Training social competence – in virtual and hybrid settings

Training social competence – in virtual and hybrid settings

Since the planning of face-to-face events is still limited, many companies are asking themselves whether personnel development should focus more on virtual and hybrid training formats.   

Development programs that address social skills can work in both virtual and hybrid settings. Hybrid in this context means that some participants are physically present while others participate virtually. The online participants of a hybrid course use a collaboration platform and can communicate with those present. The course room needs appropriate audio and video technology to ensure that the collaboration between all participants works well. For virtual and hybrid formats to be successful, however, a number of factors must be taken into account.

In an article on the training of social skills in virtual and hybrid settings, Anita Berger writes about the advantages and new possibilities that arise, but also about the obstacles and problems that this new type of development presents.

About the author

Anita Berger is an enthusiastic executive coach, consultant and trainer with a focus on leadership development and international human resources management. She is co-partner and partner of MDI, Management Development International. She worked for more than 15 years in management and executive positions (including as HR Director at Coca-Cola Hellenic and HR Manager at Konica Minolta Business Solutions) in various industries and company sizes, from medium-sized companies to large international corporations.

Alternatives to face-to-face programmes

Of course, companies stopped their development projects or wait until presence formats are once again possible without restrictions. The question which remains is, what the current needs of the target groups are. What do the potential employees, experts and managers need now in order to get well involved in their organisations and stay there (keyword: retention)? It is apparent that many people are challenged, especially in this current situation, to hold discussions, give constructive feedback, set goals, initiate or implement changes, convince and win the commitment of the employees. Virtual or hybrid development programs and processes can support these efforts.

Sometimes these also offer a welcome change from everyday life, because they provide the opportunity to look at what is happening from a metaphorical perspective, to reflect and exchange ideas with other participants and thus gain a broader perspective.

The opportunities of virtual and hybrid training formats

Online and hybrid programs offer the potential to deal, for example, with communication, cooperation, (agile) leadership, change or conflict management – across national borders. There is no longer any need for travel time, and participants can sometimes combine events much better with private commitments.

Virtual and hybrid settings can set impulses that invite reflection and debate and – most importantly – can be put into practice.

The following questions, for example, can be addressed:

  • What are my communication preferences and how can I use them for effective communication?
  • How do I lead according to the developmental stages of my employees?
  • By which means do I succeed in agile goal management?
  • How do I lead in times of change and disruption?
  • What does it take for commitment in the digital age?
  • How do I gain commitment as a lateral leader?

Trust, interaction and training of new behaviors

The same questions are relevant for the effectiveness of projects and processes as for face-to-face events: “What is the concrete benefit for our business?”, “What do we want to achieve in concrete terms?”, “What kind of behaviour is needed for this?”, “How will we measure and recognise it?” and “What do the participants have to learn?

We can also build trust among the participants in virtual / hybrid settings, for example by giving social onboarding space and time, so that there is a high level of interest in the exchange with the other participants, a high degree of openness and depth in the discussions. It is essential that the participants are given the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other.

A high degree of interaction is possible through group work, discussions, role plays and queries. Of course, this requires a high degree of preparation and methodological competence on the part of the trainer as well as the technical infrastructure. Furthermore, it must be ensured that the participants are familiar or become familiar with the technology / online tool.

Some participants now particularly appreciate the virtual implementation because their work practice, for example conducting conversations, negotiations and presentations, takes place mainly online, and it is therefore a good opportunity for them to try out and practice (new) behaviour patterns.

Limitations: What to look out for in virtual and hybrid training formats

  • Social interaction and networking during the breaks in between are more limited. Therefore, many participants look forward to getting to know each other personally at a later date. At the same time, this offers the opportunity to push networking beyond the program.
  • The usual “we are all sitting physically in the same room” is no longer necessary in a purely virtual setting and “I can observe the others” is more limited. The at least partial activation of the video function is useful for this. It is only helpful to announce in advance that videos will be used (if possible), so that the participants create an “appearance” and an “environment” with which they feel comfortable online. In a hybrid setting these points are possible.
  • The quality of the participants depends in particular on the stability of the Internet connection and their IT infrastructure.
  • It should be noted how much the participants can concentrate on the program. They are strongly challenged to distance themselves from the tasks and topics that come in parallel to the training. After all, an e-mail is quickly opened in between – and the participant’s mind is already elsewhere. Therefore it is crucial to create a clear framework, ideally not to have any parallel open programs, not to plan any appointments “in between” and to coordinate this with the manager, so that the participant can really concentrate only on this during the training. In practice, it has been proven to be a good idea to activate the Absence Assistant.
  • It is important for the participant’s attention and energy level that he/she perceives the breaks as pauses and also moves in between.