Training Employees in the New Age of Business

As remote training becomes the new standard, it is no longer acceptable that training is less engaging, less interactive, less immersive, and less fun when delivered virtually. The time to accept compromise is over.

It is an undisputed fact that training is a vitally important part of running a successful business. Multiple studies point to the advantages of employee training and development. Increased employee effectiveness and increased efficiencies in processes are obvious benefits impacting business results. Increased job satisfaction, confidence, and engagement among employees, resulting in better retention and chances to attract the right talent, are also direct consequences of an effective training strategy. It leads us to conclude that constantly reviewing and improving training programs to correlates directly to the success, expansion, and growth of a business.

In times of economic booms and thriving markets, business owners and company leaders are quick to subscribe to this theory. In times of uncertainty, investment in training and focus on improving employee development programs often gets deprioritized. I believe training is especially important in times of uncertainty, for two main reasons:

1. If the future is unclear, all the more reason you need a workforce who can analyze the situation and consider and reflect on ideas and solutions that can help the company be ready for the unforeseeable. The more trained a workforce is in the right skills, the better a company can react in changing circumstances.

2. The nature of this pandemic is that it has revamped traditional office life. Where the majority of activities were face-to-face, this now has switched to a situation where almost 100 percent of our interactions are done online. The basic soft skills we thought we possessed (e.g., decision-making, negotiation, teambuilding, and communication) all have been affected dramatically by the lack of face-to-face interaction. Employers that consider this when building their new training model will be at an advantage.

As remote working becomes our new reality, it’s now even more important to reassess your training curriculum. What worked in a face-to-face office setting will not translate online perfectly, and multiple distractions at home make it more challenging to get the right focus and engagement from participants. While the pandemic has thrown us all a curveball, we can predict with confidence that virtual training will become a vital part of our tool kits, and we need to critically assess if these trainings are at minimum on par with what we could deliver while face to face.

Two Challenges for L&D

While we’re adept at facilitating group discussions in the office, replicating this online with the same quality is not straightforward. And in the absence of physical social interaction, the tendency for participants to disengage increases.

The challenge for Learning and Development (L&D) teams is two-fold: First, face-to-face or classroom trainings must be brought online. Second and simultaneously, companies must find ways to deal with the inevitable drop-off in engagement and the barriers associated with virtual communication.

The first problem is the simpler of the two. Some companies have reacted quickly by repurposing their training content into e-learning modules. Face-to-face workshops now are done via Zoom meetings. However, there is less clarity when it comes to the long-term strategy. In fact, many seem to be crossing their fingers and hoping things will go back to normal.

Repurposing existing content and formats for online is a good stopgap measure. But it doesn’t take into consideration the drop-off in engagement that is inevitable when you’re training remotely. Online sessions can become predictable and repetitive. Coupled with the at-home distractions experienced by many employees, this can mean participants can tune out very quickly.

At best, repurposed training possesses the same quality as its original, in-person designs. Realistically though, companies are getting a less focused, less engaged, highly distractible audience (especially if training goes on for more than an hour). In pre-COVID-19 times, we were OK with letting go of quality when it came to virtual training because we would only occasionally run remote sessions. In this new age, we have to move on from the idea that it is acceptable that training is less engaging, less interactive, less immersive, and less fun when delivered virtually. The time to accept compromise is over.

Solutions to Boost Engagement

A great place to start to mitigate this response from employees is the use of simple, accessible and adaptable online tools. The goal is to find virtual alternatives for any of the interactions we also had in the offline training session. Instead of roundtable discussions among teams, employers can use breakout rooms in Zoom. Rather than a just a presentation, managers can use a digital whiteboard such as Miro or Mural to deploy and use templates accessible to all participants.

To boost engagement and increase the productive output of participants taking part in the session, managers can integrate communication tools people use every day. Whatsapp and Slack provide two easily accessible, text-based communication platforms that can be easily leveraged to create teams, and add an element of sociability to an otherwise isolating experience.

Businesses that provide training for a large number of participants can consider using a chatbot or interactive livestreams. I think it’s important to move toward a “blended” learning approach to increase engagement and facilitate a better online learning environment. As people learn in different ways, there needs to be a variety of training approaches. Peer-to-peer-based exercises, experiential learning, and task-based teaching can all be incorporated into the process. It’s a good idea to break up sessions into multiple parts and mix up the formats and training styles. You can switch up the ways of interacting with participants from session to session.

We are still at the beginning of learning how to create and deliver highly engaging and immersive training in a remote working environment. Businesses have a lot to learn. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to do an in-depth evaluation of every single training you deliver. We should constantly improve. For the next six months, your mantra should be: If we deliver the same training as last week, we’ve wasted an opportunity to improve.

Ruben Hamilius is the co-founder and managing director of Business Games, which provides blended learning and training experiences in the remote working environment. To learn more, visit businessgames.ie.

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