Posted by Caveo Learning ● July 30, 2020

You've Been Furloughed from your L&D Job... Now What?

Leonard Cochran profile pic

Leonard Cochran is a Regional Learning Manager for Hilton. Leonard holds a B.S. Degree in Adult Education from Bellevue University, and has held the CPTD (formerly the CPLP) certification from ATD since 2010. He’s held a number of positions at Hilton on the Learning and Development team, currently serving as a Regional Learning Manager facilitating both virtual and classroom training. During his time in furlough, he and a friend started a weekly podcast about change called Furloughed—Defining Moments Worth Talking About. Opinions expressed are solely Leonard’s and not a reflection of Hilton or any of its entities.

You have been furloughed; what has been the biggest adjustment for you?
The good thing about furlough is I have a promise of returning to my job at some point in time; unlike a layoff where there isn’t a promise of employment. I didn’t realize the difference in terms before this experience.

Two areas of adjustment that come to mind are the longevity of the furlough and the uncertainty of things. Years ago, I worked for a company that was bought out and my department was eliminated. So, I had some expectations going into the furlough on what to expect from an emotional perspective. That’s been helpful in helping me keep my sanity.

The biggest adjustment is getting used to the longevity of being off. When I was first put on furlough it was expected to last 90 days. As we got near the end of that period, I was informed we would have a second 90-day furlough. That’s half a year! I’m fortunate that I was given the extension. Unfortunately, the pandemic has done terrible damage to the hospitality industry, so staffing was reduced. Many team members were laid off and their furlough was not extended.

Fortunately, the federal government had a stimulus that added to our unemployment payments, so it’s been easier to pay the bills. It’s my understanding that the funding will stop at the end of July. So, that’s a little unsettling. Again, I’m fortunate. Some of my international friends living and working in the United States have had to survive the full time without any government assistance; no unemployment, no stimulus checks. Nothing. They’ve had to find other sources of income.

How have you decided on how much time to spend enjoying time off and how much time to spend productively? What are you doing to remain productive?

I had a list of things needing to be done around the house before the furlough started. So, my wife and I sat down together to prioritize that list. I also made a list of some of the things that I had been wanting to do but hadn’t since time didn’t allow it. We agreed that I would use the first part of the morning for my fun projects and the rest of the day for home and other projects.

My productive time has ranged from cleaning out the gutters to painting the inside of my house. One of my fun projects is a weekly podcast that I started with a friend of mine. We talked about it months ago, and decided that this was a great time to get started. So we did. Since it’s a weekly program, it’s helped keep my mind busy on something that I enjoy.

I’ve also used the time to get more involved in some charity work that I had already been doing.

I often don’t know what to do when a co-worker is furloughed or laid off. Do I reach out, do I wait for them to reach out to me? What are your thoughts/preferences?

The overwhelming majority of folks I’ve talked to say they like for someone to reach out, but not to push if they don’t get a response right away. I’m in agreement with them.

Oftentimes our identity is tied to the work we do, so when we’re not working, we lose self-confidence, we can become depressed, and there just are not many fun things to talk about. So, we may just want some space. Again, we always want to know that someone cares. We’ll come out of our shells and be social when we’re ready. Just check in on us from time to time.

Many people are adjusting to working from home for the first time. What advice do you have for them from an efficiency standpoint?

I was fortunate to work from home fairly frequently prior to the pandemic. I encourage people to have a designated space for their office. Don’t use the kitchen table—it belongs to everyone; have your own desk in a room that you can close the door.

My office is in my bedroom, so I close the door when I’m working and only open it for breaks and lunch. I hang a sign on the doorknob when I’m on a call or virtual session so no one will walk in and be on camera or be loud. I also removed the phone from the room since I use my cellphone when I’m working remotely.

The last thing I would advise is be sure and take breaks. I have fewer interruptions at home, so it’s easy to work past lunch before taking my first break. Take breaks and eat lunch for your health.

Your roles have included virtual training. What advice do you have for facilitators needing to quickly change from facilitating classroom training to virtual training?

Don’t let it overwhelm you. Think back to the first time you walked into a classroom to facilitate. You were worried about the projector or the sound not working. You might have struggled to advance the slides, review your notes, and engage the participants at the same time. That’s much like the virtual world; you might struggle with technology, you sure don’t want to sound like you’re reading your notes, and you’ll have to exert a little more effort to engage your participants since you can’t see them.

Most participants have some expectation of what happens in classroom training, but they might not know what to expect in the virtual world. As the facilitator, you’ll want to create a safe learning environment by setting clear expectations on what to expect and how to use the technology.

In addition to guiding them with how to use the technology, participants have different technology skill sets. Some are more comfortable with technology than others. You will want to provide different ways for them to engage as they overcome any fears.

The last thing is to let them hear you smile. Many facilitators are animated in the classroom, but they lose a lot of energy when people can’t see them in the virtual world. I perform my virtual training standing so I can maintain energy in my voice. I also make the effort to keep a smile on my face, so they can hear it in my voice.

What can facilitators/companies expect when their learners are back to “normal.” (Any ideas of helping with that transition? Adjustments?)

It’s hard to say, but I would guess safety (both physically and mentally) will continue to be important for some time to come. Some other things to consider:

  • Many learners have been consuming learning in many forms and formats during the pandemic. People have been doing everything from cooking new recipes from Pinterest, doing Zoom calls with strangers to watching YouTube videos or listening to new podcasts. I suspect that as people return to work, there could be an increased demand for more self-directed learning and the ability to consume it in an option of formats.
  • Without question virtual learning will continue. Due to many companies rushing to move to virtual platforms, their content might need to be fine-tuned to better focus on the learning objectives and to be more engaging.
  • Due to lower staffing levels, learners may enter the learning environment with a sense of being overwhelmed and also feeling like they have much less time to learn. So, it will be important for our learning to focus on what is most important. The learning we develop will need to be more compelling if we want learners to focus on the content and change behaviors.
  • Lastly, as learning professionals we’ll need to do more with less and do it in a shorter time. So creativity and working smart will become a necessity.

If people are looking for professional development in the performance development/learning and development field, what ideas do you have for how they make those choices/priorities? Or what has been your approach?

I may not be as traditional as some in my personal development. I love to attend conferences when I can. I also like to keep an eye on what is happening in ATD, Training Magazine, and eLearning Guild. Most of my development comes from less traditional sources:

  • I follow a number of authors that I find compelling and relate to human behavior. Here’s a short list of some: Simon Sinek, Britt Andreatta, Dan Pink, etc.
  • There are a number of email subscriptions like the HR Executive, Harvard Business Review (HBR), and a couple sales related ones.
  • Lastly, I leverage a few podcasts like The Learning Geeks, Choiceology, and Unlocking Us. I listen to a few others for spiritual insight and general entertainment.

Any final thoughts on staying healthy during this changing time?

The best way I know how to stay healthy while on furlough is to stay connected to your tribe or your community. I’ve been able to grow much closer to my international teammates during this season. If it weren’t for my friends reaching out and touching base with me, it would be a much harder. There’s no reason to go through this alone. Be proactive in reaching out. Talk to someone. Find someone that needs something you can offer. Be a friend and watch for others that may be struggling during this season.

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Topics: Interviews with Learning Leaders, VILT, Working Remotely