Has 2020 accelerated our shift toward an online world?

The entire world seems to have shifted online this year, but has this increased our reliance on digital technology?

To say that 2020 has been a year like no other would be a gross underestimate and a tired cliché. Instead, people are now looking to the positives that have come out of the coronavirus pandemic and what digital lessons we have learned to incorporate into our everyday lives.

One very obvious trend that has emerged is our shift towards conducting business online. The move to the home office has brought about an immediate need for a virtual workplace, with almost all communication taking place without looking another human being in the eye.

 

The whole world has gone digital

However, it is not just the workforce that has taken a bold step into the digital age; children are now learning from home, wine tastings are taking place online and our older generations are having to grapple with technology they thought had passed them by.

Pamela, a retired schoolteacher from Edinburgh, Scotland, says that she had no option but to ‘go digital’. “I was in lockdown for months and had to teach myself how to shop online. However, I now do all my grocery shopping through a smartphone app and buy my grandchildren’s birthday presents through Amazon. I won’t be going back!”

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Digital training is here to stay, but it does have limitations.
Photo credit - IPAF

 

Digital business

But what about those businesses that are not office-based and require hands-on training and operation? These firms have faced the unique problem of blending the virtual and physical worlds.

For Peter Douglas, CEO and Managing Director at IPAF, the digital era has not come as a surprise, but the speed in which his organisation had to ramp up its e-learning theory course required a movement of staff and a ten-fold increase in demand.

Before lockdown in the UK, IPAF had around 50 people per week taking their e-learning operator theory course. However, since the pandemic hit they have been dealing with 500 individuals taking the course each week.

IPAF training is available across 550 training centres in 72 different countries worldwide, providing powered access training courses for mobile elevating work platforms, mast climbing work platforms and constructions hoists. With a great deal of experience in the industry, Douglas believes this trend could be here to stay.

“We have had an e-learning based theory course for five years, but we noticed during lockdown that the numbers grew exponentially because people still needed to be trained. The only way of doing that was from the safety of their own homes. The biggest trend for us is that the numbers have not reduced, even though we can do face-to-face training again. It just makes sense,” he offers.

Jørgen Martinsen, CEO at Jøma Lift Teknik A/S, was tasked with a completely different digital adaptation. His company recently became a Dinolift distributor, but travel restrictions forced the team to undertake training on Dinolift’s products without meeting any of their sales professionals. This is something that, while problematic at the beginning, became beneficial over time.

Getting to know the Dinolift sales team online was unusual, but he is remarkably pleased with the progress and ultimate results of their digital crash course. “The training worked really well online. Our sales team was able to spend time with the Dinolift team and nobody had any complaints. It was the second-best option available! We also had sales training for the various products and were able to review the training afterwards at our own leisure.”

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Industry events could be a mix of face-to-face and digital in the future.
Photo credit - Dinolift

 

Hands off hands-on training

However, Martinsen is not getting carried away with the surge towards a digital workplace. While it undoubtedly has its merits and advantages, practicalities mean he works in an industry that is unlikely to be completely consumed by it.

“It is not something that could ever take over 100% when it comes to machine training, but for meetings I see it as the future. Our sales team is dotted all over Denmark, so a meeting is reduced to exactly that: a meeting! There is no travel time and, of course, it saves the company money,” he enthuses.

Douglas agrees and points to the necessity of getting inexperienced workers crucial training hours with the machinery. “If we are renewing licences or dealing with seasoned professionals, there are few problems associated with e-learning. However, I would not recommend it for first-time training – there really is nothing like getting the feel of a machine,” he confirms.

 

Face-to-face will always be here

One thing that has become clear to both Douglas and Martinsen is that there will always be a place for face-to-face meetings. While the advancement of technology is providing huge benefits for businesses – and society in general – nothing can replace the human interaction that operators need.

“Face to face will always be there, but not as much as in the past. Having said that, there are some relationships that just work better when you meet in person,” says Martinsen.

Douglas, meanwhile, believes that IPAF has learnt from this shift to digital but he still craves that human interaction. “I don’t think we’ll do as many physical events in the future, but we will have a blend and that works for us.”

This is something with which Janne Oranta, Dinolift’s After Sales Manager, agrees completely. “I really miss being in a room with clients, as interacting with different people is the best part of my job. I also miss my colleagues and spending quality time with them. We have adapted well to the online workplace, but the future needs to be a combination of both.”