There are more businesses than ever moving to completely remote workforces. Many positions can be performed without the necessity of being in an office or even in a specific location. This does a number of things for any business, including opening up the workforce to other talents outside of the area and seriously reducing overhead costs even if employees are incentivized with home office stipends and company provided equipment.
With the added benefits of a more remote workforce, there come a host of new challenges as well. You still need to develop a company culture, complete the hiring process in full, and train your remote workforce to the same quality as you do your in-house employees. How do you train workers remotely and ensure that everyone gets the same information and is on the same page with policies, procedures, and industry knowledge? While there are no simple solutions to address these complex problems there are numerous solutions available to you. Here are five keys to developing a robust program to train your remote workforce.
Look at Where You Are Now
One key to determining what kind of remote workforce training is to determine where you are now. What knowledge do your new hires or employees have about your industry and your niche? In what areas do they need training? These can be difficult questions to answer, but it is critical that you do so. Many businesses waste money on training and programs that do nothing to improve their overall performance or increase their bottom line. It is essential when establishing a training program to determine what your knowledge base looks like.
This doesn’t only apply to the workforce that you currently have, but will also be determined by your hiring practices. For instance, if you only hire those with a certain level of experience in your field, you won’t need a training program that starts with basics like definitions of terms and other basic knowledge. You can safely assume that new hires already have that information and can apply the basic skills needed to perform the job. The exception would be if your company uses different terminology or modified language from the industry standard.
Intermediate knowledge then gets more specialized. You’ll have to know where individual employees stand, and what knowledge they will need to grow and excel. This can be determined through simple testing upon hiring a new employee, or when a current employee applies for a new position.
An interview process for either case can be an invaluable tool to determine where an employee stands. Alternately, many technology-based positions, such as for electricians or HVAC technicians, require a minimum score on a standardized test to determine eligibility for the position. These same techniques can be used to address the educational needs or your employees.
Once you know where you are, you can determine where to go from here.
Establish Reasonable Goals
One critical thing to understand about a training program is that it takes time, and often both employees and trainers will need to keep doing their regular jobs at the same time that training is taking place. It is a rare luxury when employees can devote themselves to learning full time.
Of course, the exception to this is new hires, who often go through an initial training process for a certain period of time. This, however, can have costs that threaten to offset the gains you make by ensuring your new employees are as ready as you can make them assume their new positions. The employees you assign to train new employees will often have work they must continue to do as well, and a new employee can only absorb so much information before they need to apply what they have learned to everyday tasks.
There is an acronym the United States Army uses when it comes to goal setting, called SMART goals; whether you’re applying it to the boardroom or the battlefield, it can be invaluable to help you get started with your training goals:
- S – Specific: Your goals need to have an established end state that everyone can interpret the same way. For example: don’t say, “we want more people trained on this,” say, “80% minimum of our employees will be trained on this at all times.”
- M – Measurable: You need to be able to assign specific, quantifiable data that you can use to determine if your goal is effective. As in the first example, don’t say “more,” say, “80%.”
- A – Action Oriented: Talk is cheap, as the old saying goes. And no matter how much you may talk about something, until you start taking action to achieve your goals, and know what actions to take, they’ll stay as good ideas on paper. Assign the specific methods and actions you’ll take to achieve your desired endstate. Don’t say, “We’re going to train our employees on workplace safety,” say, “We’re going to use 4 team-led sessions and 1 department-led training session, per month, to train our at least 80% of our workforce in workplace safety.”
- R – Realistic: Your goals need to be realistic, as related to your current conditions. While there’s nothing wrong with striving for greatness, if you’re a small tech startup, you’re probably not going to beat out Apple in one month after you open for business. Set your goals so that you can obtain them together as a team and build success gradually, rather than chasing a pipe dream that you’ll never reach.
- T – Time Driven: Simply put, nothing drives achievement quite like a deadline. While everyone complains that there aren’t enough hours in the day to achieve everything they want, without setting an internal schedule to both manage when you’ll hit training benchmarks, and when you want to be complete, your training will falter.
Once you’ve established your SMART goals for training, you’ll find you have a much better understanding of what, when, and how you want to achieve with your training. You can now begin to explore options that will give you the result you want without wasting time. This is especially critical for your remote workers, since they’ll need the same training as everyone who works in-house, and they’ll need time allotted to them on the clock to complete their training.
Set up a Learning Management System
Unless you bring remote workers to you during their training, you will need a way for them to learn remotely in the same as they work remotely. This is why setting up an online learning management system (LMS) that offers training on an eLearning platform makes sense. You can use courses that are already created or create ones specifically for your company training. The employee can take them anytime from anywhere.
Another advantage of an eLearning system, as opposed to a traditional physical classroom model, is that it allows you to not only tailor your training but track and document it in real time as well. With an LMS, you’ll be able to design your course, assign your attendees, check their progress and compile the results of all your employees or a select few.
If you want to see what percentage of your workforce has received training in OSHA standards, you can do so; alternately, if you want to see the composite results of your Sales team’s new product training, and determine if your sales professionals are passing at an acceptable rate, or you need to revamp the training, you can do so. The possibilities are numerous and depend on what kind of data you want to create and track.
Setting up a learning management system is not as hard as it might seem at first, and in the long run will save you money, time, and effort. The key is to look at different systems and programs to see if they meet your needs and requirements and also fall within your budget.
Many LMS programs have a free trial period that lets you use the software for a while without subscribing to ensure that it is what you want for your company.
Provide Learning Time
In order for an LMS to work well, you will need to provide employees with some learning time. This will be a time when they cannot be performing their regular duties.
Ensure that if an employee needs 40 hours of training, and if 10 hours a week are scheduled, they have at least four weeks to complete the training and so on. It is a matter of simple math, but you may also want to build a cushion into those goals, allowing for unforeseen circumstances.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to build in some overtime hours for employees if they so choose. Many of your employees may not be able to invest an extra two hours at work each day just to do training, but others will. Think of it less as an expense, and more of an investment back into your company to improve your organization. Regardless of what you choose to do with overtime, ensure your employees have time blocked for training and complete their normal duties as well.
Training is important, but so are everyday tasks. Cushions allow for these things to take priority if needed. If ten hours is too much for them to be away from their desks, give them five, and adjust goals accordingly. Training should not be an added stress but should be something employees look forward to.
While some employees will simply embrace learning as a way to get better at their jobs, that is ideal. As any manager who’s been leading teams for any length of time will tell you, some employees will only do exactly what they’re told to, and even the best employees will need to be incentivized. This can be done primarily in one of two ways:
The first method is to have consequences if your employees do not complete the required training. People will almost always opt for the lesser of two evils when faced with a no-win situation, and the prospect of enduring a block of instruction, however drull, is more often than not preferred to be reprimanded or fired.
However, this is often problematic. Reward works much better than punishment, and unless training is legally required, you may find it hard to force employees to take certain courses. Also, they may just endure them and not apply what they have learned, making the training just as useless. Again, you want training to be something employees want to do, and something they look forward to.
A better incentive is to reward those who complete training as required, and even go above and beyond to complete extra training tasks.
These rewards don’t always have to come in the form of promotions or even raises; in fact, that’s not practical – there’s only so many positions you can promote into, and if you give a raise for every course completed, you’ll soon find yourself paying employees more than you make. Instead, consider other, creative options. These can include gift cards, extra time off, office amenities, and even public recognition. This type of incentive is less costly to the company over the long term and results in a more satisfied workforce.
As a final note to incentivize employees for training, always explain both why the training is necessary and what you want to accomplish with it. We’ve all heard the, “Because I said so” excuse, in our childhoods if not our professional lives. It’s most often a sign of lazy or ineffective leadership, and it won’t serve to inspire your employees in your training any more than it will increase your production. When you take the time to clarify why something is important, including training, employees will be much quicker to embrace, or at least complete, those tasks, knowing that their efforts will benefit both themselves and the company as a whole.
Remote workers offer a unique challenge to businesses, but thanks to the eLearning environment and other technology, learning, training, and other tasks can take place at a distance, and incentives don’t have to be tied to a physical location. Learning time can be provided anytime and anywhere, allowing your remote workforce to grow and thrive.