To Trent Harvey, working remotely is like playing a video game online. It gathers enthusiasts together from separate locales in order to attain a shared goal. But Harvey isn’t a kid anymore and a job isn’t a hobby. He’s worked remotely for software companies like Inside Interactive, and the experience has its perks, like working poolside or at a coffee shop, although Harvey has had challenges staying connected with his employers.
“Company-specific culture gets reduced down to the same type of culture you would find in an internet chatroom,” he explained. “You know people; you have inside jokes. You have a level of trust with the people you’re working with, but that’s not the same as working in an office with your colleagues.”
Maintaining company culture with remote workers can be difficult, but it can be done. Bonnie Evans, global client executive at Xerox Learning Services, said it’s critically important to engage remote workers. “I’ve been on-site, I’ve also been remote. I’ve seen the impact of really strong engagement with remote workers. I’ve also seen the impact when there aren’t opportunities. That’s why I’m passionate about it and why I talk to clients about it.”
Evans offered the following five strategies to keep remote workers engaged and in tune with the company using learning services. “Learning really helps the learner understand the organization’s beliefs and commitments to that employee.”
Find the best platform. Several platforms could be used to deliver engaging learning to employees. But just because there are many options doesn’t mean employers should choose lightly. “It’s about the right platform for that client,” Evans explained.
There’s e-learning, virtual webcasts, MOOCs, small private online courses or self-directed lessons. When selecting the right platform to deliver learning, consider what is the right learning approach and the right learning strategy. Then, look for the application that makes the most sense. If a company uses Google, for instance, it could consider Google Hangouts.
Also, platform choice doesn’t just depend on the learner or the company. It also depends on the topic. “Maybe it’s a technical topic; it might be best to use e-learning,” Evans said. “It might just be a short video. It really does depend on the learning objective.”
Get to know employees. It’s the golden rule of communicating, or at least, it could be. To communicate effectively, get to know who you are communicating to. This applies to employees across the world or employees right next door.
This doesn’t mean getting involved in an employee’s personal life; but that could help. “You need to consider what skills the employee needs to know (and) what their learning development needs are,” Evans said. “You also need to consider how people learn.”
This makes formulating learning content much easier.
Be engaging. What’s the biggest part about successfully managing a team of remote workers? Evans said hands down it’s engagement, and learning is a big part of what keeps employees feeling involved with the company culture. Employers should ask remote workers thought-provoking questions to ascertain what skills they need or want and what content could meet those needs.
Provide consumable, accessible content. Get to know employees and provide them with engaging content. Win win, right? Maybe not, if an employee can’t find that content to complete it. Further, if a video is five-hours long, there’s a good chance it will lose the employee’s attention.
“People don’t have the time to spend hours watching a video or spend 10 minutes searching to find a piece of content,” Evans explained.
Employers should create content and ensure it is easy to consume and easy to find. This doesn’t just include informing an employee how to access content. It means letting remote employees know that an opportunity is available. Once this is accomplished, remote workers will feel connected to the learning culture of the company, Evans said. “Social forums, discussion groups, the ability to practice, that’s not right for every topic, but those are a lot of the pieces of how you feel connected to the learning,” she explained.
Make connections. Whether they’re sitting side by side or chatting over instant message, people like to feel valued. To successfully lead a remote team requires the manager to build connections. They should interact frequently with remote workers.
Evans said she remembers what it’s like to not feel personally engaged in a company as a remote worker. “When I started to become disengaged to the culture of the organization, I started looking elsewhere.”
Sarah Foster is a former Chief Learning Officer editorial intern. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.