Managing Distributed Teams

How to overcome the biggest learning and development challenges on distributed teams

Hint: Technology is a huge help!
July 15, 2022
Oyster Team
Woman looking down at book and smiling

The best employees are humble and eager to learn, regardless of their level or years of experience. As the modern workplace continues to evolve, employees must demonstrate an ability and willingness to learn new skills to remain competitive. Knowing this, top talent will seek employers that offer ongoing professional development and training. 

Workforce development training today looks much different than the stuffy, in-person lectures and workshops of previous eras. New technologies have encouraged more dynamic and asynchronous ways of learning. 

However, the transition to remote work has also introduced some unique learning and development challenges for distributed teams. Financial, technical, and logistical factors must be weighed when building out any learning program. Remote teams must also consider new emotional and psychological factors that influence the success of their training programs. 

In this article, we’ll identify the common learning and development challenges companies face in a remote environment, and how to identify solutions. With the right strategies in place, virtual and hybrid learning opportunities can be just as effective and engaging as in-person training. 

Changing work environments in 2022

At this point it’s become clear: remote and distributed work is here to stay. 

In the fall of 2021, 67% of U.S. white-collar employees reported working from home in either a hybrid or fully remote capacity. Employees have embraced the balance and pace that working from home has brought. In one study, 99% of the people surveyed reported that they would choose to work remotely for the rest of their life, even if it was just part-time.

Stat graphic that says only 70% of remote workers receive regular training

While we celebrate fewer distractions and more flexibility, the communication and management challenges that result from remote work must not be forgotten. Only 70% of remote workers reported receiving regular training from their company, and 17% of those surveyed reported communication issues

The shift to a remote workforce is not without its own challenges. 

Learning and development challenges on a distributed team

There are several challenges that employers should be aware of when building a learning and development program for a distributed team. 

Connectivity in a hybrid world

It’s easy to feel disconnected if your coworkers live in a different time zone and the only time you chat is at the weekly all-team meeting. This loss of connection can impact an employee’s ability to engage socially with their peers and intellectually with training opportunities and programs. 

If training programs and courses aren't well-adapted to a remote setting, learning can feel disengaging and ineffective. Managers that lack visibility into an employee’s learning progression can struggle to offer support and encouragement. In these cases, roadblocks and challenges are easily overlooked. 

Remote employees don't have informal hallway bump-ins with colleagues and managers to ask simple questions or to check-in on areas they need help with. As a result, employees and managers must be proactive in creating these opportunities for connection. 

Upskilling

Remote jobs require and reward a different skill set than the in-person jobs of the past. For example, technical savviness and the ability to adapt to different digital tools are highly valuable traits in a remote work environment. 

As new positions emerge and technology advances, new skill requirements will inevitably arise. Just as some of the jobs that exist today didn’t exist ten years ago, we can expect to see new jobs in ten years that don’t exist today. Employees must be prepared to learn new skills to fill these future roles. 

Challenges with upskilling arise when there is a lack of planning and development for training programs. When building out these programs, it is important to consider the purpose of the training, how it aligns with company objectives, what the expectations are for the training, and how success will be measured. 

Effective training programs proactively identify important skill sets that employees will need to excel and advance the company’s goals. By equipping employees with the skills they need to remain adaptable, companies can be prepared to face the inevitable changes to the workforce. 

Change management

Change management refers to a structured approach to dealing with change. As work environments shift into the digital space, organized migration and management becomes a must. Developing a framework is especially important for the success of organizations with employees working in different countries. 

Change management definition

Issues arise when there is a lack of communication, a lack of clear KPIs, and a lack of buy-in across all levels of an organization. Companies can build scalable processes to prevent and navigate these common issues.

Adopting a culture surrounding change management requires accountability, creativity, and collaboration. New technologies have made remote training much more dynamic and interesting. Companies need to embrace this rapid growth in available tools in order to maximize these benefits.

The role of data in learning and development

Without in-person evaluations and skill assessments, Learning and Development teams need to be resourceful when it comes to gauging skill levels and identifying skill gaps. Collecting data around employee skill sets can help companies make important budget, hiring, and advancement decisions. 

With the help of technology, we can now track and measure employee progress to turn insights into action. HR professionals need to get better at harnessing data to show that progress is being made and results are being delivered. 

How to overcome L&D challenges on distributed teams

There are several practical solutions for remote learning that employers should consider when building their training program.

Double down on e-learning

E-learning methods today extend beyond those grainy, boring training videos you may be familiar with. SaaS platforms offer a centralized way to share engaging learning resources and materials across your company. 

Stylized pull quote graphic

With e-learning, employees can work through the materials at their own pace, allowing them to learn whenever and wherever they learn best. Different formats offer different levels of engagement. Webinars are easily scalable, but tend to be less interactive. Pre-recorded, presenter-led courses better mimic in-person training and can feel more personalized. 

Different learning methods will also appeal to different learning styles. Where some employees may need discussion and verbal feedback to learn best, others prefer to learn by watching videos or reading. 

Embracing synchronous and asynchronous training methods can cater to a broad range of learning styles while offering flexibility and camaraderie between colleagues. Polls and quizzes can also make e-learning more engaging and interactive without being overwhelming. Meanwhile, small group discussions can support those who prefer to learn in a group environment. 

It is important to equip employees with the hardware and software needed to support e-learning, and courses must be equally accessible to all employees. 

Understand your workforce well

Learning and development teams need to have a pulse on the types of employees in the company and their different learning styles. They also need to be aware of each individual's comfortability with technology to understand how to best support and train them. 

Managers should check in with their direct reports to track progress and gather feedback on how effective the training being offered is.  

Using data to your advantage

Companies can take advantage of data analytics to evaluate training and development programs. Some data points to consider tracking include engagement, rate of course completion, skill progression, and more. 

With this learning data, employers can also receive direct feedback on which learning methods are the most effective in a way that in-person training was unable to provide. 

Personalized, employee-centered training is the future of workforce development. The customization and flexibility offered can accelerate learning beyond what was possible in the past. 

Effective training programs will help your company stand out

As companies embrace remote teams, e-learning initiatives are emerging as the primary method of employee training. Competitive training and workforce development programs are powerful recruitment magnets for top talent. 

The companies that stay on top will be the ones that embrace new technologies and methods of learning, from chatbots and virtual assistants to VR training modules that simulate experiences and provide the opportunity to put training into action. 

Oyster is a global employment platform that allows companies to add team members from anywhere in the world. Check out our Creating a Culture for Distributed Work course to prepare to engage and train your global team. 

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

About the Author

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce.

About the Author

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