The nature of teams has been fundamentally changed for some time now, as we’ve shifted away from the close-proximity cubicle culture of the 1980s to increasingly distributed workforces. Even smaller companies are likely to have distributed teams across multiple geographies or even a fully remote workforce. In a recent survey on employee happiness, Udemy found that 59% of professionals in the U.S. would not take a job that didn’t offer them the ability to work remotely. Employers are responding; 76% of respondents said they’re satisfied with their ability to work remotely if and when they choose to do so.
While remote work has benefits like improved employee satisfaction and productivity, it’s critical to ensure that remote employees still feel connected to company culture and are continuing to learn and grow, which may require some outside-the-box thinking.
For learning professionals, the remote work trend means that some of our favorite tried-and-true training methodologies — like engaging, small-group, in-person workshops — aren’t as feasible. So, how can we design compelling and engaging training programs for the large number of workers who are now choosing remote work?
Go Beyond Tech Basics
Leveraging technology to connect with employees, rather than simply providing them with information, is key to creating engaging training environments. Video and videoconferencing are the new standards when connecting with people online; they should be the standards for training as well. One tip: Require that employees always turn on their laptop cameras. It’s tempting to use an avatar or keep it covered, but doing so makes it even harder to connect with the human on the other side of the conversation.
Technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can also enable leaders to create virtual meeting spaces for their employees to collaborate and learn together. AR can help create dynamic training by virtually transporting learners to different spaces. Udemy, for example, launched “Udemy Go” (a play on Pokémon Go), an AR onboarding program for new employees to learn about the global company, no matter where they’re located.
Online communities can be a great way for remote workers to connect with their colleagues in a more profound way. For example, using a learning-focused internal messaging channel can connect everyone intentionally around knowledge-sharing.
Account for Time Differences
Training professionals must account for differences in communication styles and preferences when designing any type of training, but remote work introduces new elements to consider, including logistics such as scheduling. It can be a major point of frustration for remote workers when a meeting or training session is scheduled at 2 a.m. in their time zone. As workforces become more dispersed, it’s important to make it obvious across the entire organization that colleagues are in different time zones.
One way to ensure time zone differences are top of mind is to have clocks throughout the entire office set to different time zones, serving as a constant reminder of how global your organization is. Another is to recommend that employees include multiple time zones on their digital calendars so they can be mindful of others when scheduling meetings.
There should be multiple ways to access training content to ensure employees can access it when and where it makes sense for them. For example, you can film an instructor-led session in person and upload it to an online platform for all employees but especially remote workers. You can also create a blended toolkit so learners can practice activities as a group even if there isn’t someone there to facilitate.
It’s important to record training — but not as an afterthought. Too many learning teams record in-person sessions and then distribute the recording to their remote teams as if it were fresh content. Repurposing that content won’t have the same impact, because it wasn’t designed for that mode of consumption. Instead, design learning experiences for the one-on-one experience. Virtual training that is designed specifically for the remote worker and meant to be consumed digitally will have a higher chance of resonating.
Creating time and space for employees to devote to learning also goes a long way toward increasing the efficacy of training. For any employee, it can sometimes feel like the organization has not created space for learning. In order to combat that problem, consider implementing monthly DEAL (“Drop Everything and Learn”) hours for employees in every office, role and time zone. When you empower all employees to take the time to stop their normal work and spend some time learning — regardless of their location — training and learning feel less like an obligation and more like an opportunity.
Remote work has become the new normal as employees demand more flexibility from their employers. This work shift, which presents new physical and geographic boundaries, opens up a huge opportunity to reconsider how employees learn best — and to design training programs from the ground up with distributed teams in mind.