6 ways that Covid-19 has accelerated our digital skills

To coincide with Digital Skills Week, Catherine Evans reflects on the impact of COVID-19 on the Centre’s digital skills

See this page in: Cymraeg

A few weeks back my colleague Allan Shepherd posted a blog about his experience in the early days of the pandemic lockdown. One of the most poignant images he shared was of his car, until then an essential tool of his job, parked up on his drive indefinitely. Instead of driving around Powys to make presentations and meet people, Allan was quickly developing a raft of digital skills including learning how to give exceptional webinars and create online learning environments.

He is one of over 90 colleagues of mine at the Wales Co-operative Centre who have had to get up to speed very quickly with digital tools and platforms, as we all moved from our office bases around Wales to remote home working within 24 hours of the Government’s announcement on 16 March. Quite a feat.

Having attended my share of meetings in recent years of the Wales Co-operative Centre’s digital transformation steering group, where progress has been steady rather than spectacular, I’m truly in awe at the way in which my colleagues have upped their digital game in recent weeks. Not only have they taken the first steps with new tools, but they’ve grasped them with both hands and are happily innovating new solutions to continue to meet the needs of their clients. Here’s how:

  1. Training and events

Face-to-face events were previously the order of the day, with a huge number of networks, seminars, conferences, and training sessions taking place across Wales. Without the option to do this, my co-workers have embraced webinar technology and are redesigning networking and training sessions to work online. We’re finding that this is increasing our agility and responsiveness – webinars can be planned, promoted, sold out and delivered within a few days – and  extending our reach as more people are able to attend a 90 minute webinar than would travel for several hours to attend in person. The reduction in carbon emissions as well as time and cost savings have also been significant. There is a big difference between presenting in person and online, so as well as learning new technical skills, people are developing new presentation skills to make sure online sessions are engaging and interactive.

  1. Recruitment

The Centre recruits people from all over Wales and the UK, so traditional recruitment interviews required both panellists and candidates to travel to our head office in Caerphilly. We had interviews scheduled for three posts when the lockdown started and had to decide whether to proceed or postpone. Since no one knew how long the lockdown would last, we chose to run the interviews online and this meant honing our video conferencing skills so that candidates were at ease and able to perform to the best of their ability, whilst presenting ourselves in the most professional way possible. The process enabled us to appoint to all three posts and so far, these appointments have been successful even though we have never actually met our new recruits face-to-face and they have all received their induction online.

  1. Team planning

The lockdown has compelled us to use a whole suite of planning tools we’d never come across before. For the Policy and Communications team, most of our work is a collaborative effort involving multiple people, so having a clear picture of goals, tasks and timescales has always been essential. Because we’re now working remotely from our individual homes, we’ve developed new digital skills to manage files, organise tasks and keep each other up-to-date, particularly through Microsoft Teams. Conversations which we’d previously have over the desk or in a meeting can now be held through a chat function. We’ve also become adept at using WhatsApp to check in on each other’s well-being and select exactly the right GIF to express how the day is going!

  1. Business support and advice services

The Centre’s mainstay is providing business support and advice services, whether to budding social entrepreneurs, groups looking to set up a community-led housing scheme, or organisations keen to help people get online. This has always been done primarily face-to-face. Even though it’s more time-consuming and damaging to the environment, many advisers and clients clung to the idea that advice and support was best delivered in person. Covid-19 has accelerated innovation in support services which have remained unchanged in decades, as traditional face-to-face support has been transformed into a digital service. With so many clients in need, business advisers have rapidly developed digital skills and started using technology to support them. Overnight, processes which have always been paper-based have become digital, often making them leaner as well.

  1. Team meetings

I love our all-organisation team meetings – a chance to catch up with colleagues based in other parts of Wales; discuss strategic plans and brainstorm new ideas; and of course, indulge at the fundraising cake sale. But Covid-19 has forced these events online and led to a re-evaluation of how they run. Just how do you manage a meeting for 90+ people online? It required some next level video conferencing skills, but we did it for the first time in April and the result was a highly focussed session which achieved tangible outcomes. If anything, it enabled a greater degree of interaction because colleagues who’d be reluctant to ask questions or contribute in front of a room full of people felt comfortable using the chat function to make comments. The only thing missing was the cake!

  1. Video editing

Online video was already a ‘must have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’ for the Centre.  It’s helped us improve our online performance by increasing conversion rates, user engagement and Google rankings. But video was something outsourced and expensive which usually took several months to create. Since the lockdown, we’ve discovered that many of our team have video production skills, and those that didn’t have begun to learn them. In place of traditional case study videos, we’re using video conferencing tools to film interviews with people, then editing them within a few days, producing films which feel more immediate and “newsier”. Project teams working remotely from each other are creating their own promotional films to use on social media whilst others are getting to grips with free animation software to share their message. Our collective digital content skills have been unleashed and the results are helping us communicate more authentically than ever.

And so…

…both the level and range of people’s digital skills have been revolutionised at the Centre in a matter of weeks. Our challenge now is to continue to develop, hone and practice what we are learning, ensuring that digital skills are and remain core skills for all of us.

There is the potential that we will revert to business as usual. But we don’t want to do that. Our newfound digital skills have made us more efficient, enabled us to work more effectively and are helping tackle climate change. We now need to plan how to embed these skills, and any additional ones, so we are ready when social distancing measures come to an end to approach our work in a more agile, cost effective way that allows us to continue to offer the excellent service upon which our reputation depends, whilst reducing our carbon footprint and increasing the well-being of our people.

Catherine Evans is Policy and Communications Manager at the Wales Co-operative Centre

Catherine Evans, Marketing Manager

Digital Skills Week is a week of interactive and informative events hosted in partnership with thought leaders, influencers and industry. It runs from 18 May 2020 to help drive the digital skills agenda for employees and organisations as we create a UK ready for its digital future.