Working from home has many benefits — for both employers and employees — but it’s not without its challenges. Organizations often struggle to find effective methods to engage and train remote staff. Simply moving traditional training methods online doesn’t deliver the desired results. And standard learning management systems (LMSs) and instructor-led lectures are too static to engage and educate.

To be successful in a virtual environment, organizations need to rethink corporate training. A remote training strategy needs to consider the entire digital learning experience, from content and delivery to reporting and analytics. In this article, we offer tips to help you transition to online learning and provide a roadmap for effective remote training.

Tips to Effectively Train Remote Employees

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations moved to remote working with almost no preparation or lead time. It has proved successful, and now many are considering making the change permanent.

There’s a hiccup though. Businesses need a way to train remote employees — and traditional, classroom-style instruction through a virtual meeting or video platform isn’t achieving the desired results. Why? Well, classroom training didn’t work pre-COVID-19 either. Research shows that just 20 minutes after learning a new thing, our brains lose 42% of it, and after six days, you retain approximately 25% of the information learned. That means that without follow-up training, single-day instruction isn’t that effective.

With the added distractions of working from home (i.e., children, pets, Netflix, the fridge, etc.), it’s easy to see why businesses are struggling to find effective ways to train remote employees. The dominant solutions are just not engaging enough. The good news is that you can train and develop skills online. You just need to rethink what corporate training looks like.

Break Up Lessons

Employees already feel like they don’t have enough time in their days to finish their work, so whole days dedicated to training is daunting. Instead of asking for a large chunk out of your employee’s time, break up lessons into manageable modules using microlearning. If the buy-in is only five minutes, staff can fit in training during their downtime or between tasks.

Microlearning also helps people retain more knowledge. German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus suggested that, “learning is better when the same amount of study is spread out over periods of time than it is when it occurs closer together or at the same time.” This means that short, repetitive learning sessions spread out over time increase long-term retention rates.

Include Interactive Elements

Some businesses take handouts from in-person training sessions and put them online. Others will forward employees YouTube videos of past seminars to watch. That’s not going to work. Training needs to be interactive, especially if you want to cut through distractions and reach remote workers.

Game-based learning is particularly effective at keeping employees engaged with training content. It uses practice quizzes, role-play scenarios, and technology walkthroughs to make learning more enjoyable.

Encourage Social Learning

The downside of remote work is isolation. Removing the human interaction from the work day affects morale and productivity. While you won’t be able to replicate the mood of Friday “work” lunches, you can make training a group activity.

  • Ask staff to work together to complete certain tasks.
  • Include a competitive element to boost participation, like leaderboards or small prizes.
  • Encourage collaboration through screen shares or video conferencing apps.

Set Reasonable Goals

If you break up training content into small, digestible pieces, you can set attainable goals. Don’t tell employees that they need to finish a whole training course by the end of the week. Instead, ask them to hit daily mini milestones, like taking one five-minute training module a day. Realistic goals set staff up for success. It also makes training more attractive and improves the chances employees will continue.

Enable Analytics

Don’t spend all your time creating a training program and then just hope that it works. Measure it! Track how well your people are achieving your learning outcomes, retaining knowledge, and applying information. Also, keep an eye out for common knowledge gaps. Adjusting course content based on analytics will ensure your training is working. It will also provide you with a better return on investment (ROI) for your training program.

Why Traditional Training Methods Don’t Work for Remote Employees

Training that works well in person doesn’t always translate to remote employees. Why? Because extra challenges from working remotely complicate training. Communication difficulties, loneliness, home distractions and the inability to unplug are challenges for remote workers. A successful remote training strategy has to overcome these challenges. And unfortunately, static LMSs and instructor-led training (ILT) don’t meet all of remote workers’ needs.

LMS Limitations

First, there’s a technical concern. Many LMSs are on-premises platforms, which makes them difficult for remote employees to access. Using a VPN is an option, but it’s complicated for employees and expensive for employers. Second, LMS training is static. Many employees already dread training. The dull, long-form content causes low participation and engagement rates. With extra distractions at home, employees might opt to clean or do laundry because it’s more exciting than training lessons.

Finally, there’s rarely any type of social learning element built into a traditional LMS. Learners need an easy way to communicate with colleagues or trainers if they have questions. Further, remote employees already feel disconnected from their teams. Training without any collaborative lessons can make them feel even more isolated. It can also make training ineffective.

Remote ILT Drawbacks

A popular option for many organizations has been to move ILT online. Instead of speaking to participants in a conference room, trainers host a virtual session. In certain circumstances, this is the best way to deliver information, but it shouldn’t be the only way you provide training. The biggest issue is that classroom-style instruction is inherently a passive activity. This allows employees to give in to distractions — sending emails or talking with family members — while training is “on” in the background. And multitasking will reduce the effectiveness of training.

Another problem is working hours. Remote employees are working outside of the  traditional 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. schedule. If children make it impossible to finish tasks during the afternoon, staff might start earlier or log in after dinner. A strict training schedule, where attendance is mandatory for specific times, really doesn’t fit the needs of modern remote workers.

Finally, connectivity is also a concern. Consider how many of your virtual meetings have included lagged video, dropped audio or disconnected participants? If employees and trainers spend all their time troubleshooting technical issues, how much time is spent actually learning?

Traditional training methods are entrenched in many organizations. But, to meet the needs of a distributed workforce, you need a remote training strategy that takes into account the difficulties of working from home and makes it easy for employees to log in and learn.