Keeping people safe and well has been a central focus for responsible employees during Covid.

Ensuring an organisation continues to nourish its most treasured resource is a challenge that will outlast any pandemic.

But as the business world confronts the traumas of the present and the tests that lie ahead, it has never been more important to focus on employees to ensure resilience is maintained and a robust recovery follows in its wake.

It’s an investment with genuine returns. It’s why SmartPA injects so much time and effort into making its people feel not only valued and inspired but also confident in their skills. “So that they can be the best versions of themselves, every single day,” company founder Sarra Bejaoui declares.

Which is why the business has built a world-class training centre of excellence whose expertise is now widely sought out.

And for HQ staff and SmartPAs, seeking improvement is on the to-list each morning – for each individual, for the company, and for clients.

“But how you develop people has shifted,” outlines SmartPA’s Learning and Development Manager, Lynne Burgess.

“Covid’s really moved all companies away from that face-to-face learning where you had an all-day training session in a single room.

“It’s no longer good enough to learn for the sake of learning. It has to benefit the specific role.

“So a lot of what we are doing now is self-paced because people are designing their own paths to learn how and when it suits them.

“So if you’re on your commute – if those come back – you can use that time profitably to acquire some skill or knowledge.”

A pioneering remote and virtual learning programme for SmartPA’s Partners was developed long before online teaching became a necessity.

Now recognised as the best in class, it is the lone course of its kind to have a full accreditation, delivered across the world as part of a comprehensive six-week training plan.

It has been purposely focused on enabling people to get the most from their personal skills and – in turn – to become expert virtual assistants who can deliver business support services and genuine transformation to satisfied clients.

“That kind of education can’t be a sheep-dipping approach,” Burgess adds. “You always want to take into account people’s experience and skills.”

Approach HR With Care – and Attention

Organisations have been asked to shift their approach to building an effective human resource.

Effective personnel management, pre-Covid, meant a delicate blend of fulfilling objectives but nourishing each member of the corporate family in a way that makes them tick.

Doing right by the workforce so they feel motivated, nurtured and empowered now comes with the barriers of a screen and distance. Approach with care, says Lorraine Kneebone, a SmartPA with a background in HR from her spell as an executive at one of the UK’s largest financial companies.

“Big organisations should be on top of their human resource management but they’ve had to adapt the way they approach it,” she declares.

“I also see how it has affected small businesses and charities. They might have to change a contract. Or someone is off sick. Or there are performance issues.

“Something is now coming up almost every week. They still can’t justify having someone in full-time or even part-time. But here’s this vital need they have.

“So a model where they can access someone when they need it can really work over an expensive external HR provider who doesn’t know what they are about.”

A revolutionary approach. Yet one embedded with the ideas threaded through SmartPA’s own development pathway: invest in people, inject support and knowledge, reap the benefits.

As relevant as ever, even as companies re-evaluate their talent strategies at each point in the employee cycle, seek out the best people no matter where they are based, and turn to hybrid models of internal and outsourced expertise.

From the very outset, that investment should seek to multiply and deliver returns – for all concerned.

And, Burgess underlines, it should always realise that each person is unique and different. Not a machine but an individual who can’t acquire everything from simply watching a screen and repeating the script.

“You want a blended approach. There’s still a place for other approaches with remote learning.

“What you want to avoid is throwing a tonne of e-learning at someone and walking away.”

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