It’s August 2019. You and 10 members of your team are attending a full-day training session in the conference room of a local hotel. No one is wearing masks. Everyone is discussing, brainstorming, and collaborating in small groups close together. The corporate trainer gives everyone a 5-minute warning to complete an assignment before joining the larger group. Life is good.
In 2020, corporate training is completely different. With 66% of U.S. employees working remotely, employee training has shifted from in-person working sessions to online learning environments.
Most people (57%) have participated in a remote training session in the past three months.
The COVID-19 pandemic might even accelerate remote work, with larger tech companies such as Google, Twitter, and Facebook extending work-from-home guidelines into 2021.
All companies must know how to plan and implement employee training and development programs in a remote environment. Employee skill development makes companies stronger and employees more satisfied with their work.
We surveyed 1001 people to understand how remote training can be effective for developing employee skills.
- About half of people (57%) have participated in remote training in a professional setting. Remote training will become more common as the COVID-19 pandemic makes remote work a mainstay.
- Most people (61%) think remote training is effective, but many still think remote training has limitations. Businesses should plan carefully to make sure remote training works for employees.
1. Choose Remote Training Topics That Meet Employees’ Needs
Based on social media, people have spent time at home during the pandemic making bread, exercising, or pursuing other hobbies. Some people are also using COVID-19 stay-at-home orders to kickstart professional development.
Instead of tending a sourdough starter, they have used the past few months to pursue professional training and certifications. More than half of people in the U.S. (57%) have participated in remote training.
Choosing relevant training topics is an important first step for business leaders planning corporate training.
Remote training tools and software should facilitate effective instruction. According to the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, the four components of an effective lesson are:
- Clear instruction
- Steps and structure
- Opportunities to practice
- Helpful and immediate feedback
Though this framework is intended for students and educators, business leaders should consider this framework when deciding on remote training formats.
Business leaders should consider 3 factors when choosing topics for remote company training. Remote training should be:
- New: Remote workers have other professional and personal priorities competing for their time and attention. Make sure your remote training subject is new to avoid wasting employees’ time with repeat information.
- Applicable: Would you encourage your employees to spend hours in a remote training that didn’t improve their performance on the job? Make sure that the corporate training your company offers is directly related to improving employee performance day-to-day.
- Teachable in a remote environment: Not every in-person training will be as effective in a remote environment. Consider your team’s tools and capabilities when choosing a topic for remote corporate training.
Dr. Valeria Lo Iacono owns corporate training company Symonds Training. She says that remote training poses unique challenges when engaging participants.
“I have found that when providing training online, the attention span is much lower than if in a classroom in the same physical space with the participants,” Lo Iacono said. “To keep participants engaged during the training sessions, I include far more interactive activities than I would offline.”
Companies should choose corporate training topics that allow for employee participation.
Popular corporate training topics that work well in a remote environment include:
- Project management
- Digital marketing
- Customer service
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
- Software training
It can be difficult for business leaders to determine corporate training topics that meet staff needs when employees are working remotely.
The rapid increase in remote work due to COVID-19 means employees get less in-person time with supervisors, and supervisors don’t see the employees’ day-to-day firsthand.
Here are 3 ways company leaders can identify corporate training topics for their employees:
- Browse popular courses on sites such as LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Coursera, or General Assembly. Which courses are the most popular? Which have the best reviews?
- Survey your team to understand their training needs. Did you just introduce new software to the team? Are your employees interested in learning more about diversity, equity, and inclusion?
- Ask a professional corporate trainer to get a better understanding of training options for your team.
Before surveying your team, check out online resources such as LinkedIn Learning to see trending training topics.
LinkedIn Learning’s “Trending Now” section has courses on remote work, for example, which could be helpful if your team has recently transitioned to a remote setup.
Choosing the right topic for remote corporate training can be challenging. Consider your employees’ biggest knowledge gaps and find training offerings to fill them.
2. Consider the Format of Your Remote Training
Have you ever signed up for a training session and realized it was just someone reading from a set of slides? That format, while effective for some subjects and audiences, may not be the best format for an almost fully remote workforce.
Most people who attended remote training in the last three months (61%) said that training was effective. That means about 1 out of every 3 employees who experience remote training do not think it improved their skills or capabilities.
Effective in-person training relies on the skills of trainers more than presentation tools. Popular formats for training include:
- Small-group activities
- Video tutorials or demonstrations
- Hands-on practical training
Say an employee needs to learn a new coding language to conduct regular website maintenance. How would you find a remote training to meet her needs?
When looking for remote formats, look for training options that are:
In our earlier example, the employee looking for a coding training must weigh individual needs and company resources to meet those needs. Is an all-day coding boot camp within your company’s budget? Or, are you looking to upskill this employee using a free resource?
“Build training for all learning styles,” said Val Sanders, training director at Empower Work, where she leads digital training for the organization’s volunteers and provides skill-building training for employees remotely.
“Auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners all need to be kept engaged, by mixing up learning modality," Sanders said.
Survey your employees and ask how they learn best. Are the employees auditory learners? A podcast or recorded webinar might be the most effective way to introduce them to new materials.
Your remote training format will determine how effective the training ultimately is for your employees. Consider learning environments and preferences when determining how to deliver remote training.
3. Choose the Right Remote Training Tools
Imagine you’re halfway through a timed assessment that’s part of an online technical training run through an external testing software. The software causes your computer to freeze. You have to restart your computer, and you lose your progress on the assessment.
User-friendly, reliable tools meet your employees’ expectations for online interaction. If you’re investing in a new remote training tool, make sure it will work as expected.
Well-designed remote tools will be easy for employees to navigate for the first time. It should be easy for remote training participants to mute or unmute themselves and turn cameras on and off.
If your employees use Zoom every day, for example, look for remote training software that mimics Zoom’s navigation.
Alternatively, find a way to integrate software you already use into your remote training. Familiar software means employees won’t have to learn how to use a new tool in addition to the material they’re learning in the training.
Tools such as Zoom polls keep trainees focused and on-task during your remote training. Reliable training tools and software can make the difference between an effective and failed remote corporate training.
When conferencing software isn’t enough, invest in other online learning tools such as a Learning Management System (LMS).
A LMS is software that facilitates digital training for businesses using structured lessons, evaluations, and sometimes, games and polls. Investing in a LMS can lead to fewer distractions and better learning outcomes for remote employees.
Sanders uses a LMS called SmarterU to train employees and volunteers.
“We use all of the activities our learning platform (LMS) offers in our online modules: multiple-choice, gameshow, and labeling exercises,” Sanders said. “We've also built practice modules ourselves, so that our trainees may be practicing the same skill in a new medium every time. That keeps them engaged and forces them to really apply the skills we are teaching.”
LMS platforms such as iSpring are customizable to your company’s particular learning needs. Businesses can create modules employees can take one at a time, which retail company Forever Direct did to train employees on workplace safety.
These modules structure training and allow employees to break up sections of learning on their own schedules. LMS systems also allow employees to see what they've completed and review materials.
An LMS is one example of software that helps companies build skills among remote employees.
4. Reduce Interruptions and Distractions During Your Remote Training
Distractions in the office are nothing compared to at-home distractions. A colleague’s phone call is easier to tune out than a barking dog or crying child.
Remote employees accessing training sessions from their laptops might feel tempted to multi-task and complete other projects when they’re supposed to be learning online.
Alexander Heinle is a marketing manager at ZAGE, which provides remote corporate training for tech workers.
“The remote learning experience has to be engaging. In a purely online environment it is easy to get distracted,” Heinle said. “Passive consumption is not enough. Boost engagement through interactive elements, active repetition, social learning, and other approaches.”
Engaging trainees is important in-person, but corporate trainers teaching a remote audience should include interactive elements to increase focus and minimize distractions.
According to Microsoft, the average human attention span is 8 seconds. Heinle recommends breaking up longer training into shorter content blocks.
“Huge content blocks are harder to consume when participating remotely,” Heinle said. “Breaks and shorter learning modules can be highly beneficial. Remote working means increased flexibility. The way we learn has to adapt to these behavioral changes.”
Shorter learning blocks and modules make it easier for trainees to learn content on their schedule. Shorter lessons also mean employees can schedule training sessions on their own time, as long as employers and managers set goals for when training sessions should be completed.
Managers and trainers should also set expectations for distractions at the beginning of the sessions.
Remind trainees that training sessions are for their professional benefit and encourage them to minimize distractions in their home environment.
5. Seek Cost-Effective Training Options
COVID-19 hasn’t just led to remote work, it’s resulted in economic hardship for many businesses. Companies can still train employees on necessary skills while tightening their belts financially. Look for tools and software that offer free trials or discounted sign-ups during the pandemic.
Google, for example, made its Meet video conferencing tool free for businesses in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic when many companies were transitioning to remote work for the first time.
Consider that many online training sessions or skill-building webinars are offered for free or at a lower cost than conferences or in-person courses. These usually take the form of videos that participants can watch on their own time rather than personalized coaching.
Upskilling remote workers can be as simple as encouraging employees to complete a low-cost webinar series, such as SEO company Moz’s “Moz Academy,” which the company made free in the spring.
Moz provides digital marketing professionals the skills necessary to optimize websites and content for search. Its SEO “Starter Pack” series costs $149, a fraction of the cost of an all-day, in-person training session.
Look for free or discounted courses to make corporate training work within your budget.
Here are a few companies that regularly produce training videos and other learning content:
- Neil Patel
- Khan Academy
Effective remote training can also happen on a smaller scale without costly software or professional trainers. Budget-conscious companies should look for free resources to upskill their employees.
6. Hire Corporate Training Facilitators
Business leaders have competing priorities in a normal business climate. A global pandemic means leaders are spread thin and may struggle to manage a corporate training strategy for their employees. Hiring an outside consultant or corporate trainer can save businesses time and money in the long run.
Consultants help businesses by providing external management services, such as training employees.
Employee training is a worthwhile long-term investment. Investing in upskilling for your workforce means more productive employees and institutional knowledge for your business.
Hiring a consultant might seem expensive upfront but could prove worthwhile for your team.
External consultants have professional training and make a career out of training employees from all different backgrounds.
When looking for outside consultants or consultant-led training opportunities, businesses have some options:
- Hire a consultant to work with employees directly
- Look for free or discounted events online that feature consultants and training experts
- Identify open training opportunities led by consultants, such as webinars
Hiring an experienced consultant to provide tailored training will be the most expensive for a business, but the benefits may outweigh the expenses.
Make Remote Training Part of Your “New Normal”
Remote training is here to stay, even after the pandemic ends. Businesses need to know how to conduct effective remote training sessions for their employees.
Business leaders should start by choosing topics that are easily taught in a remote learning environment.
Then, they should consider the right format of corporate training. Certain employees might have different learning needs.
Technology is necessary for effective remote training. Consider investing in a learning management system (LMS) to meet your employees’ training needs.
Minimize distractions when teaching a remote course. Remote workers have professional and personal responsibilities competing for their attention at home.
Many cost-effective training options exist for businesses looking to save money. Hiring an experienced consultant, however, can be a worthwhile investment for businesses looking to upskill remote employees.