The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 subsequently led to an increase in dispersed, virtual, and remote teams. There has also been a corresponding rise in businesses signing up their now-virtual workforce for remote employee training. After all, skills enablement is the key driving work in the future.
That being said, remote employee training isn’t without its challenges, especially when you consider how much easier it is to find and fix competency gaps when everyone’s in the same place than when they are distributed.
But the reality is, remote work is here to stay. And with it comes the responsibility for businesses to offer their workforce the right professional growth opportunities. Only then, will they be able to play to their strengths and improve incrementally.
A recent buffer report reveals that 95% of the workforce continues to work from home, which is why virtually training your employees is a wise decision to make.
In this post, we’ll go into what remote employee training is, key benefits, and the roadblocks to look out for so that your newly-skilled workforce is on the right path!
1. What does remote team training mean?
Remote team training refers to measures that enable your workforce to add to or enhance their existing skills through reskilling or upskilling. The terms reskilling and upskilling are often interchanged, but have one thing in common; to impart new skills. If you want your employees to be available and ready for a role with a different and new skillset, then you’re thinking about reskilling them. Or if an employee takes on additional certifications and courses relevant to their current role, they’re said to upskill themselves.
Remote team training differs from in-person training in that course programs are entirely online and virtual. Some programs are tailor-made for working professionals and offer such participants the option to self-study and learn at their own pace. This takes some of the pressure off, of having to meet work and course deadlines.
In a remote team set up, employees from across geographic locations, diverse skills, and cultures are unified with the help of technology to receive the information to enhance their performance.
Now that we are clear on what remote employee training entails and the distinction between different skilling measures, let us next explore the challenges of managing remote employees.
2. Challenges of managing remote employees
The corporate landscape brings in constant changes that are at times difficult for everyone in the workforce to easily adapt to. Some challenges in remote employee training include:
2.1 Lack of face-to-face interaction
We are conditioned to observe body language, visual and social cues, which are easy to pick up in person. Remotely, however, you’re at the mercy of ambiguous communication signals.
There’s always the question of whether course participants are uniformly comprehending what is being taught, which in turn impacts the team’s ability to move forward in cohesion. As a result, there will be disparities in progress, with some course takers on-track and ahead of the class and others falling far behind.
Working from home means waving your office distractions goodbye. But the downside is that now you will have to deal with personal distractions. From persistent neighbors to unplanned virtual calls with different teams, there are a million other things that interrupt your focus when you’re on a training program.
As a result, you engage in shallow work, i.e. work when you are distracted, which can compromise how much value you can get out of the course that you are on. You may have it on in the background while trying to catch up with everyone and your workload, but end up being unable to do justice to any one thing.
2.3 Technical challenges
While your office technology is high grade, your home internet may be just enough for you to complete work. The network coverage and the speed may not be enough to run live training and video conferencing. Not to mention unexpected downtime which causes you to drop out or drop off from the course while it’s still running. Such occurrences break your flow and slow down your progress.
2.4 No Supervision
The absence of in-person supervision can result in employees unintentionally mismanaging their time, which in turn makes them lose sight of the priority. Instead of devoting the time and bandwidth available to e-learning, they wind up running personal errands, scrolling through social media and entertainment apps. And without a remote employee monitoring software to keep track of online activities, such as the websites and applications accessed on company time, these pursuits can eat into the workday.
2.5 Lack of understanding of training material
Information when passed virtually, needs to be contextual and presented in a comprehensible and digestible format. You should invest considerable time and effort into assessing the structure, presentation, pricing plans and value offering of any remote employee training you want your virtual workforce on. Only then can you determine the difficulty level and the audience the course is intended for.
Specific jargon and industry-specific terms can cause confusion and lack of clarity to the trainees. Such information may potentially cause assumptions of concepts in employees.
2.6 Insufficient preparation
While juggling work and personal life, setting a routine and time for learning can take some getting used to. When an employee is assigned to a reskilling or upskilling program, or displays interest in taking one up, it’s down to their manager to ensure they have sufficient time to go through the course material and are able to balance both work commitments and study time. This means communicating realistic (and unchanging)expectations regarding project deadlines and learning milestones so that everybody is on the same page.
If an employee is quizzed prematurely or unexpectedly on what they have learned so far, you are unlikely to be able to set a yardstick for grasping power. Giving them sufficient time to prepare and encouraging them to take the initiative to provide you with updates lets you know how they are getting on.
3. Benefits of a structured remote employee training program
A structured training program has the potential to transform an underperformer into a valued contributor. Businesses today consider continual improvement programs by investing in employee coaching and development activities. The benefits of such a program include:
3.1 More control over learning
A structured approach can enhance the learning as training can have a scheduled time, and employees can look for a secluded space to focus better. Since they are doing it at a convenient time and place of their choosing, they can eliminate all possible distractions and concentrate on learning.
3.2 Ensures overall consistency and standardization
The remote training program provides a platform to create, access, and share information in uniformity across all organization locations. It brings up the level of instruction beyond the barriers and improvises the information exchange process.
3.3 Opportunity for collaboration
Centralized remote communication fosters employee bonds and encourages a free flow of information in the organization. Employees get a feeling of working towards the same goal, and this unifies their efforts. You can build agile teams that are well collaborated beyond physical locations.
3.4 It saves your company money
Virtual training is both cost-effective and more easily accessible compared to booking a certified professional. The same professional can upload video lectures, quizzes and learning exercises online, ensuring employees signed up for the training have unlimited access and interactions.
They can subscribe for course updates and enroll proactively as and when a new cohort starts. Online training trims down expenses associated with booking venues, instructor fees, physical devices (such as overhead projector and canvases). There are options to peer-review, share course feedback and rate difficulty which enable the provider to also act on this feedback to make the learning experience better for future cohorts.
3.5 Allows employees to learn at their own pace
Since there is no compulsion to finish at the given time, employees can stop and go as they deem fit. The learning is also continuous, meaning that they can go back or ahead to a module that helps them keep up and align their learning to a real-world problem. The insights from the material stay fresh and provide equal learning opportunities, no matter which level you are.
3.6 Feedback can be useful with remote training.
An SHRM Study shows that on average 50% of employees are afraid to speak up their minds. In a remote setting, you can give equal opportunities to all by sharing anonymous surveys. By this, employees have the explicit chance to share their thoughts about the training and can partake in your remote coaching exercise.
4. Remote Training Strategies To Try Out
We’ve all experimented with techniques to retain what we’ve learned. To that end here are a few remote training strategies that can simplify the content and make it easier for you to understand what you’re training for;
4.1 Lean Learning
Lean learning refers to smaller, timeboxed sprints akin to how teams on agile projects work. The learning is broken down into releases that break down the material to be completed by a certain date. The team can then convene for a remote retrospective to discuss the material and give feedback for each timebox till the entire course is completed.
4.2 Create themed focus groups
Within the learning channel of your team collaboration software, create groups and add team members onto them as per the number and nature of remote training courses they’re actively on. Assign group leads and give them administrator access to add or remove members as and when course cohort size changes. These teams can think up group names, themes and fun lesson-related challenges or quizzes that enable members to self-assess progress.
4.3 Align training with the business strategy
Identify the learning outcomes to understand how they align with the business strategy. After all, your learning and operational performance KPIs should match! Add the business metrics that enable you to understand how that particular skill benefits the business by way of the employee learning and mastering it.
4.4 Follow up Consistently
Reinforce learning through follow-up activities, such as a seminar, webinar, podcast or mock quizzes. Such activities allow both you and the course taker to understand how well they’ve grasped the material. You can host a Q and A throughout the course to make the experience more interactive and engaging.
5. Best Practices for Training Remote Employees
According to Wrike stats, 52% of workers lack the requisitions to work remotely, and more than 49 % are unaware of the expectations. Training is one way of plugging such gaps. Managers and decision-makers now understand its significance in the organization’s growth. Subsequently, employers need to rethink imparting, accessing, and sharing this essential knowledge across the team or organization and overcoming the mentioned challenges.
Here is how you can better the learning experience and train employees virtually;
5.1 Choose a training model
Online training platforms today offer a plethora of options. You have to analyze your training requirements and develop the right learning and development model that suits your employees’ needs. There are two broad training models to choose from, namely, synchronous and asynchronous:
As the name suggests, Synchronized learning involves live sessions – It gives the feeling that you’re in an actual classroom, with options to raise your hand, ask doubts and stay interactive. It can be the most engaging training experience if planned well.
Some examples include:
- Collaborative Learning
- Customized eLearning
- Webinars and Virtual Classrooms
Recorded versions accessed via web browsers or a shared folder can be instrumental for employees with different learning abilities. Employees can reach out to the training sessions whenever they have the availability and complete it at their own pace.
Some examples include:
- Web-based Learning
- Video-based Learning
5.2. Equip & leverage on tools & Technology
To enhance collaboration and interaction in any training, you need technology. From developing learner forums to chat rooms to digital whiteboards, you need online tools to make it happen. Some of the tools that have redefined the training experience include whiteboard tools such as Miro, chat rooms like Slack, and video calls with skype & zoom.
5.3 Prepare your learning material in short sessions
Bite-sized learning helps you retain more over a longer period of time without overwhelming you with information overload. Small, attainable goals and mini-victories work wonders to propel us towards achieving more significant successes. Keeping your session short limited to the sought information can help percolate the message appropriately. Smaller sessions allow employees to incorporate the training over a less hectic weekday.
5.4 Assess Remote Employees With a SWOT Identifier
A SWOT (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) analysis can be useful in learning and training just like it is in understanding the business environment. It offers insight into the team’s dynamics, strengths and weaknesses. Only then can they tap into their potential to reach the desired outcomes. The first step to doing a SWOT analysis is to take stock of the skills your business is running low on, and identifying if it needs a new role to be created, or a current one to be updated. Consequently, you can determine if the current job your team is doing will evolve, and how. Next, identify those team members who are experientially competent and relevant. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you do the analysis;
- How does this course differ from other options in the market?
- What are its key takeaways, and are these relevant to skills enablement?
- What is the yardstick for assessing whether your employees are absorbing the course in its entirety?
- What are the signs of learning and accessibility challenges?
- Is the course you are looking at in line with the remote employee’s professional interests?
- How do you help your team overcome mental blocks when the course is underway?
- Is the course in a format that enables the skilling to happen organically, incrementally and continuously?
- How do you intend to use learning experience feedback in future training programs?
- Once you have your answers to these questions, you’ll be able to narrow down the list of online training courses to place your employees on.
5.5 Encourage and Facilitate Informal Learning
Employees would certainly feel more comfortable confiding to a coworker if they’re stuck or need help. In a physical workspace. Employees can just go up to their manager, team lead or colleague, Remotely, this can be recreated through informal learning such as reverse mentoring and peer-learning. In the former, you flip the mentee and mentor’s roles, where a junior-level employee coaches and guides senior staff.
Peer-learning pods comprise staff whose roles are interlinked and follow a progression. For example, a technical project manager can share on-the-job insights with a software development team so that the senior-most member can transition to a managerial role when the time comes. These interactions are designed to be informal meets where questions are asked and answered. If calls eat into your work hours, you can do this over collaborative messaging groups or forums to save time.
5.6 Gamify Learning Outcomes
The key to sustaining engagement while on a course is to apply tactics that make learning fun. Put simply, turn training and learning into a game. You can incentivize it with levels for every milestone reached.
For example, create brief quizzes mid-course with multiple choice questions (MCQs) that award stars based on how many answers the course participant gets right. If they get it right the first time, they move faster to the next unlocked tutorial. There need not be a limit or penalty to the number of tries.
Alternatively, you could set a timeline by which chapters of lessons are to be completed, and introduce the surprise; a complimentary off to recharge, gift-vouchers to a daily essentials store, or a simple certificate of appreciation. Such measures give current and future course takers something to look forward to, and even enable them to overcome any inhibitions or hesitation in being fully engaged while learning. Here are the three points to structure your gamification;
- Set the difficulty levels against the lesson objectives and deadlines.
- Define milestones and the parameters that help both you and the course-taker recognize when they’re getting close.
- Appreciate the winners both in writing and verbally over retrospective calls.
Bonus tip: you can experiment with different gamification strategies and accompanying incentives. What you’re doing today may not work for a course of a different nature, so improvise accordingly!
5.7 Go All-In
Sounds vaguely like a poker game term, doesn’t it? What we mean here is that you remain responsive, accessible and available to support your team as they undergo reskilling and upskilling training. It’s time to move away from the transactional viewpoint that you’re renting an employee’s time and skills in exchange for a projected increase in financial gains.
Rather than finding courses and placing remote employees on them without warning, follow a structured plan in informing them and inviting feedback before the course starts, during and after the course ends. Encourage them to come to you with sources they are comfortable learning from, such as books, white papers, case files, MOOC (massive online open courses), online libraries, paid online versions of in-person tutorials or from communities. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to remote employee training. It has to be in a format that supports their growth, and enables you to motivate and uplift them in their learning journey.
5.8 Track and Measure productivity
Productivity tracking is important to assess if your remote employee training is going the way you want it to. You can use a time tracking tool to see how many hours a week goes into learning, and what other applications and websites your employees are accessing that are conducive to work and learning.
If crucial and further information is blocked unintentionally, you can unblock such sites and let them into the ‘Safe to Browse’ category so that it gives your employees the information they are seeking. Conversely, sites marked unproductive can be locked to discourage employees accessing them and misusing company time. Productivity metrics help you set the standard for what you’re expecting from your employees, while giving them reasonable allowances.
You can also take people off the bench and reassess the project pipeline to identify those projects they can be released to post-training. Trimming your bench-strength saves costs and gives your workforce a productive means to spend their time, rather than rushing through course material while also being actively deployed to an assignment. This way, productivity goes up without overloading a person with too many expectations.
5.9 Address Pain points
The motivation to learn should come from wanting to improve and gain mastery over existing and new areas. That being said, remote workers can risk drifting off and going off the grid if the problems they come to you are not addressed at any point. They end up feeling unsupported and overwhelmed which causes them to lose interest in learning altogether. Taking a course should not feel like involuntary enslavement or imprisonment.
Pain points abound in an office-less culture, ranging from technical snags to workplace conflicts of interest. To avoid this situation, businesses can reach out to their virtual workforce through surveys and experience-led questionnaires which allow employees to raise concerns over following a process. It can help you see things with a different perspective, and enables you to change what needs changing.
6. How effective is virtual training?
The easiest (and most obvious) way to determine the effectiveness of virtual training, is to look at what previous course-takers have to say about it, whether it’s your own workforce or a different cohort. Honest, unbiased reviews help you see the pros and cons of the subject matter before signing anyone up for it.
Learning is an exercise in continuous improvement. It should take both the businesses and person’s best interests into consideration. The need for it should be made plain and clear so that employees too can see the benefit of training. They may even need to mentally prepare themselves to unlearn and relearn. And this is fruitful only if they approach the concept of workplace training with an open mind.
Team leaders and managers should be able to build, cultivate and nurture the bond with remote employees, because the more informed and involved they are, the better able they are to take charge of their learning curve and decide where they want their career to go with your business. At the end of the day, employees should grow with you, not outgrow you.
The more invested you are in your employees, the better able they will be to contribute and perform at work no matter where they are.