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Meeting the Training Challenges of Remote Working

Les Strachan 

February 28, 2014

The term “remote worker” used to conjure up images of faceless colleagues in distant places, perhaps working in customer service or back office jobs.

But, nowadays, many organizations offer home-working opportunities to people in other roles. Using technology, people can now communicate with one-another easily, and they can access messages and work documents effortlessly at home or on the move.

The benefits of remote working include improved productivity, lower staff turnover, and reduced overheads. So, it’s easy to see why remote working can be so positive for an organization and its people. However, remote working causes some negative knock-on effects – including ones that relate to learning and development.

As a learning and development professional, you need to help your managers cope with these issues.

Below, we set out five common challenges that remote working presents, and we look at how you can help your managers overcome them.

Let us know about your experiences with this by commenting below.

Challenge #1: Overcoming Remoteness

The very word “remote” suggests isolation, and your challenge is to mitigate this before it undermines people.

Encourage managers to look for ways to build meaningful communication between themselves and their team members. This could be through Instant Messaging, team intranet pages, business-oriented social media channels, or VoIP calls.

Also, ensure that managers have regular, routine contact with their team members. They may want to schedule weekly catch-up calls, or offer ongoing coaching sessions, so that they understand team members’ challenges in more detail. Above all, they need to understand people’s strengths, weakness, and aspirations, all of which can be obscured by distance and cultural differences.

Managers can also encourage their team members to share information between themselves, so that they can relate to one another more easily. Just make sure that everyone understands that, in some cultures, people may be wary of sharing personal information, and that it’s OK for them not to have to.

Challenge #2: Communicating Information Effectively

Managers need to keep their people informed, but, if this is done ineffectively, it can cause confusion and distraction.

Start by providing training and support, if it’s needed, on effective use of basic communication tools such as email, phone, and IM.

You’ll then need to help managers communicate effectively with their remote workers. Encourage them to maintain a good balance of communication via email, phone, and, where possible, face-to-face contact.

Managers may also want to update job descriptions and set up team charters to communicate everyone’s objectives, roles, and responsibilities in the virtual team. These can encourage team members to take the time needed to communicate effectively, whether formally or informally.

Challenge #3: Building Trust

Trust is important in any team, but, for remote workers, it’s what keeps positive working relationships alive. Without it, teams can quickly start to fall apart.

If you need to support managers who are struggling to build trust within remote teams, you’ll need to deliver training that focuses on accountability, transparency, and feedback.

Remind managers and team members that successful team working relies on mutual understanding, and on working together towards a common goal.

Challenge #4: Managing the Costs of Bringing People Together

Clearly, it can be highly expensive to bring people together, face-to-face, but you need to make absolutely sure that your training delivers effective change.

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to conduct interactive training sessions using group VoIP calls, and these are often just as effective as face-to-face training.

Online training, which people can engage with at  times that fit conveniently into their schedules, is also a very cost-effective option for virtual teams. This type of training is especially effective when your employees can track their progress as they learn.

Challenge #5: Finding the Right Learning Blend

Depending on your organizational culture and your learners’ needs, you may want to combine virtual learning with more traditional forms of training – particularly when these offer opportunities for remote team members to meet face-to-face.

Help managers create the right blend of learning for their team members, and ensure that they understand people’s training needs in depth. Encourage them to do thorough and regular training needs assessments, and to work with you to create learning plans that meet all team members’ needs, wherever they’re located.

What challenges has remote working brought up in your organization? Let us know by commenting below.

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2 comments on “Meeting the Training Challenges of Remote Working”:

  1. Linc wrote:

    We have remote workers we’ve never met. It’s hard to think of a team when you work with people you only communicate with over email. As a manager my goal is to help us feel like a real team and I think informal communication points make a big difference. Instead of just communicating when there is an issue or question or update I recommend sharing more personal experiences. If you see them logged into Skype send a quick hi. Become Facebook friends if you’re comfortable with it. Share a few of those fun emails that circulate. There isn’t any water cooler or hallway talk with remote workers but if you can find a substitute for those informal conversations remote workers will seem much less remote.

    • Dianna MT wrote:

      Thanks for some extra tips Linc. I think there a lot of organizations that fear social media and all the negative potential associated with it. I applaud your courage to use social media as a way to connect with your remote workers. It’s a refreshing and positive move. Social media is here to stay so we might as well find ways to use it responsibly and teach our people to do the same.