Into the Figurative Fold: 7 Tips to Train Remote Employees
By Rachel Markey | September 8, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has put many things on hold, but it hasn’t stopped organizations from hiring new employees. While positions continue to be filled, the process of onboarding and training new hires is evolving as many continue to work from home. Whether you’re training new hires or providing existing staff with opportunities to continue learning, here are seven best practices relative to every industry and employee.
1. Set short-term goals and draft a plan
Because training someone remotely requires you to manage the content, online environment, and experience, it’s essential to plan out the process ahead of time. Creating a checklist before training begins can benefit both the trainer and the trainee. As YGS Payroll and Benefits Administrator Sheila Hildebrand noted, “Outlined expectations and goals are the foundation of an effective training period.”
As you look ahead to what’s next, remember that regardless of whether the remotely onboarded employee ever sets foot in the physical office, making clear what you expect and communicating employee responsibilities will have a long-lasting advantage on your relationship. But keep in mind that planning and flexibility don’t exist exclusively. “It’s important to have weekly objectives and milestones,” said YGS Production Coordinator Steven Schaffer, “but limiting your colleague to a strict training schedule may make both parties feel the day/week was futile.”
2. Embrace the right technology for remote employee training
How you share information during training can make or break the experience. Take into account the possibilities of integrating videos, podcasts, and ebooks into your training, and “supply reference guides, too,” Hildebrand suggested.
Remote training still requires live interactions, but instead of meeting in the conference room, you’ll be meeting virtually. “Don’t underestimate the power of video conferencing and screensharing,” noted Hildebrand. Schaffer said that “having the right remote training software (for me, Microsoft Teams) has been phenomenal when it comes to screen-sharing.”
Consider making use of recording capabilities during these sessions, so in the future, you have a backlog of saved training videos or are equipped to provide videos to those who can’t attend.
3. Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of the process
“While I was excited to tackle the opportunity of training someone remotely, I surely had many concerns on how the process would go,” admitted Schaffer. “The first thing I did to feel more comfortable was accept the challenges.” While training of any sort is typically complex, Schaffer recommends those training someone remotely acknowledge the presence of unique difficulties, such as, “distractions (including pets and children), not having the opportunity to physically gauge your colleague’s understanding or emotion when providing them new information, and the likelihood of some technical challenges, such as unstable internet.”
While there’s no question remote training involves obstacles, there are also several benefits. Employees don’t have to scramble to find an available conference room, and they are not necessarily restricted to office hours to execute training. Furthermore, the virtual component of remote training aligns with 21-century business. Perhaps the greatest benefit? There’s a world of content formats at your fingertips—videos, notes, infographics, games and more—that make elearning engaging for all learning styles.
4. Keep communication open and timely
Whether face-to-face or behind a screen, communication is key. Accept there’s no such thing as overcommunicating when training someone, and be grateful technology may make it even more convenient to touch base with your trainee regarding how they are feeling about the process as you train remotely. If applicable, consider getting in the habit of sending reminder emails a few days before training sessions with a virtual session link and an image or two of a screen capture of the virtual classroom.
5. Track productivity regularly
An investment is only well made if it helped to achieve business goals; you will want to measure how effective your remote training is. Hildebrand explained one way to achieve this evaluation: “After setting expectations and goals, check to make sure the trainee’s work aligns with them.”
Some forms of online training, such as online courses, will include measurable data (such as grades and completion and engagement rates). Regardless of the method, Hildebrand underscored the importance of, “providing constructive criticism and always letting the person you are training know when they are doing a fantastic job.”
6. Communicate a sense of company culture and integrate a remote employee into it
Even though a remotely trained new hire is not in the office, it crucial they get a feel for the unique social and psychological environment that defines your organization. New hires are like sponges prime to soak up all new information that comes their way, which makes the onboarding process the best opportunity to instill your company culture and ensure alignment. Be sure to communicate your organization’s mission, and, “welcome the new associate through a virtual meet and greet with their team,” said Hildebrand. These introductions are important to communicate team structure, build enthusiasm around working together, and create a sense of shared goals, so take them seriously.
While you must introduce remote employees to the colleagues they’ll be working with directly, you’ll also want to ensure the rest of your organization is aware they’ve joined the team. This introduction can be less direct and time-consuming by simply sending out a companywide “new hires” email.
Lastly, considering fostering “a sense of camaraderie, understanding and togetherness by inviting your new hire to a virtual happy hour,” Hildebrand said. Beyond joyful, these interactions excel at humanizing an organization, which makes remote working relationships much stronger in the long run.
7. Wish for the best, but plan for the worst
There’s no way to guarantee you won’t experience technical issues during a remote training session, but you can minimize the likelihood of issues through preparation. If possible, consider having a member of your IT support team available and ready to help troubleshoot technical difficulties, and discuss any foreseeable or potential complications with that person beforehand. You may also want to have a backup plan in mind, should your original intentions go awry.
“I expected there to be challenges learning a completely new position while working remotely,” recent YGS hire Phil Petrigliano admitted. “But through the help of everyone at YGS and the screen-share feature of Microsoft Teams, the process has been much easier than I imagined.”
You take the time to nurture supportive exchanges in the office, and it’s critical to do the same for remote workers. By “understanding the individual learning style of team members, allowing them to learn at their own pace, and leveraging technology,” Schaffer said, you will encourage remote new hires to ask questions and articulate concerns, and you will be empowered to clearly communicate what is expected of them in terms of telecommuting logistics while building a sense of excitement around their new endeavor.