also the issue of what happens to your other training commitments if you catch COVID and need time off. While the government is introducing its “Living safely with COVID” measures and ending the legal requirement to isolate, some trainers are wary about potentially carrying COVID to or from training rooms. After the uncertainties of the last two years, it’s understandable if you don’t want to take that risk.

Unfortunately, some trainers – and delegates – now have long COVID and aren’t physically up to standing in a training room all day. Virtual training takes away pressure around this.

How do you want to work?

Although the pandemic presented more than its fair share of barriers, it also created opportunities for trainers that might have taken years to come about otherwise.

Historically, there’s been a fair bit of resistance to virtual training (the general consensus was that, for training to be meaningful, it has to happen face-to-face) but the collective innovation of the training industry – and other sectors – showed that virtual training can be done and done well.

The lockdowns gave us all cause to pause and think about our work-life balance.

Many trainers were used to spending hours in their car or on packed trains commuting to client locations, as well as overnight stints away from home. It was part of the job.

But the pandemic showed it doesn’t have to be.

Now, trainers are asking whether they want to go back to all that travelling and time in hotels if they can still deliver effective training from home.

The appeal of virtual training for clients

We mustn’t forget why virtual training matters to our clients too.

Face-to-face training can be expensive. As well as paying the trainer, businesses often have to cover the costs of a venue, food, accommodation, training materials and travel for each delegate. Virtual training can slash these outgoings, which may be a priority for businesses getting back on their feet post-COVID.

In addition, many businesses have decided to offer continued virtual or hybrid working to their employees; some have even closed down their physical premises. Having the option of virtual training means that delegates can take part from their home offices and then carry on with their working day.

The environmental costs of face-to-face training are also a growing consideration.

Throughout the world, businesses are looking at ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Whereas some corporations used to think nothing of flying a trainer from the UK to New York to teach delegates who had also flown in from international offices, it’s hard to justify the costs today knowing that delegates can attend from anywhere around the globe without clocking up a single air mile.

Given that more and more companies are asking trainers for their environmental policies and publishing their own environmental pledges to their customers, virtual training offers a comprehensive way to embrace learning and development without it costing the planet.

Your business, your choice

The reality is that the world of work will never fully return to the way it was pre-COVID and that’s good news for trainers.

Now, with relaxing restrictions, those of you who prefer to work face-to-face or tackle topics that require an in-person element can deliver content in this way. For some people, there will never be a substitute for the noise of 30 people talking during a breakout session or the immediacy of a question that’s asked mid-flow without the mute button on Zoom as a barrier.

However, if you prefer to provide virtual training, there are many valid reasons to do so.

I imagine that most trainers will land somewhere in the middle, creating a hybrid training business. This could include offering face-to-face training with a virtual element for remote delegates or might simply entail only working in person for a set number of days per month.

Perhaps more of us with have the opportunity to pick and choose how we work, travelling when it fits in with our wider lives rather than building our lives around geographically distant clients.

Hybrid working will continue to stretch us and our clients in new ways. Who knows where it will take us?

The key point is that if you’re not chomping at the bit to return to face-to-face training, you’re not alone. The good news is that you get to decide what feels right for you. One of the perks of running your own training business is that you get to decide how you work.

You can always change your mind. A year from now, you may want more face-to-face work. Equally, you may decide that you long for more time on Zoom and less time on the road.

Either way, it looks like virtual training is here to stay.

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