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How Virtual Training Can Enhance Your Digital Workplace Strategy

By Shelley Osborne, Vice President of Learning, Udemy

Shelley Osborne, Vice President of Learning, Udemy

As employees demand more flexibility from their employers, remote work has become the new normal.

The nature of workplaces has fundamentally changed, having shifted away from the close-proximity cubicle culture of the 1980s to an increasingly distributed and digital workforce. Even smaller companies may have a fully remote workforce. In a recent survey focused on employee happiness, we found that 59% of professionals in the U.S. would not take a job in the future that didn’t offer them the ability to work remotely.

For HR and training professionals, this means that some tried-and-true methodologies – like engaging, small group in-person workshops – just aren’t as feasible. So how do leaders design compelling and engaging training programs for today’s employees who are accustomed to a digital option at every turn and for the workers who are choosing to work remote?

Move Past Just Tech Basics

Using technology to connect with employees, rather than solely providing them with information, is critical to creating training environments that are engaging. Video and videoconferencing are the new standards when connecting online – it should become the standard for training as well. A helpful tip: require that employees always turn on their laptop cameras. It’s tempting to use an avatar, but it makes it even harder to connect with the human on the other side of the conversation.

Newer technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can also create virtual meeting spaces for employees to collaborate and learn together. For AR specifically, it can be used to create dynamic training no matter where someone is located and virtually transport them to different spaces. At Udemy, we launched “Udemy Go” (a play on Pokemon Go), an onboarding program created and facilitated through AR. Our employees are able to be virtually transported and learn all about our global company.

Online communities can be a great way for remote workers to connect with their colleagues in a more impactful way. We provide a learning-focused Slack channel that connects everyone intentionally around sharing knowledge, which has proven meaningful for our global teams.

Focus on Accessibility

There should be a number of ways to access training content to ensure employees can access it in ways that make sense for them. For example, one of our trainings, titled “Feedback is Fuel,” is an instructor-led session usually conducted in-person. However, we also filmed it and uploaded it onto our online platform for remote workers who aren’t able to participate live. We also created a blended toolkit so learners can practice activities as a group even if there isn’t a learning leader there to facilitate.

Another best practice is to record trainings, but not as an afterthought. I’ve seen too many learning teams record in-person sessions and then distribute it to their remote teams as if it were fresh content. Repurposing that content won’t have the same impact because it wasn’t designed for that mode of consumption. Instead, design learning experiences for the one-on-one experience. Virtual trainings that are designed specifically for the remote individual and meant to be consumed digitally will have a higher chance of resonating with that remote employee.

Creating time and space that employees devote to learning also goes a long way toward increasing the efficacy of training. Just as with HQ-based employees, it can sometimes feel like no space has been carved out for remote employees to learn. In order to combat that, we have dedicated monthly DEAL (“Drop Everything and Learn”) hours for employees in every office, role, and time zone. When you empower every employee, regardless of role, title, or location, to take the time to stop their normal day jobs and spend time learning, it feels less like an obligation and more like an opportunity.  

Account for Time Differences

Training professionals must always account for differences in learning or communication styles when designing trainings, but remote work introduces new factors to consider - even something as simple as timing. It can be a point of frustration for remote workers when a meeting is scheduled at 4 a.m. in their timezone, so as workforces become more dispersed, it must be made obvious across the entire organization that others are in various time zones.

One way to ensure time zone differences are top of mind is to have clocks throughout the entire office set to different time zones – this serves as a constant reminder of how global your organization is. In our onboarding, we also recommend that our employees set their calendars up with multiple time zones so they can be mindful of others when scheduling meetings.

As employees demand more flexibility from their employers, remote work has become the new normal. This shift, which presents new physical and geographic boundaries, opens up an opportunity for leaders to reconsider and retool how employees learn best – and to design training programs with distributed teams in mind.

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