Developing Leadership Talent During the New Normal of Remote Learning

Dec 17, 2020

leadership-talent

BY PAUL ECCHER

The concept of working from home (WFH) may seem like the latest novelty fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For some companies that needed to outfit employees with home-based offices for the first time, this may be true. However, the statistics show that the percentage of remote workers has been steadily climbing over the past decade. An analysis from FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics1 found that between 2005 and 2017, there was a whopping 159% increase in remote work in the U.S. Upwork’s “Future Workforce Report”2 predicts that 73% of businesses will have remote workers on their teams by 2028.

WFH is not a novelty. Its roots, in fact, go way back in time to the 11th century in Europe, when banking dynasties opened their luxurious homes to conduct business. In Medieval Europe, artisans and craftsmen used their residences as workshops for anything from baking bread to making shoes. So, in a way, home-based offices are actually riding a “back to the future” wave.

The bigger question is, are remote workforces part of our future? Without a doubt, yes. WFH isn’t just a trend or a passing fad, but a reality that’s here to stay. Technology continues to enable dispersed teams, and there’s a growing realization that employees can be just as productive—and, in some instances, even more productive—WFH than in a traditional office-based setting. No matter where organizations were on their journey toward embracing the concept of WFH before the coronavirus outbreak, now almost all have had to adopt this model to some degree.

The bigger question is, are remote workforces part of our future? Without a doubt, yes. WFH isn’t just a trend or a passing fad, but a reality that’s here to stay. Technology continues to enable dispersed teams, and there’s a growing realization that employees can be just as productive—and, in some instances, even more productive—WFH than in a traditional office-based setting. No matter where organizations were on their journey toward embracing the concept of WFH before the coronavirus outbreak, now almost all have had to adopt this model to some degree.

Let’s take a closer look at some best practices for developing and cultivating future leaders in the new normal of the virtual business community.

BENEFITS OF REMOTE LEADERSHIP TRAINING

First, what are the benefits of remote learning programs to employees?3 Compared to traditional leadership training, which is typically delivered onsite through a workshop or classroom-style format, virtual education gives employees a sense of increased control over when and where they receive training. Individuals can access knowledge and expert systems on an as-needed basis when it’s most convenient, whether at 7 a.m. over their first cup of coffee or at 10 p.m. after the kids go to bed.

A second key benefit of remote learning is the ability to create a highly immersive experience, so that leaders are fully engaged. We’ve found that when employees are offered a variety of formats—online, video, phone, and print—their learning is enhanced through the use of multimedia and live interaction with their managers, outside consultants, and even other trainees within the organization.

Third, remote leadership development programs can be delivered to geographically dispersed teams, so that no matter where employees are based, they can access leadership training. A fourth major benefit of remote learning is that employee progress can be tracked and measured in real time, since training modules are virtual.

TWO TYPES OF TRAINING: SYNCHRONOUS VERSUS ASYNCHRONOUS

Which virtual leadership training program works best in a WFH setting? There are two basic types to consider: synchronous and asynchronous. In synchronous communication, the trainers/facilitators interact with each other live and in real time, much as they would in traditional learning.

In asynchronous communication, there are no real-time interactions. Learners access information on their own time, can stop and start when they choose, and replay/review material even after the course to continue to master the skills learned during training. Because they digest the content at their own pace, they can take the time they need to fully process and understand it. Of the two styles of training, asynchronous is usually the more preferred method that yields higher learner engagement and better developmental results.

VIRTUAL LEARNING TRENDS SHAPING EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT

The term “virtual learning” goes by several different names, such as computer-based training, online learning, eLearning, web-based training, webinars, and so on. While it’s not a brand-new concept, we’re seeing a few major trends emerge.

For one, there’s a movement toward improving trainee engagement by incorporating both instructional text and interactive methods such as simulations, games, video, blogs, social networks, and hyperlinks.

Second, employees are more invested when they have greater control over their training schedule, yet have direct accessibility to their managers and professional third-party coaching consultants to receive feedback and ask for help.

Finally, there’s a shift toward incorporating online forums that allow collaboration and information sharing among managers, mentors, and colleagues. The more immersive and interactive the user experience, the more effective the training and the more rewarding the outcome.

MAKING A CASE FOR ONLINE LEARNING VERSUS TRADITIONAL TRAINING

On the topic of effectiveness, what makes virtual training typically more successful than traditional leadership programs? There are several reasons.

Online training works better for longer courses, and employees get more from virtual learning if they take the time to practice their skills as part of the overall program. Web-based leadership development is also more effective than traditional training for learning new concepts and improving employee retention, or “declarative knowledge.”

However, it’s important to note that online and traditional education are equally effective in teaching procedural knowledge, such as skills-based training. For the most part, virtual learning provides a high level of satisfaction for the majority of employees, with the exception of those with low computer self-efficacy.

ADVANTAGES OF COST AND TRANSFER OF LEARNING

When comparing eLearning to traditional classroom-style employee education, virtual learning is typically more cost-effective, especially when training large groups. For a one-hour course with a class size of 100 employees, eLearning was shown to be 40% less expensive than traditional offerings. For a one-hour course with a class size of 40,000 learners, eLearning proved to be 78% less expensive.4

Even when evaluating computer-based training methods, there’s transfer of learning to consider. This happens when trainees apply information, strategies, and skills they’ve learned to a new situation or context. We’ve discovered that online (or internet-based) training has a higher transfer of learning rate than basic computer-based training that does not integrate other external media sources. Leveraging adaptive training methods, games, and simulations also improves transfer of learning.

One concept that we’ve seen really work well to form new, long-lasting habits and optimize skills retention is the application of neurolearning. This “practice-reflect-refine” methodology helps to deliver measurable results as users test their online learning in real-world scenarios. Trainees then reflect on what they did well or could have done better to improve the situation by gathering feedback from managers and peers. In the refinement phase, they make the necessary modifications to ensure that application of their leadership skills makes an even more meaningful impact.

SUPPORTING REMOTE EMPLOYEES TO IMPROVE TRAINING SUCCESS

Now that we’ve addressed the merits of delivering leadership training virtually to WFH employees, how can organizations best support them?5

First, take into account that most employees working remotely struggle with common challenges such as lack of face-to-face supervision, limited access to information, social isolation, and distractions at home. Managers should establish structured daily check-ins to offer encouragement and support that helps to address these obstacles.

To further enable productive manager-employee interaction, managers should offer several different communication technology options, such as phone, video, chat, email, text, and so forth. Managers should look to build connections with their employees and to foster connections between colleagues on their teams. The value of peer-to-peer interaction and manager collaboration motivates emerging leaders to do their best and helps to dissolve some of the traditional barriers that prevent effective leadership development when WFH.

Lastly, managers can greatly improve remote learning success by following these simple guidelines:6

Before training. Lay the foundation. Send employees several short articles or videos, one at a time. It should not feel overwhelming or like homework. Ask them to consider the big-picture themes and inform them they will learn more in the training. Follow up with each participant via text, email, or phone before the training to ask what he or she thought of the pre-content.

During training. Follow through on the content previously sent. Have workers share reactions and pose questions. It’s important to get them involved in active discussion.

After training. Send resources to the employee on how to apply their learnings. Videos of role-plays, for example, are highly effective. Also, present personalized practice challenges that spur trainees to apply what they have just learned over the course of their typical workweek.

About the Author: Paul Eccher, PhD, president and CEO of Vaya Group, has more than 25 years of experience partnering with Fortune 500 clients to leverage talent and improve business results. He is an expert in the areas of executive assessment, coaching for performance, and talent management.

1 Braccio Hering, B. (Feb. 13, 2020). Remote Work Statistics: Shifting Norms and Expectations. Flexjobs. Retrieved from: https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/remote-work-statistics/
2 Upwork (March 5, 2019). Third Annual “Future Workforce Report” Sheds Light on How Younger Generations are Reshaping the Future of Work. Retrieved from: https:// www.upwork.com/press/2019/03/05/third-annual-future- workforce-report/
3 Noe, R. (2017). Employee Training and Development, 7th Edition. New York, McGraw-Hill Higher Education. I SBN: 978-0-07-811285-0
4 Ibid.
5 Larson, B., Vroman, S., Makarius, E. (March 18, 2020). A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2020/03/a- guide-to-managing-your-newly-remote-workers
6 Mattson, D. (July 9, 2018). 3 Tips for Making Remote Training Sessions Work. Training Industry. Retrieved from: https://trainingindustry.com/articles/remote-learning/3-tips- for-making-remote-training-sessions-work/