It is estimated that 63 million Americans will work remotely in 2016, which is more than a third of the total workforce. As workplace flexibility becomes more important and technological capacities increase, companies are hiring more telecommuters and allowing more current employees the option to work from home. This new work structure brings with it new challenges for training personnel. It is difficult enough to motivate workers who are physically present, but how does one keep a remote worker engaged in learning who is somewhere in Cyberland, another time zone, or even another country?
The first hurdle to overcome when delivering quality remote training is the creation of solid communication. On average, remote students need to be communicated with twice as often as an in-house employee in effort to bridge the Cyber gap and alleviate feelings of helplessness, aloneness, or detachment. Remote learners experience an entirely different type of work environment and can easily suffer from feelings of isolation as they are truly separate from the home base or core team. Therefore, clear and frequent communication is essential via email, video chat, or telephone so that remote workers will understand that the organization supports their efforts and is available should they have questions, need technological assistance, or just need to reach out to see if someone is there.
Another challenge for remote learners is feeling connected, and the best way to create connection for remote learners and workers is to provide opportunities for social learning. Organizations and learning teams can plan social time and use platforms to such as chat, video, and teleconference to interact. They can create specific times for all learners to come together such as lunchtime get-togethers, afterwork virtual soirées, or dedicated social media pages. Learners will remain much more engaged when they feel connected to one another as well as to the organization.
Just like managing employees remotely requires a different managerial approach, training a remote workforce requires a new skill sets and attention to different learning needs. Trainers will need to make a dedicated effort to assess and communicate with learners as well as to provide training virtually that might otherwise be done in-house. Areas in which trainers might pay close attention are technological skill, personal motivation, and creating connection amongst training staff and other students.
In the front end of training, content designers might build in modules and lessons on using and troubleshooting technology, how to stay focused and motivated, extra team-building exercises, and learning plan sessions in which the remote learner can have input on his or her learning path. Furthermore, to help a learner feel more connected to the content and company, techniques such as Virtual Instructor-Led Training (vILT) is very effective and instructor might insist on dedicated training times whenever possible. Other options are to use productivity and project tracking tools or instructors could assign training partnerships or groups so that learners are not going through the curricula alone. Another option is to add modules on helping learners to understand their unique working style, such as times of day to work, how long to work before taking a break, and learning to be realistic about time commitments and goals.
Overall, it is important to build a remote employee-learner company culture so to ensure distant employees feel part of the team, are receiving the support they need, and know how to get the learning job done.