One of human resources’ most noble tasks is building up employees now and in the future. Yet, with American workforces largely dispersed and operating remotely in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a challenge has emerged for HR managers: How do we continue effectively reaching and training our people in a virtual environment? These considerations may help.

Employee training options for a virtual world

None of us could have predicted how 2020 has panned out, with many aspects of society having transitioned to digital-first tools, including businesses, schools and doctors. Until in-person training can make its return, HR managers require virtual options for up skilling and development strategies.

Whichever digital tools you use, start by identifying key skills essential for all employees, regardless of level or vocation. Look for training courses and certifications that address these needs, such as Lean Six Sigma, project management, root-cause analysis or change management. Another more organic option is to identify employees’ skill gaps and connect mentors with mentees for a knowledge-sharing network. Both formal and informal education go a long way toward equipping employees with necessary skills and relationships to forge ahead.

The pandemic has elevated businesses’ engagement with employees without physical boundaries. As a result, teams can deliver more training more frequently without sacrificing quality and without the time or budgetary impact associated with travel expenses and printed materials. However, limited boundaries at home may mean shorter time blocks dedicated to training, so employees may benefit from different time options — for example, expanding a one-day training over two days instead.

While skills training demonstrates an investment in workers’ career growth, business and personal education topics can be equally meaningful. This might look like a virtual town hall meeting to hear about key initiatives from senior management or practical training on topics like navigating day-to-day life with children e-learning at home. Sometimes business leaders may need to step aside altogether and tap keynote speakers to discuss subjects such as building resiliency during times of uncertainty or better managing stress and anxiety. These opportunities can communicate to employees that management keeps in mind the “human” part of human resources.

Linking employee growth and competitive benefits

One area deserving attention in the context of employee development is the need to retain top talent. After all, you can spend all the time and money at your disposal to developing top-quality training initiatives, but you will not see a return on your investment if you have high turnover. One way HR can help impact employee satisfaction and retention is by building a competitive benefits package.

Consider the important role health benefits continue to play in workforce well-being and satisfaction. According to the 2020-2021 Aflac WorkForces Report, 35% of employees say improving their benefits package is the one thing their employer could do to keep them in their jobs — second only to increasing their pay. Since costs continue to be a barrier for employers, one option to consider is offering supplemental insurance —not only can it be offered at no cost to the business, but 60% of employers say it helps improve retention.

Other benefits that have become important to offer include telehealth, which has seen a boom this year, as well as financial and emotional wellness programs. The pandemic has brought with it a variety of stressors, and employees may find value in having access to experts who can help with such topics as understanding and negotiating medical bills or who provide counseling services to talk through difficult times. Have a discussion with a benefits consultant about what makes the most sense for your business and work toward implementing an improved benefits strategy.

Preparing for tomorrow today

Just as we couldn’t have imagined what 2020 would look like, neither can we definitively foretell what 2021 will bring. However, HR managers are in a prime position to invest in employees now and into the future by building a culture of learning and development, as well as boosting benefits to help retain happy workers. These are imperative to success for every business of every size to help take care of employees so they can, in return, help take care of the business.

Donna Baker is director of Leadership, Learning and Development at Aflac. Her responsibilities include leading the company’s corporate training, leadership development, succession planning and career development, including Aflac’s Career Success Centers, corporate mentoring and executive coaching programs, corporate scholarships and university educational partnerships, Aflac’s Toastmaster chapters and employee engagement initiatives.