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The beginning of a pandemic hardly feels like the best time to introduce new technology or leverage existing tools in new ways, yet for Florida’s Collier County Board of County Commissioners and for Massachusetts’ Department of Transportation (MassDOT), the timing actually worked out. Not only did their learning management systems enable both agencies to overcome various aspects of COVID-19 disruption, but they were also so effective that they’re now poised to play critical roles in the organizations’ future plans.

For Collier County Florida Board of County Commissioners HR manager Erin S. Thoresen, using their existing LMS to introduce virtual onboarding helped solve a critical onboarding challenge. When social distancing recommendations and a mandatory stay-at-home order made in-person orientation nearly impossible, Thoresen and her team leaned on Collier University to welcome new employees and set them up for success. 

Meanwhile, MassDOT’s Director of Education, Development and MassDOT University Mike McDonald used the LMS, which they named The Learning Hub, as a tool for employee development at a time when many workers were forced to stay home and off the job.

Both shared how leaning on an LMS helped them weather the initial shock of COVID-19 shutdowns and explored the role that the technology continues to play as states slowly begin to re-open in a recent webinar, Talent Management Strategies for Agencies in Turbulent Times. The key takeaway? If you’re on the fence about implementing an LMS, there’s no better time than now.

Collier County Uses LMS for Remote Onboarding

Since implementing its LMS, which it branded as Collier University, Collier County has primarily been using the tool for compliance training, such as its Human Resources and Environmental Health and Safety requirements. But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced many employees to work from home until further notice, Collier University took on a new role.

In the past, orientation was conducted on-site and lasted two days for Collier County’s newly hired employees. With the CDC’s social distancing recommendations in place, the agency could only hire nine people at a time, which sufficed in the interim, but wasn’t a long-term solution given the team’s typical hiring volume. So Thoresen’s team shifted focus to leveraging the LMS for orientation.

“We turned on a dime and created a curriculum for new employee orientation. We put that in through Collier University and then by the middle of April, we had our first online orientation,” she explained. Her team also continued to check in with new hires using Skype and other remote communication tools, ensuring that they had face-to-face contact and felt supported throughout onboarding. 

As a result of social distancing recommendations and classroom size no longer serving as limitations for Collier County’s Board of County Commissioners thanks to Collier University, the team did not need to implement a hiring freeze—or even a hiring slowdown. 

So far, feedback from users has been positive. Not only do new hires feel like they’re getting the information they need, but supervisors also enjoy the efficiency of the experience. Employees are ready to work and prepared with the credentials they need to get started from day one. Plus, by introducing the LMS to new hires from the start, the agency is setting up a culture in which employees know they can turn to the solution for resources. 

Once Thoresen’s team is able to return to more normal operations post-COVID-19, the LMS will continue to be a key part of the onboarding strategy. “We now have an opportunity to really evaluate the advantages of in-person orientation and online training and find the right balance,” she said. 

During the Pandemic, an LMS Provides a Growth Opportunity for MassDOT Employees

For MassDOT,  The Learning Hub, also provided a vital resource during the pandemic—even though the agency implemented it just two weeks before the statewide shutdown. With employees forced to work remotely or not at all, it was a delicate time to roll out the LMS, but MassDOT knew that it could serve as an important tool for staying productive and engaged. Though the solution was intended as a way to centralize compliance and training records, it was important to highlight its other benefits, like personal development, as well.

“We had many employees that we had to redeploy, and others that were underutilized.. We were able to find value in the time that may have been wasted otherwise,” McDonald said. 

To prioritize the learning and development opportunities available in the LMS, McDonald’s team did not use it for any mandatory compliance training for the first two months. Instead, they worked with MassDOT’s HR departments to review more than 2,000 courses available through Cornerstone’s Content Anytime and select some of the most relevant course clusters for various departments, including a dozen courses for remote work enablement. Already, 40% of MassDOT’s 10,000 employees have taken at least one non-mandatory course over the last three months—and many of them have taken up to four. 

According to McDonald, the adoption rate has been “immense,” and manager endorsement had a lot to do with that. “We did many live demonstrations of the tool with managers, because we knew we needed their buy-in. We’ve done a lot of surveys, and we knew that managers’ top dissatisfaction with the old system was the inability to get information quickly so we highlighted that this would be a benefit this time around,” he said. 

Indeed, the LMS has enabled a great deal of communication across the agency, with various departments reaching out to McDonald to access the LMS. “Departments we had never communicated with reached out to us about putting assets online. We had teams recording empty room classes that they wanted to then broadcast out, so we quickly became a vital part of response to the crisis,” he said. Widespread familiarity with the tool and its capabilities was an early goal for McDonald, and his team succeeded—more than 80% of the organization now know about the LMS and use it in various ways, from onboarding to elearning and more. 

As both Collier County and MassDOT continue to evolve their use of the LMS, both Thoresen and McDonald said that the key to getting initial buy-in—from both users and executives in the C-suite—is making the advantages clear. “Get allies and make the case for return on investment,” McDonald urged. “It all worked out for us because we made the right business case,” Thoresen agreed. “We had a solution for an urgent problem.”    

To view the full session on demand, click here