14 Training Strategies for Companies with Distributed Teams

training strategies

Effective training strategies and professional development are critical for team building and employee retention. But how do you effectively deliver training to remote staff? When it comes to the virtual workspace, online tools can help transform formal programs into team bonding experiences. Read on for examples of how to simultaneously boost knowledge and strengthen rapport among distributed teams.

14 Training Strategies for Companies with Distributed Teams

As many employers struggle to find qualified candidates, top companies are increasing their training budgets to sharpen and retain their talent. Training helps create a more knowledgeable and skilled workforce, but it also creates opportunities for remote team members to interact and bond. Also, professionals often view training and development as an employment perk, especially when there is room to advance within the company.

With all the cloud-based tools on the market today, training dispersed teams doesn’t have to be complicated. You just need to clearly define your training goals, assess your budget, and select tools that align with your team size, workload volume, and communication style. Here are 14 training ideas to get you started.

1. Host Live Video Conferences

Though telecommuters perform many tasks independently, remote team members do not work alone. Live video conferences help combat feelings of isolation and create more connection among dispersed teams. Consider live video when you want to energize employees, get them excited about new launches, or celebrate. Examples include:

  • Onboarding new team members
  • Project kickoff meetings
  • Demonstrations of new software and processes
  • Annual refresher training
  • Virtual holiday parties

Live feeds are great for answering questions real time, tackling issues before they occur, and receiving feedback from team members. You can also record sessions for employees who cannot attend due to drastic time zone differences or scheduling conflicts. Plus, recording each live session provides a record of the meeting and allows employees to revisit conversations and instructions.

2. Use Remote Desktop

Remote desktop programs enable team members to perform real-time demonstrations on other employee devices. Trainers and managers can temporarily take over a team member’s browser or software to present live tutorials, troubleshoot issues, update programs, or demonstrate shortcuts to boost productivity. Though all telecommuters need some capacity of technical knowledge, not all telecommuters are tech experts. Thus, remote desktop programs can streamline operations so that team members can overcome technology fears, learn new skills quickly, and stay focused on their primary skills and tasks.

3. Offer Test Environments

Workers typically learn more by doing. They also learn a ton by making mistakes. Therefore, consider setting up a test environment so your workers can get used to web applications and communication tools. Consider it a “sandbox” where employees can play around without interrupting actual workflow or damaging production environments.

For example, when onboarding new blog writers, have writers upload and submit their first couple of articles to a test site. Then, assign reviewers to confirm that the uploads meet expectations.

4. Encourage Self-Paced Learning

Though live meetings are great for strengthening team unity, self-paced online training is convenient for topic-based learning. Depending on your company’s available resources, you can:

  • Develop a custom program using a learning management system (LMS)
  • Create slideshow presentations or record training videos
  • Leverage online education websites, such as Udemy or Coursera
  • Outsource curriculum development and instruction to professional trainers

Self-paced training allows employees to complete courses according to their schedules. It can also provide supplemental information before or after live training. For example, you can ask your employees to complete a one-hour course before a live video conference to become familiar with the terminology, compile questions, and help make the training session more effective.

Resist using independent learning as your only training platform, however. Offer opportunities for team members to connect with colleagues for camaraderie and to build trust.

5. Set Up Shared Document Storage

Cloud-based document storage is a no-brainer these days. However, not all companies use shared storage effectively. Create company handbooks, policies, and training materials and store them in a location for everyone to access. Be sure that all employees have permissions to view all documentation related to their role. Documents are not necessarily meant for learning, but they serve as self-help references when employees have questions or forget how to perform a task.

6. Host Regular Office Hours

Ask managers to host “office hours” each week for team members ask questions and get quick feedback online. For example, create a dedicated Slack channel or set up a recurring Skype meeting. Chat programs like Slack are helpful for specific questions that require a succinct answer. However, Skype calls are more useful for in-depth discussions and proving live demonstrations by sharing screens. Even if employees do not have questions, they can tune in, observe, and potentially learn something new. For example, coworkers may present questions they never thought to ask or demonstrate a more efficient way to complete a task.

As FULL Creative puts it, “You may not be able to incorporate trust falls or catered lunches into your remote training program. But that doesn’t mean your trainees have to feel distant.” Therefore, make yourself available to staff and encourage open communication so that employees feel involved and informed.

7. Schedule Virtual Lunch-and-Learns

Companies often host lunch-and-learns for more casual training sessions or supplemental workshops. Lunch-and-learns are usually topic-based and can include:

  • Professional development
  • Software tips and tutorials
  • Refreshers on web applications
  • Common troubleshooting issues
  • Suggested workflow processes

They can also be brainstorm sessions where employees discuss quality improvement and better communication strategies. Employees can attend the meeting regardless of their time zone or listen to a recording and respond to a chat thread later.

8. Track Employee Performance

Just as remote team members need to feel included, managers need to know that the employees are doing their jobs. As Giselle Kovary, co-founder of n-gen People Performance, told the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “You need someone with a progressive leadership style who is not a micromanager.”

Leverage a cloud-based project management application so that employees can document their accomplishments and receive feedback from managers. Give employees permissions to mark tasks as complete and create new to-do items. There are dozens of applications to choose from based on your workload volume and team size. Choose one that aligns with your team’s communication style and reporting preferences.

9. Develop a Knowledge Base

Create an internal knowledge base and empower employees to contribute as they learn new information and methods. For example, if a team member receives the same question from multiple workers, allow the team member to write an article with procedures and explanations. The new knowledge article increases employee self-help, which can save all team members time in the long run.

10. Create a Virtual Library

If a knowledge base is excessive for your organization, create an internal website or spreadsheet with a list of useful articles and books. Let employees add to the list and make comments or highlight important aspects. Let your staff share insight and resources with each other to boost your team’s collective knowledge and interest in continuous education.

11. Buddy-Up Employees

Training experts agree that remote staff need to build personal relationships so that “virtual strangers” build trust and camaraderie. If you have a blended staff, where some work at headquarters and some are remote, consider buddying-up an office worker with a telecommuter. For completely virtual teams, consider assigning an experienced employee to a new hire. Buddying-up does not have to be a mentor-mentee relationship, however. It is simply a way to ensure that employees get to know at least one other team member and have someone they feel comfortable contacting.

Encourage “buddies” to hold brief calls or chats each week to discuss specific questions about the job or company. Regular communication can last for a couple of weeks during onboarding. Then employees can choose to continue at their own pace.

12. Send Weekly Email Blasts

Use weekly email blasts to answer recurring questions, share company news, highlight achievements, or proactively address issues. After a few weeks, your employees may look forward to the email and feel more in-the-know.

Emails do not have to be elaborate or fancy. They just need to be pertinent and serve as reminders that everyone’s work is important. If weekly is too often or unreasonable, aim for biweekly or monthly emails. Keep them consistent so that employees know what to expect.

13. Create a Virtual Watercooler

Studies show that employees respond better to informal learning than formal training. Therefore, give your team members a place on Slack or another application to laugh, bond, post pictures, and share funny work-related stories. Casual chat environments help workers get to know each other and feel more comfortable asking questions. They’re also great for asking quick questions that may not require a formal process or in-depth research.

For example, if one worker cannot access a company web application, instead of contacting the IT department and initiating troubleshooting steps, the worker can ask, “Hey, is anyone else unable to access the site?” If other employees have the same issue, then the worker can notify an IT representative. If not, then the worker knows the problem is local and can spare IT resources.

14. Attend a Professional Conference

If your budget allows, consider sending team members to an international conference for industry training and to get to know one another in person. Face-to-face contact might be helpful for forming stronger bonds and trusting relationships. However, some telecommuters may find in-person gatherings awkward or surreal. Thus, give employees the option to meet but encourage them to blast past the norms and gain industry knowledge at a professional event.

Bonus Tips

Here are a few extra tips to top off your training and ensure that employees feel included and in-the-know.

Create a Plan

Before you subscribe to the latest web applications and online training programs, develop a reasonable plan that meets the needs of your company and team. Consider your goals, audience, resources, and timeline and build a streamlined, custom program.

Provide Treats

If you usually provide lunch or snacks during workshops and all-day training events, consider sending your remote employees snack baskets or gift cards to a chain coffee shop or restaurant. Not only is it an incentive, but it’s also a way to create connectivity among the group.

Send Swag

Send your employees a company mug, pen, reusable water bottle, or other swag for completing onboarding and additional training. Such items can remind remote workers that they are part of a larger team and create incentives to participate in future training.

Get Feedback

Always ask for feedback at the end of each training. Also, offer a way for employees to submit anonymous comments. Use the feedback to improve your program continuously.

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Photo Credit: 1. iStock.cm/z_wei; 2. iStock.com/chombosan

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