The switch to hybrid and fully remote working has required training teams to invest their time, budget, and energy into designing, developing, and delivering modern, virtual-first remote training experiences for upskilling new employees.
As an L&D leader with experience at both large-scale enterprises and hyper-growth tech companies, I've seen firsthand the importance of providing professional development to remote workers through online training in order to engage, develop, and retain talent.
In this article, I’ll share my insights and strategies for creating comprehensive virtual training programs that will maximize the potential of your remote workers and grow their skill sets.
Whether you are a small business owner or a corporate executive, this guide will help you create successful training programs that will translate to measurable impact.
- Identifying the specific training needs of remote workers
- Building a remote learning strategy
- Best practices for training remote employees
Let’s dive in.
Identifying the specific training needs of remote workers
First off, let’s begin by acknowledging that old, one-size-fits-all training converted from an in-person, instructor-led format is not going to be particularly effective or impactful for a remote workforce. Your learning materials will have to transform in order to be effective!
Remote workers have unique needs and skill gaps that differ from non-remote workers. As such, it’s important to begin by understanding the key competencies that remote employees need in your organization. Below are a few considerations that are specific to the needs of remote teams as you begin to build out your remote training program.
Assess digital literacy
What is digital literacy? According to Microsoft, it’s “the ability to navigate our digital world using reading, writing, technical skills, and critical thinking. It’s using technology—like a smartphone, PC, e-reader, and more—to find, evaluate, and communicate information.”
This skill is critical to any remote worker and identifying skill gaps in this area should be a priority.
While most remote workers can be expected to have passing digital literacy skills, or will at least develop them with experience, that should not be assumed to be the case for everyone.
Digital skill levels can be easily assessed through the use of surveys, focus groups, and interviews with key stakeholders or a random selection of remote workers.
Provide enablement for the ever-growing tech stack
The rise of remote work has led to a parallel rise in the use of virtual tools for remote-first organizations. For example, the average company deployed 58 new applications or tools in 2015, whereas in 2022 that number has increased to 89. At large employers, that figure is 187 (from a recent Freakonomics podcast)!
This type of investment in virtual tools requires a similar investment of time and resources into training on how to use them effectively, which helps drive adoption and usage rates when implementing a new tool. Upskilling in this area is especially important for new employees who are not familiar with working in remote environments.
Driving remote collaboration skills
Remote workers face unique collaboration challenges due to often being in different time zones, communicating asynchronously, having fewer touch-points with co-workers throughout the day, and having to communicate primarily through, email, instant messaging, or video.
As such, training for remote workers should focus on the following skill sets to help establish and maintain effective communication processes and norms in a remote work environment:
- Communication guidelines—provide structure on topics such as which communication channels (i.e. Slack vs email) to leverage for different types of communication, how quick response times should be across different communication channels, and what time of the day you are available for meetings, for instance. This can also help set expectations and reinforce which communication best practices to adhere to.
- Collaboration tools—shared drives, project management software, shared calendars, design thinking products, and messaging platforms can help remote workers easily share information with each other, allowing them to stay connected and enabling them to partner on work together from across the country or the globe. Tools, if valuable to a team, should be leveraged when possible as they can enhance collaboration.
- Foster inclusion—one way to practice inclusivity for remote workers is to ensure all your training products can accommodate workers with disabilities, like offering closed captions on training videos for instance. Additionally, people in virtual environments have to be more intentional about encouraging everyone to share their perspectives. Building clear processes on how people can share their thoughts, ideas, and comments asynchronously is one way to ensure all voices are heard. This should begin from day one, during onboarding, so new employees can feel welcomed even when looking at learning materials.
Creating a Remote Training Strategy
Following any initial assessments on what remote workers need, it's time to get clear on what your remote training priorities are moving forward and how you’ll achieve them.
Outlining your plan of action is essential to generating a vision and sense of purpose that can help drive urgency around the need to attend these training sessions.
There are many elements that make up a successful training strategy, but a few to consider for remote workers are:
Key competencies and focus areas
Clearly outline what skill gaps were uncovered, the importance of those skill sets, and how training in those areas will contribute to the company strategy or benefit remote workers in some way. This should outline the purpose and value of this approach, not just the skills themselves.
For instance, if you’ve identified a need to upskill team members on prioritization and time management when working from home, it's important to explain how these skills will lead to employees being able to manage their workload more effectively and efficiently, decreasing stress for the workers and increasing productivity across the company.
If this skill also ties to a broader strategic objective, like Meta’s “Year of Efficiency” for instance, then ensure you are highlighting how this specific training can help advance that strategy.
Linking your upskilling initiative to a strategic company objective will help drive the usage and adoption of the skill sets you want to see improve.
How will remote workers access your content? How will you reach them? Will you only offer live, virtual workshops, blended solutions, or perhaps asynchronous training through e-learning and other online learning materials? What tools do you have available to use?
Answering these questions will help guide you in planning out how you will be able to develop your training and how remote workers will access it.
Training teams typically have access to one or more content authoring tools and may leverage training software like a Learning Management System (LMS), or other knowledge management platforms, to host their virtual training content.
Having clear guidelines for how and when large-scale communications can be sent will help your training communications be as impactful as possible without drowning remote workers with too many ineffective messages.
Your strategy should outline which communication channels are to be used for which types of messages. For instance, email should only be used for company-wide or department-wide announcements, and only once or twice per quarter, whereas your outreach messages should be sent through tools like Slack and Teams. If learning materials are shared out directly, which channels make the most sense?
Additionally, these messages should be catchy enough to stand out on a virtual messaging platform while competing with all the distractions that remote work brings.
For example, opening with a statistic, story, or question to draw people to your training is more effective than simply leading with your learning material.
Beginning a message with, “New Prioritization & Time Management training!” is very different than leading with, “Do you find yourself struggling to focus at work? Are you overwhelmed with competing priorities? We got you covered…”
Outline the exact type of learning materials or resources that will be produced and when, as well as its delivery method and timeline so learning professionals have a clear plan to follow.
Parts of this plan, like your training schedule, can help remote workers have visibility into their training options, which drives engagement with your offerings.
This is especially important for new employees going through onboarding. They will benefit greatly from having a clear plan outlined for them as they begin diving into their learning materials.
How will any training be reinforced and supported in the long term? Whereas in-person training is generally longer, all-day events, remote workers cannot remain engaged in a virtual training environment for as long.
As such, content that was previously offered in long sessions should be broken out and converted into microlearning that is offered continuously as a way of continuing to support someone’s learning journey. A steady drip of microlearning can help
Additionally, virtual tools offer a plethora of options to automate this process. For instance, many LMSs have the capability to send out timed resources after someone has completed an e-learning course.
Evaluation and metrics
How will the impact of your training initiatives be measured? Get clear on your online training’s expected outcomes, draft goals, and specify where you will track these metrics and how you will share them.
This is a critical final step in your strategy.
For example, prioritizing time management training may help improve certain engagement survey scores or a department’s measurable output. As new employees upskill in specific skill sets, we want to think through what the impact of that will be.
Additionally, goals may be used as a way of driving engagement with your training. If a senior leader expresses support for this training, ties it to the company strategy, and announces a goal of having 75% of employees attend, then participation will likely be higher than if that had not been shared.
Training Remote Employees: Best Practices in Action
The most effective remote training will be designed and implemented in a way that both enables and motivates remote workers to put their newly learned skills into action after the training has ended.
Let’s explore a few best practices to ensure this happens with every training initiative you launch.
Consider the Journey
Remote training should not be a one-time event, but instead a series of well-curated resources (articles, podcasts, videos, books, job aids, etc.) punctuated by one or more small training events throughout.
Learning professionals are moving away from hosting a single learning experience to instead investing in many interactive learning experiences sprinkled across a set amount of time.
When training remote workers, don’t just train them and then walk away. Instead, map out a plan on how you will train, support, and reinforce them along the journey. This allows for practice and reflection, which leads to actual skill development.
For example, instead of a fire-hose method of training employees across three full days, you could structure a new training program where you offer a single training session at the beginning of the week, with follow-up self-paced content throughout the week, culminating in a group coaching session through Zoom or other video conferencing platform to help drive application before moving on to the next topic the following week.
Make it Accessible
Training for remote workers should be easily accessible and should always include some component that is available on-demand to help when needed, right in the moment.
While this may be true for all workers, as mentioned earlier, the ever-growing tech stack enabling collaboration among remote workers often makes finding information difficult.
Your self-paced training offerings and additional resources should be confined to one location as much as possible. If remote learners have to shift from training tool to training tool to find the information or training they need, that will unnecessarily create more barriers.
Training in the flow of work
The systems and tools we use are developing at such a pace that we are now able to integrate training directly into someone’s workflow, making it very easy to access training when needed.
When it comes to training methods for team members that will have to use a new system, app, or platform for their day-to-day work, there are products such as WalkMe that can help drive digital adoption.
Offering support for common workflow issues on the spot can help drive efficiency while reducing frustration and the number of times IT support is called for a supposed issue in the tool that is likely due to human error.
Additionally, common tasks that everyone participates in, like performance reviews for instance, can be supported directly in-tool as well.
If someone is struggling with writing a self-reflection, instead of clicking away from what they are doing, support for how to write an effective self-reflection can be directly embedded into the tool, or linked within the tool, so someone can access the information they need directly as they are doing that task.
As much as possible, trainers should think of how to embed their content directly into the tools that people will be doing their work in.
Keep it Concise
Full-day, in-person learning events that were on-site cannot be directly transferred over to a virtual environment and be expected to work the same.
Often, it is more difficult to engage people virtually for more than a couple hours at a time (90mins ideal), even with ample breaks and activities throughout. That is why having accessible, concise content across a learning journey is often more effective than trying to master it all at once.
A lot of what needed to be taught in person previously can now be redesigned into other formats and assigned as pre-work, essentially flipping the classroom.
Remote workers can be encouraged to read or watch content before any live session, thereby saving time in the session for activities with peers, engaging in discussion, and practicing the actual skills instead of just learning about them.
Virtual training is a great avenue for remote workers to gather and spend time together learning, leading to better communication, knowledge sharing, and collaboration after the training is done.
As such, all live-virtual training has to intentionally build in moments for connection among remote worker participants. Fewer natural touch-points throughout their work day means ample time should be allotted to activities specifically designed to put people together.
Training for remote workers should always have the secondary benefit of driving connection. For example, mentorship programs are a great way to enable connection among remote workers while also developing them and building a culture of learning.
Putting It All Together
Providing proper training to remote workers can be challenging but, once you have a clear understanding of what their needs are, you can ensure they have the exact skills and knowledge needed to perform their job effectively.
With the right training, workers can be fully equipped with the right skills to perform their best without the common frustrations that arise when working remotely. Additionally, training can also help drive engagement and retention, further having a positive impact on your organization.
Overall, investing in training for remote workers, when done correctly, can have a large impact on maximizing the potential of an organization’s remote workforce.
Further resources to help maximize training effectiveness:
- Training Program Template
- 4 Learning And Development Metrics That Actually Help Drive Business Success
- How To Create A Learning And Development Strategy In 7 Steps
- 10 Best Training Management Software For Skill Building
- 10 Best Employee Training Software For Online Learning & Development
- 10 Best Enterprise Learning Management Systems
Subscribe to the People Managing People newsletter to receive regular articles to help grow in your career and build healthy, productive organizations.