Photo credit: Nutthaseth Vanchaichana

Published: 2 Jul 2020

With most staff still working from home, Karen McDonald, CQP MCQI, Quality Manager at Skanska, UK, talks to the CQI about how her team’s Central Learning Hour is helping Skanska’s staff to stay connected and learn new skills together during the coronavirus pandemic.

During the coronavirus lockdown and remote working, I took the opportunity to implement a fortnightly learning hour, which our Central Quality Team could participate in and learn new skills from, while working from home. 

The ‘Central Learning Hour' is led by all members of the team on a rota system and usually covers at least two out of the three agreed topics, which are digital learning, a relevant article and an ethical dilemma. Team members who are on furlough are also included and will be sent the article in advance for review by the person leading the session. 

Fortnightly sessions have allowed the session leader to research an article, choose an ethical dilemma and send it out prior to the meeting. This has ensured a more in-depth quality discussion on the chosen topics. The use of Microsoft Teams has also allowed us to manage the agenda, content and video call in a more effective way.

So far, the online learning initiative has consisted of broadening the team’s use of new digital tools to us such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Idea Flip. As the whole quality team is working from home, these applications have helped us work more effectively together by sharing ideas and tips for greater efficiency for our roles.

Topics for discussion

The article is the main discussion point. The team member leading this session will choose an article or video to discuss and send out in advance for review with one or two questions for discussion in the session. These questions are usually related to how would this apply to Skanska? Article discussions so far have included a wide variety of topics including feedback from CQI Corporate member events such as ‘The Biggest Management Challenges to Quality’, and an inspection and test plan video from the CQI’s Construction Special Interest Group (ConSIG) 

A highlight for me was when Abbassi Ltd – A CQI approved Training Provider (ATP) –presented a taster session on Zoom on several exercises developed for the online version of the Quality in Construction course. This was of particular interest to me as I led the ConSIG Training Working Group to develop this course and it was the first time I had seen it being delivered as a training programme.

Within Skanska, all employees are asked to take part in a minimum of four discussions each year on the theme of ethics. The learning hour provides  an opportunity for us to meet this requirement. So far, we have had discussions on flexible working, bribery, corruption and harassment as well as newer dilemmas such as returning to the workplace.

Continued Professional Development

With several members of the team working towards various grades of CQI membership, we have also used the Central Learning Hour to look at the CQI Mentoring Scheme, which two team members are now actively using and engaging with a mentor through.

As well as using this session to log our Continued Professional Development (CPD), there has been an additional benefit of staying connected as a team and to support our mental health and wellbeing during this uncertain time.

Andy Poole, Audit and Quality Compliance Manager at Skanska, UK, said: “My experience of the central learning hour during furlough was a positive one. There was no pressure to attend and it was made absolutely clear that it was voluntary and that no work was required before the session beyond reading the article in question." 

I found the learning hour to be a great way to catch up with the team, share ideas and opinions on the piece we were looking at, and then chat and catch up during the check-in phase of the session.

Considerations for businesses that would like to implement their own learning hour:

  • Prepare a list of articles for review in advance – this is useful to get the sessions up and running. 
  • Add to the list as articles or reports come up, which can be discussed at a later date.
  • Send out the article for review with relevant questions in advance of the learning hour. This will give the team time to think about how this would apply or be relevant to their organisation.
  • Keep to time. Decide how long you are giving each section and stick to it.
  • Keep it varied. Mix up your focus areas so the conversation changes during each session.
  • Decide on frequency. Conducting the sessions fortnightly rather than weekly gives time to focus on the quality of the discussion and allows the session lead to research what they want to present to the team.
  • Include staff on furlough. This is a good way to keep the whole team connected.

The learning hour has been a very positive experience for the Central Quality Team to learn together and stay connected.  We will continue to develop, expand and improve on these sessions to continue to enjoy the wider benefits we have already experienced.

For more information and guidance on CPD, visit: