As many of our organizations shifted to remote work overnight, the new workplace normal is rapidly evolving. In times like these, it’s more important than ever for People and Learning & Development (L&D) leaders to connect and listen to one another. In our new virtual miniseries, Udemy Connect, several hundred L&D and People peers came together virtually to share ideas and solutions for our new working world.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the People function thinking about the future of work. Many of us have been moving our organizations towards a more digitally enabled workplace with collaborative tools like Slack for internal communication, online learning platforms, or Augmented Reality onboarding tools. At Udemy, we’ve been trying to lead the way internally for a different type of working environment, but that has dramatically accelerated in the past few weeks. 

We love the opportunity to share our learnings. We certainly don’t have it all figured out. Still, we have received consistent feedback from our employees that they feel supported by our People team during this time of uncertainty. We recently hosted the Udemy Connect virtual miniseries, our first in a series of three, where we shared our programs and ideas for adapting to a remote work environment. In this blog, we’ll share some of the highlights of our Udemy Connect Episode 1: Ensuring Employee Success Anywhere, Anytime.

The challenges we’re all experiencing

As we began our virtual Udemy Connect episode, we wanted to get a sense of what was going on with our attendees, so we asked them to share a word or phrase that described how they were feeling as a leader in their organization today. The word cloud below provides a good indication of their sentiment.

We recognize that many People and L&D leaders are feeling anxious and uncertain. Here are a few strategies and concrete steps to help you navigate your organization through this time of unprecedented change.

Quick pivot: Mobilizing your People and L&D team

If you’re making a rapid transition to remote work (or any significant change), the first step is to mobilize your People and L&D team to make quick pivots. This begins with doing an audit. We asked ourselves the following three questions: 

Currently, our L&D roadmap covers only the next two weeks because we have to be agile in these fast-changing times. This timeframe feels right because we’re trying to maintain a balance between being prepared while also acknowledging we can’t predict what’s going to happen next. In short, we don’t want to over plan in such an uncertain and unpredictable situation.

Our L&D team already follows an agile methodology, so we’re used to being scrappy, delivering a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) — or what we call “V1” — and constantly iterating. We also frame our work through the point of need and time. This allows us to re-evaluate based on our current needs. Our team has been asking, “What matters now? What matters most? What doesn’t matter anymore?” 

Enabling remote work throughout the employee lifecycle

At Udemy, we address challenges through the lens of learning. When our leaders are considering how to tackle what lies ahead, we focus on our ability to have a growth mindset and learn through these challenges and opportunities. We believe in the importance of approaching problems by asking, “How do we learn through this? What are points of knowledge that we need to have as a foundation before addressing process change or policy change?” 

The questions our People team consider are: “Where do we start and what is the prioritization? How do we leverage our resources to serve our employee community?” Our goal is to keep the employee experience as positive as possible. As we support our newly remote organization, we’re organizing our programs around the different stages of the employee lifecycle and reallocating resources to address them digitally.

1. Recruiting and interviewing 

When shifting to an all-remote recruiting and interviewing experience, we emphasize aligning a candidate’s expectations with those of the organization and we’ve developed plans for how to do this remotely. It’s also critical to empower managers to make hiring decisions when they haven’t met someone in person. To help give managers the confidence they need to do this, we’ve leaned on our interview and decision-making training.

2. Onboarding 

We transitioned from flying all new hires into our San Francisco headquarters to implementing fully remote onboarding in a week. To achieve such a quick turnaround, we triaged the core onboarding process and brought a lot of onboarding communications online and through our Udemy for Business platform.

Luckily, we had already transitioned our onboarding from live presentations by executives to an online video course that we custom created on our Udemy for Business platform. The video course featured executives introducing their different departments in a fun and engaging way and highlighted our founder Eren Bali’s inspiring personal story on why he founded Udemy. When we audited our existing resources, the onboarding video course emerged as a useful tool that we could rely on in our new remote workplace.

In addition, we also leveraged the Learning Path feature on our Udemy for Business platform to create a new Onboarding Learning Path. This curated path enables our new hires to access Udemy knowledge quickly and at their own pace without physically being in the office. Without having a colleague’s shoulder to tap on for a quick question, our new hires can use this online learning path as an essential resource.

3. Manager training — leading remote teams 

In times of change, your people managers are on the front lines. They’ll be responsible for dealing with offboarding and performance management as well as the ongoing, day-to-day skills development, employee experience, and career development aspects of the employee lifecycle.

Keep in mind that for managers, it’s critically important to have tough conversations, coaching conversations, feedback conversations — all of the things that keep an employee really engaged in the office are the same things that keep them engaged out of the office. Be sure to layer in those conversations about point of need and time to help them prioritize work. Employees need to feel agency during this change. If it’s just a goal change on top that flows down, you’ll lose a lot of capability within your organization, the things that excite people about their jobs can become overwhelming, and anxiety can creep up.

Additionally, we already had our Manager Lab, a social peer-to-peer learning program for our people managers. We recently hosted a Manager Lab on “How to Lead a Remote Team” for 30+ people managers which we also broke out into smaller Zoom discussion groups (5 managers per group). The managers were given a set of questions to discuss as a small group — providing an opportunity to share issues and solutions. Managers then came back as a larger group and shared out ideas both verbally via Zoom and in the written chat function. Our managers were especially grateful for this session that came at a time when they were struggling to manage a team remotely overnight.

4. Supporting employees as they work remotely 

The individual’s need to develop change agility has become the most important skill we can help our employees enhance right now. There’s a lot that happens on both an emotional and a neurological level as we adapt to change. Understanding that can help your employees better cope with any change they face. We created an online course with tips to help employees adapt to working remotely.

Other skills that will help employees in a remote work environment include goal-setting and tools training, so they feel comfortable communicating and collaborating in ways that make sense at your company. A few Udemy courses that have been especially helpful for our new hires are: Feedback is Fuel, How to Manage Difficult Conversations, Growth Mindset, and Change Agility for Organizations.

5. Offboarding

We also need to be prepared for remote offboarding as attrition will still likely occur, even during these uncertain times. In addition, we also understand that some organizations may require a reduction in their workforce in response to the current economic situation. This will involve strong soft skills from our managers in terms of having difficult conversations and managing through change. All this becomes much more critical as we become a remote workforce. This is why upskilling your managers with the right skills to manage difficult conversations is critical.

Putting people first: It’s about being human first and foremost

How has the experience of shifting to remote work impacted our employees the most? The lines that used to exist between personal and professional lives have become blurred. We have kids that are walking into video calls, people living with new family members, and single people whose only connection to the outside world is their work environment. Each group has different needs and expectations from their employer in this new environment. During these uncertain times, the People team needs to provide emotional support as well. We already offered, a mental health support line, and the meditation app Headspace as wellness resources for our employees. To help ensure our employees’ home office was ergonomic, we also provided a stipend to order chairs, monitors, keyboards, or whatever they needed to make working from home ergonomic and comfortable. 

But in addition to those important support resources, we also wanted to make sure our special culture at Udemy continued to permeate the remote workplace as well. Together with our Culture Crew, a grassroots employee group, we brainstormed ways to keep our employees feeling connected emotionally as well. Some of these programs included:

Virtual Pet Happy Hour at Udemy via Zoom

In our recent Udemy Connect episode, we also encouraged our attendees to share and discuss ideas together via the Zoom webinar chat function. Here are some great programs that attendee People and L&D leaders shared as well:

At an executive level, we’ve led with safety, family, and connection. We’re in uncharted territory and things are changing fast, but we feel confident that we as People leaders can continue to do our best to support our organization and employees through this unprecedented time.

Page Last Updated: March 2020