In the past few years, the concept of work-life balance, telecommuting technologies, economic globalization and rising transportation costs have collided to produce an environment in which employees can collaborate and contribute full time without ever leaving the house.
That’s great for them, and generally for businesses, too, as organizations can tap an ever-expanding pool of talent. But it presents an interesting problem for learning leaders: How do you engage an employee who will seldom if ever participate in a live training experience?
Most learning executives have employed distance-learning technologies for a while now, but these have been aimed predominantly at an audience that works in a faraway branch office or spends a lot of time in the field. Home-based personnel are a different breed since they typically don’t interact face-to-face with fellow employees.
Thus, one of the key aims in training these professionals is getting them engaged not only with the content, but also with the company. To accomplish this, Scott Van Stratten, senior director of Convergys’ home agent organization, recommends virtual classroom training — featuring virtual desktop-sharing tools and facilitation by a virtual trainer — supplemented with e-learning, simulations and assessments.
This begins with taking the curriculum and changing it for virtual consumption, he explained.
“One of the key challenges is working to deliver the virtual training curriculum. There’s a little time involved with taking a curriculum and converting it to a virtual format. What’s critical in the development of that material is to make sure you’ve covered all of the important components that need to be delivered to the learner. And also, make sure the assessments do a good job of validating that candidate’s skill set before you release them from the training.”
Additionally, you should assess your instructors to be sure they know the difference between the physical and virtual classroom and can perform in the latter.
“You need to make sure you’ve got the right trainer in the right job,” Van Stratten said. “It’s critical that you first certify that your trainers are able to deliver in a virtual learning environment. Not every trainer enjoys leaving that classroom training environment behind.
“The trainers have to be multitaskers and little bit more tech-savvy because they don’t have that eye-to-eye contact and sense that people are really grasping the material,” he added. “You need to make sure you’re getting feedback about how well the trainers are working to engage those folks.”
Also, don’t assume you can stuff learners into a single classroom just because it’s in a virtual environment.
“We try to make sure our virtual classroom environment doesn’t exceed the levels of our brick-and-mortar environment,” Van Stratten said. “Just because we’re running this virtually doesn’t mean we can deliver this to an audience that’s twice the size of a brick-and-mortar classroom.”
Finally, remember that the virtual classroom is a means to foster the connection between the home-based employee and the company.
“In the virtual classroom environment, we need to create a sense of community to help us manage that retention and graduation rate. That’s really what we’re trying to achieve, so these folks feel like they’re part of a company and not just drawing a paycheck from week to week.”