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Derry tech firm Learning Pool hosts online forum for 1,000 as remote working expands during coronavirus outbreak

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The head of a Northern Ireland e-learning firm has said it's held an online event for nearly 1,000 people as it pioneers new ways of working in the wake of coronavirus.  (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The head of a Northern Ireland e-learning firm has said it's held an online event for nearly 1,000 people as it pioneers new ways of working in the wake of coronavirus. (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

PA Archive/PA Images

The head of a Northern Ireland e-learning firm has said it's held an online event for nearly 1,000 people as it pioneers new ways of working in the wake of coronavirus. (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The head of a Northern Ireland e-learning firm has said it's held an online event for nearly 1,000 people as it pioneers new ways of working in the wake of coronavirus.

Learning Pool employs around 200 people in Londonderry - all of whom are now working from home.

Chief executive Paul McElvaney it had been preparing for some time for how Covid-19 might affect its clients. And technology for enabling online conferences for customers was one element of that.

"We do quite a lot of customer conferences and we moved that to a completely online event which we ran on Thursday and had nearly 1,000 people online for that. That was a fairly substantial undertaking," he said.

"We had started to prototype what that looked like 10 days ago and delivered that in real life. The lesson is that it worked... We believe we have got the start of quite an interesting product for customers but it's early days."

He said the firm had also moved ahead of UK government advice when it came to its own workforce. "We probably moved in advance of government guidance to get our entire team working from home - we did that about two and a half weeks ago."

He said the company has also prepared free materials for customers and other firms who want to access them. It has around 800 corporate and government clients for its online training materials.

"Over the last six to eight weeks, we've been working on various response programmes and this week we pulled a lot of that together into a package of Covid preparedness essentials. That's all the guidance business might need for the crisis, and we're giving that away for free for 90 days for anyone who wants it.

"Everyone is in the same boat, and there's a lot of panic and a lot of crisis management."

Mr McElvaney said the requirements for customers to work remotely could result in growth in some areas for the company. "We're certainly seeing a lot of existing customers using our tools more and talking to us about how they're going to use them even more in the future," he said.

"There had already been quite a bit of a pivot away from face to face training, especially in the workplace, and this is going to accelerate that.

"In the middle of that, we have customers in retail and hospitality who are really at the pointy end of that. We're working hard with those customers for when they come out of this.

"An online solution is inherently scaleable so we think we can help customers in hospitality and retail to get back to capability when this is over."

He said the hospitality sector used its products for training in sales, customer service, health and safety and getting new employees on-board. And if such firms were reopening after the crisis, they could use products to get a new workforce up to speed.

He added: "Obviously the market is swinging around a lot and is fairly volatile but we're doing everything we can to maintain business at its current level and build on it at the end of this."

He said the Covid-19 crisis was likely to bring a permanent change in how firms regard international conferences.

"There had already been questions about big international conferences - their cost, their carbon footprint and the disruption involved - and after this crisis people will say that continuing to do such conferences face to face is a bit of a luxury."

Belfast Telegraph