Companies are launching virtual work options at an increasing rate and for sound business reasons – to reap operational cost savings, to expand recruitment options and improve retention, to leverage technology, or to grow their impact around the globe. Consider Gallup’s 2017 “State of the American Workplace” report, which revealed that 43 percent of all employees worked remotely in 2016, and the 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey, which found that 64 percent of millennials were able to work remotely – up 21 points from 2016.

Developing your talent virtually is becoming increasingly more complex and requires a thoughtful, strategic approach, from onboarding a new hire to developing a seasoned professional. Engagement and participation are  concerns when training virtually, and you can’t underestimate the difficultly of ensuring that employees are applying what they learn on the job. However, you can learn what not to do from organizations that have stumbled out of the gate. Here are the top 10 mistakes companies are making when training virtual teams.

1. Not Recognizing the Life Stage of the Virtual Team

When training a virtual team, it’s important to take into account the life stage of its members. Our research on virtual team effectiveness has found that seasoned virtual teams need support and training on managing conflict and staying connected, while newly formed teams needs training on roles, responsibilities, collaboration technology and communication strategies.

2. Falling Short on Diversity Sensitivity

Virtual teams often bring more diversity factors for trainers to consider beyond gender, age and racial diversity. With a global virtual team, you’re bringing into play differences in ethics, cultural norms, native languages and even non-verbal communication. It’s important to consider cultural sensitive training and unconscious bias and to take into account team meeting times and communication and processing styles. The work of creating an inclusive virtual team environment is never done. Virtual trainers need a high level of CQ (cultural intelligence) in order to adapt to a dynamic and complex multi-cultural workplace.

3. Failing to Test Training Across Multiple Platforms

Assume that employees will connect to your online training through different browsers and with different connection speeds, and test all your online training on a variety of platforms prior to launch. Understand the use of plug-ins and the need for enabling pop-ups. Remind people to turn on their microphones and cameras and to be presentable. Over-communicate, and don’t leave anything to chance. A technology failure with 200 virtual leaders on the line can undermine your training effort and damage your credibility.

4. Assuming Leaders Have the Skills to Lead a Virtual Team

It’s possible that your leaders are actually afraid to trust their employees to be productive if they’re out of sight. It’s hard for leaders to admit that they are fearful of change that requires them to step out of their comfort zone. Recognize whether your leaders need support with their virtual collaboration skills and ability to host engaging and interactive team meetings. Train them on how to discuss expectations and how to agree on what accountability looks like in a virtual environment. Be sure that they are comfortable leveraging the technology available to connect and build relationships with their team members.

5. Failing to Align and Connect Virtual Teams to Company Culture

Virtual teams should not operate in isolation. The fact that they are remote makes the separation from a home office a real concern. Clearly communicate alignment of individual and team goals with company goals, train your virtual team members on how to speak up effectively while working remotely, and engage them in team building with other parts of the organization on a regular basis.

6. Relying Too Heavily on Online Training Platforms

We learn best by interacting and participating, and you can easily build interaction and participation into an online course. Interaction among team members is the most effective learning method. Live virtual teach-backs, where team members learn a topic, teach it to others and answer questions, help build team cohesion and subject mastery. They also create an environment where questioning and feedback happen naturally and where the team improves its comprehension and knowledge retention.

7. Neglecting the Hard Work That Ensures Effectiveness

No one wants to waste time on training that doesn’t have an impact. Up-front tasks that can help with application include conducting a needs assessment, coaching leaders on post-training support, providing pre-training tasks or real-world case studies, involving SMEs as teachers, and sending follow-up activities and check-ins. Be sure that you are also evaluating training regularly based on reaction; engagement; level of improvement in skills, knowledge or attitude; ease of application on the job; and business impact.

8. Not Bringing the Team Together “IRL”

Research shows that gathering your team together “IRL” (in real life) is still one of the most effective ways to build trust, culture and commitment. Budget and plan an event focused on building connection and aligning around team values and goals. Offering this event even just annually can improve job satisfaction and retention on any virtual team.

9. Failing to Assign Mentors

Mentoring is the best way to instill culture and help a new team member learn the political landscape and establish strong relationships quickly.

10. Neglecting to Have a Solid New-Hire Training Process

Don’t leave your new hires to fend from themselves just because they’re remote. Have all remote employees attend orientation at company headquarters or meet with their manager in person during the first week. If everyone is remote, use a combination of one-on-one virtual meetings; team mentors; and online courses on company values, policies and procedures. Use a well-thought-out 90-day training schedule as highlighted in the example below.

  30 Days 60 Days 90 Days
People Focus Perform manager and team orientation

Assign and set up mentoring relationship

Hold regular check-ins with manager and mentor

Evaluate new hire comfort level

Answer questions and address concerns

Perform cross-functional team orientation

Introduce to customers

Evaluate new hire comfort level

Answer questions and address concerns

Evaluate mentoring relationship

Process Focus Clarify roles, responsibilities, and short-term goals

Discuss expectations and team values

Introduce company culture, policies and procedures

Schedule product and services orientation

Check in on short-term goals

Recognize progress and demonstrated values

Dive deeper into company culture, policies and procedures

Have performance evaluation progress check-in

Assess and retrain on process and procedures where appropriate

Set long-term goals


Technology Focus Provide drip-feed training on systems, platforms and collaboration tools Provide advanced training on systems technology and collaboration tools Customize technological tools as needed