In remote teams, the speed at which you build competent employees is more important than with employees all based in 1 location. Employees that work virtually can easily focus on areas that they deem important, and develop bad habits, if they are not trained and provided with the correct company focus and direction at the onset. Also, often since they are remote, managers will have less visual and daily interaction with new employees, due to the costs and resource restrictions in doing so. Because of these factors, it is critical to get new employees trained quickly and to use effective training methods that will get your team members competent with minimal costs. On the same note, ongoing training and feedback is important to ensure that current team members don’t lose sight of goals and are aligned with the team focus.
When a new virtual team member is added, initial training is the most critical point at ensuring they assimilate with the team and its goals, and quickly build the needed competence. The largest amount of training resources should be devoted to this initial onboarding and if at all possible, it should be done face to face. Even if the manager is not available for this initial face to face training, leverage mentoring with other team members to help get the new employee on track. This face to face interaction is critical to ensure the employee feels a part of team, best practices are established, and to gauge employee understanding and application of new skills. The highest level of interaction with a new employee will generally be at this stage, as you are ensuring they are on the right track. The more time you spend with them initially (face to face, via phone, etc. . .) the less time you will have to spend in follow up and corrections later.
After onboarding all virtual employees need on-going training. A tennis pro doesn’t just receive coaching before their match. The best pros are developed before the match, have the support of their coach during the match, and then receive additional coaching after the match to review and strategize for the next game. The same is true with employees, they need ongoing coaching to ensure they are performing their best (and in the best interests of the team) at every opportunity.
Three keys to ensuring this is accomplished with a remote/virtual workforce is to focus training and coaching through Action Learning, peer training, and Socratic coaching.
- Action Learning – It is important that remote employees learn to work independently and make appropriate decisions on needed actions since they cannot run down the hall to gather feedback from their manager and co-workers. Action learning – ie. Learning by doing – is one of the best ways to help them learn how to work independently. Learning from experience helps make them believers in the process. Find opportunities for them to work with others on projects, or give them areas to research and present to the team to build their expertise.
- Peer Training – Implement peer training on an ongoing basis – this gives you a chance to “reward” a team member by letting them teach a skill or process they are an “expert” at, while building a stronger team community and encouraging collaboration among team members. This will keep the team working together toward a common goal and result, even if they all work remotely from each other.
- Socratic Coaching – There should be planned ongoing coaching for each employee even if they are star performers. Socratic coaching involves asking questions rather than giving answers, to help the employee learn through self-discovery. The key is to focus questions around teaching a thinking process, to help the employee make a better decision. If the employee received negative feedback from a client, ask them questions such as: “How do you think the interaction went? How did the results differ from what you were expecting? What would you do different next time?” You can even use this method when there have been positive results such as: “What do you think were some of the key reasons for the successful outcome? What were techniques you used that you could pass on to new team members to help them reach the same results?” It is important to ask open ended questions rather than yes or no, so that the employee has to formulate ideas around the situation. As well, you do not want to give the employees the answers – but rather, help guide them to answers.
When training remote employees, the initial training in the onboarding process, has the most impact to assimilating them correctly with the team and its goals. However, development should be continuous and ongoing with your employees. When you stop working on their development, this tells them that you have stopped caring about their development and growth as an individual. This can have negative impacts on your team as virtual employees can easily feel isolated from the company. They can also lose sight of what the team focus should be, straying to work on what they think is important, which may not always be what is most important for the team. Use the combination of action learning, peer training and Socratic coaching, to help keep them on track and motivated toward the team goals.