Functional performance support, focused learning, effective means of training delivery, and organizational support are key to ensuring employee engagement. How can organizations support these learning needs in remote working environments?
Supporting Employee Learning Needs Virtually
With no clear end in sight to the shift toward remote work and education, it’s imperative for businesses and learning institutions to be thinking about how best to support their employees and students in remote environments. Functional performance support, focused learning, effective means of training delivery, and organizational support are key to ensuring employee engagement under any circumstances, but the virtual element introduces something of a curveball. In uncertain times, it’s crucial for employees to feel supported, valued, and encouraged so they can focus their energies on the smooth running of the organization. In concrete terms, what does that look like?
Learning Need #1: Performance Support
Employees working remotely can’t just poke their head out the office door to ask a colleague a question. Now more than ever you’re going to have to make sure that your employees have the information they need, when they need it.
- Make sure your documented processes and procedures are up to date, and post them in easily accessible locations and formats.
- If participation in communities of practice has been limited, now might be the time to remind employees to both contribute if they have specialized knowledge, and consult if they require help.
- Ask your employees if they see any gaps in the knowledge repository, and be sure to take their input into account.
The more you demonstrate that you’re being responsive to employee needs in terms of performance support, the more you can head off the possibility of creeping organizational isolation.
Learning Need #2: Focused Learning
Independent of business sector, the need for employees to learn new skills and behaviors is stronger than ever. A lot of new workplace realities are being set in motion, whether that means increased responsibilities due to workforce reduction or adopting new behaviors related to limiting viral spread upon (eventual) return to an in-person workplace. Learning will need to be tight and targeted. Immediate needs might include:
- Tutorials on how to access secure online workspaces
- Technical troubleshooting tips
- Return-to-work health and hygiene guidance (check out this nifty example)
The learning doesn’t have to have a lot of bells and whistles. What it must be is fit for purpose, clearly communicated, and easily accessible.
Learning Need #3: Tools for Effective Training Delivery
What tools does your organization have ready to deliver training? Rather than focus on a particular software, or the difference between conference software and virtual classroom software, think about how most effective training is designed and delivered. Humans like short, digestible chunks of information, a variety of delivery methods, and reinforcement over time. With these basic principles as a guide, the possibilities are suddenly endless. Think along the lines of:
- Short, low production value videos that can be sent by e-mail or housed on the company website
- Simple animated pieces that communicate important messages
- Text messages reinforcing desired behaviors
Make them frequent, varied, and above all pertinent to the needs of your employees.
Learning Need #4: Organizational Support
For those who are apprehensive about a shift toward remote working environments, you’ll need to communicate the potential advantages of working and learning at home. While your workforce almost certainly includes of a number individuals enthusiastic about working from home who are secretly dreading an eventual return to the office, on the flip side there will be plenty of others for whom face-to-face workplace interaction is an important aspect of social well-being. Such individuals might find the transition to working from home more difficult. Organizations need to:
- Highlight the advantages of working from home. These can include individual benefits such as cost savings, better work/life balance, and reduced commute times, as well as global and organizational benefits such as positive environmental effects and decreased maintenance and utility costs.
- Provide helpful tips on how to work/learn from home effectively. Encourage employees to set up a dedicated, ergonomic workspace, and suggest that they have a family meeting to manage competing schedules and responsibilities. Realize that some overlap between work/home is inevitable, so be flexible but don’t neglect to set clear expectations about work schedules and task completion. See our article Working from Home: Obsidian Learning’s Guide to Thrive for some useful pointers.
- Maintain the culture of the workplace. This should be very high on the list of organizational priorities. With a dispersed workforce, it is that much more important for employees to feel as though they are working within a common culture toward common goals. Organize opportunities for social engagement, such as Zoom happy hours or working lunches, so that employees can visually or aurally engage with their colleagues, or consider sponsoring company-wide challenges such as virtual fun runs or participation in various forms of volunteerism.
Your organization is likely to have specific needs with regard to performance support, focused learning, appropriate means of training delivery, and organizational support. A remote working environment might make it more challenging to be attentive to employee needs, but it’s more important than ever that your employees feel connected both to the organization and one other. Implementing the suggestions here will go a long way toward boosting employee motivation, skills development, and retention.