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The new hybrid work environment, where some employees are onsite and others are working from home, presents some challenges for organizations that need to train staff in a variety of ways. The vast majority of managers and HR professionals, though, have not received any instruction on managing virtual team training.

Virtual team training is critical, of course. Technology can help make it happen.

With mandated updates related to compliance, new technology, DEI, or a wide range of other initiatives, over the past year organizations have adapted and adopted new best practices to help manage virtual team training in a complete or partial remote workplace environment. 

A New Normal Requires New Approaches to Employee Training

Nadian Zak, senior vice president of people at Vertava Health, led the charge to transition the company to virtual work when the pandemic struck. Now, most employee training is conducted in a hybrid workplace model as the majority of participants are virtual. Through some trial and error along the way, the company has actually found that their virtual team trainings are not only successful, but have also been more interactive than their in-person training had been.

Israel Gaudette, the founder of SaaS company Link Tracker Pro, says that as working from home has become the new normal, his staff now operates fully remotely. Providing remote employees with effective online employee training is critical.

“As we shifted away from close-proximity workstations to a distributed workforce, the way we do things has been changed as well, especially when it comes to team training,” Gaudette says. “The tried and tested training methodologies we used to love are no longer viable. With new geographic boundaries that arise, we need to reconsider new ways as well on how employees will learn best. Technology will play a crucial role here and using beyond the basics is the key.

Here we look at “3 Tips for Managing Virtual Teams Training.”

1. Follow Tried and True Best Practices for Training Using Zoom

At Vertava Health, Zak has implemented a number of practices to help their virtual teams training be most effective. For instance, before training sessions, Zak says, it’s “important to communicate extensively with participants.” At Vertava this includes:

  • Sending out any necessary pre-work ahead of time
  • Sharing participants’ names and contact information to encourage them to connect prior to the session
  • Sending participants guidelines on what to expect in the training to help set the right tone and streamline the sessions

Following the training, a recap email is sent “summarizing the big takeaways and any action items needed from the team.” And, because virtual team training is most effective when coupled with examples of real-world applications, trainees receive “homework” assignments—or short case studies for team members to complete. Follow-up is then done to recap the results of the case study. This, says Zak, “can really help drive the training message home.”

One important requirement at Vertava is for training participants to have their cameras on. That makes the sessions more personal, she says.

American Express Vice President of Global Client Group Esha Bawa has extensive experience in employee training—both in-person and online. She recommends a number of best practices that can help you make your online employee training as effective as possible.

  • Use the technology!  Breakout rooms, polls, whiteboards, chat, etc. offer great solutions in virtual meeting technology. Using these effectively will help create better virtual team training experiences for your staff.
  • Play some tunes. During breaks, brainstorming, or self-reflection time, music can help set the tone, Bawa says. But, she adds, make sure to test this before using. “Some sounds do not sound melodious over the computer.”
  • Share prompts for brainstorming in advance. “While we want to think spontaneously, this doesn’t suit everyone,” Bawa says. “An inclusive practice is to share prompts with the team in advance to allow colleagues who need time to reflect that opportunity.”
  • Create an offline experience. Is there any part of the employee training that you can do away from your screen? Being mindful of screen time can help reduce Zoom fatigue, Bawa says.
  • Have lots of breaks. Humans optimally function in 45–50-minute sections, Bawa says. “Virtual meetings mean we need more breaks. Schedule sessions and speakers accordingly.”

In their book, Suddenly Virtual, coauthors Karin Reed and Joe Allen, PhD, offer some additional tips:

  • Be sure to take care of your “personal production value.” How you appear on camera impacts how your messages are received.
  • Put more humanity into your virtual training. Take time to address participants’ personal needs. Starting meetings with a question like “how are you?” shows you care and can also yield important insights into how employees are doing.
  • Don’t overdo the back-to-back meetings. Give employees an opportunity for “recovery” between sessions to avoid fatigue and boost employee engagement.
  • Don’t overly rely on slides and other visuals during the virtual training—it’s you your attendees want to see. Put people front and center for the most effective virtual team training.
instructor and learner in one-on-one on the computer

2. Make Optimum Use Of Break Rooms to Help Manage Virtual Trainings

Breakout rooms can provide big benefits in managing virtual teams training, says Main. “Breakout room usage is critical for helping find that relevance because trainees can discuss with one another how the information has or may apply to them, and peer learning is much closer to the situation than training coming from a third-party source removed from their reality,” she says.

Breakout rooms also help participants in virtual teams training to shift from passive to active participants. Main says that breakout rooms can leverage more than “mere auditory input” by leveraging the use of whiteboard features and other tools that foster collaboration. “Small group activities also provide people with interpersonal connection, which is so desperately desired and lacking since the beginning of the pandemic and the implementation of social distancing,” she says.

3. Get Feedback to Improve Virtual Team Trainings

Mike Chappell, the founder of Formspal, stresses that feedback is very important to ensure that you’re managing virtual teams training in a way that is meeting participants’ needs. That feedback can be solicited before, during and after your online employee training, he says.

“You can revise and improve your training program by asking questions, conducting surveys, and soliciting feedback from individual team members on the training materials,” Chappell says. “Training feedback is an essential part of the global team’s continuous growth. Be sure that the online virtual training framework provides polls and reviews in addition to the material you develop,” he recommends.

As companies continue to operate within a hybrid workplace model, and virtual team training becomes increasingly important, following the best practices offered here can help make the difference between stale employee training sessions with limited interaction and engaging virtual training with active participation that yields real results.