The remote workplace is here to stay. According to Global Workplace Analytics, approximately 20 to 25 percent of the U.S. workforce teleworks at least part time, and 80 to 90 percent of workers say they would like to do so. Another survey found that the ranks of regular work-at-home employees have grown by 103 percent since 2005, with nearly four million employees now working from home at least half time.

The challenge to companies is how to continue to carry out the critical mission of learning in a non-traditional workplace atmosphere. There are three interrelated themes that can have a special significance for training a remote workforce: engagement, collaboration and performance support.

These themes are the key success drivers for an effective learning and development function. Often, they also represent key challenges when training a remote workforce. And while organizations need to address these success drivers in their own way, there are a variety of principles, methods and tools organizations can leverage to great effect.

Engagement

Engagement is a key factor in any learning environment and has a significant impact on learner motivation and effort. But this engagement can be more challenging in distance learning than in live instructor-led training. Review the current state of your distance learning; more often than not, we find that a majority of distance learning is passive, using tools like readings, videos, lectures and presentations. Consider how you can enhance remote learning with more active tools, such as discussion, debate, problem-solving and role-playing. Integrating more active learning events is an effective way to engage distance learners.

One useful strategy is to intersperse activities between learning events using a web conference, chat room or forum. This strategy not only helps establish dialogue among learners, but it can also enhance acquisition of knowledge, clarify concepts and promote shared understanding.

Collaboration

Collaboration is an essential characteristic of healthy organizations. Cultures that drive collaborative practices among individuals, teams and functions are more likely to see greater communication, alignment and overall success. However, in many cases, training continues to emphasize individual learning activities, performance and achievement.

The normal isolating effects of this type of training can be exacerbated for employees who work remotely. Review your learning plan and identify outcomes that, for remote employees, would be improved by collaboration. Develop virtual learning events that bring remote and on-site employees together. Design a learning plan that uses team-based learning goals and encourages and rewards collaboration.

Use all the tools at your disposal, including web conferencing, chat rooms, social platforms or other shared virtual spaces. While segregating remote and on-site employee training events may seem more operationally efficient, consider the impact it has on remote individuals who could benefit from more direct interaction.

Performance Support

Job training, in many cases, begins and ends with a series of live or asynchronous formal training events. But seldom does an individual build expertise through instruction alone. Practice, remediation and coaching are critical components that, over time, provide the performance support learners need to achieve success. Often, performance support is achieved not through intentional design but through natural interaction with peers and supervisors, due in large part to proximity. This type of support is at risk as organizations continue to increase remote staffing.

It is essential to design systems for performance support and integrate them into training plans. For remote employees, ensure that there are structured, frequent touch-points and coaching sessions. Like any other form of training, it is more effective if these events are designed around a specific, observable outcome.

Leaders and coaches also need to be visible, available and responsive to your remote staff. Online tools with live chat capabilities are widely available and can easily and effectively support real-time remediation and guidance. For those coaches and leaders whose schedules do not provide the necessary flexibility, designate some structured time each week for office hours, and invite your staff to use that time for feedback and coaching.

Take a step back and review your existing training and development plan. Does it address the specific needs of your remote workforce? If not, communicate with this talent segment. Listen to their needs and concerns, and consider how you could address those factors in the context of engagement, collaboration and performance support.

Leveraging a remote workforce can offer tremendous results. It affords the opportunity to push past traditional barriers and focus on acquiring the right talent. Ultimately, organizations are about people, and their success lies in the effectiveness and engagement of these people.

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