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Remember when employees used to be in the same building, and you could do training in-person or shadow someone one-on-one? And when someone new joined the company, they’d be introduced to colleagues, shown around the office and brought up to speed, often by peers in nearby cubicles.
Things are certainly different now. The pandemic has not only accelerated digital applications and remote work, but also the need for effective remote training strategies. These range from meeting the needs of homebound and geographically dispersed workforces, to training new hires who’ve never been on-site, to onboarding, up-skilling and re-skilling. What’s more, this all needs to be done at a quicker pace, pressured as employers are by the Great Resignation, the effects of Zoom fatigue, etc.
It’s a lot to keep up with. However, two-plus years into Covid-19, businesses have learned many important lessons and can apply them to meet evolving training needs.
1. Be ready to train a distributed workforce
There’s little doubt that work-from-home flexibility is here to stay, as more companies move to make remote sites a permanent option. This also expands the pool of talent available to them, as candidates no longer need to reside in a specific location.
Of course, distributed and remote workers are nothing new, for tech companies in particular. Mine, CYPHER LEARNING, maintains offices in 23 countries, but employees have always had the option to work anywhere, including out of their homes, and productivity remains high.
Nowadays, as many more companies employ workers who span geographies and time zones, it’s important to provide training that caters to them. This presents an opportunity to move beyond dreaded in-person “death by PowerPoint” sessions to formats that will really stick.
To deliver training effectively to distributed remote workers, companies should first ask themselves some questions:
• Does the training need to be live (involving some schedule-wrangling or sessions at multiple times), or is it suited for on-demand delivery?
• What tools are needed to deliver it? (Such as video conferencing platforms, collaboration tools and learning management systems.)
• How can management drive engagement with the material and simulate an in-office learning experience? (Some possibilities are breakout rooms during live sessions and introducing gamification in courses.)
• How will feedback be delivered (via email, through managers, on video, within the learning system) and performance tracked?
Asking and answering these will help optimize training and maximize results.
2. Streamline processes
A more dispersed workforce brings other changes to training processes as well. For example, when you onboard new hires, they could be six hours ahead of official business hours, so it’s more difficult to schedule video calls with HR.
Automation can help solve scheduling hassles, reduce paperwork and provide a smoother training experience. For instance, at my company the onboarding process is completely automated. New team members are automatically enrolled in the training platform (no need to manually add them), and new hires can immediately log in, see their learning path, what’s required of them and quickly get up to speed.
Automation also has benefits outside of onboarding. For example, artificial intelligence is already starting to change many areas of training — rapidly analyzing vast quantities of data to assess learning gaps, recommend next steps and personalize learning journeys.
3. Leverage asynchronous training
Sometimes it does make sense to learn synchronously (all together, live and in real time), but many businesses have incorporated asynchronous formats (available to learners anytime) too, typically for financial reasons, as it’s expensive to fly people in.
There’s also the convenience factor: During the pandemic, with more people juggling home and work life, being able to learn at their convenience has been especially beneficial. Through automation, adaptive learning, tracking capabilities and more, learning platforms have evolved to enhance asynchronous learning. And although many people view such training as a solitary experience, it doesn’t have to be. Employees can interact through groups or forums, work on training projects together, be paired with mentors and keep up with company updates.
4. Prepare for up-skilling and career development
As more companies accommodate remote work, skilled people from all over the world are competing for the same jobs. High-achieving candidates tend to be goal-oriented and focused on growth, so in order to attract the best employees possible, companies should provide up-skilling and career development opportunities.
With e-learning, people can set their career goals, receive personalized recommendations and see their progress. It’s the right time to focus on career growth, using training to boost employee motivation and retention.
5. Make training readily available
Imagine this scenario: A remote employee is working on a new task, but gets stuck halfway through. What to do? Ask a colleague for help? That person might be too busy to answer straight away. Google it? It takes time to sift through dozens of results. This scenario happens more often than companies care to admit.
Employees need quick answers, aka “just-in-time learning.” Here are a few ideas:
• Provide responses to common questions through online knowledge bases and how-to videos. (Be sure to query employees and their managers to find out what those common questions are.)
• Offer “micro-learning” courses made of digestible content chunks. The best format is a short video that learners can watch during a five-minute break. Focus on the essentials; unnecessary information shouldn’t make the cut.
• Encourage employees to be subject matter experts, sharing their expertise on various topics in short videos that are centrally accessible and organized.
Micro learning should always be there for employees when they encounter a roadblock. Believe me, they’ll thank you for it.
Applying lessons learned
The pandemic has forced businesses to see training and other essential processes through a different lens, even as they also drive/respond to rapid digital innovation and get creative to meet employees’ and customers’ changing circumstances. And employees’ expectations have shifted, too. A silver lining is that during this time some processes have changed for the better.
There are major advantages for businesses that apply the lessons above: lower training costs, simplified processes and higher engagement and retention, to name a few. As more of them think outside the box regarding how, when and why employees learn, they’ll deliver training experiences that are sure to make the grade.