How job training should look different across your distributed team

What it takes to build an effective training program.

Woman looking at laptop

You’ve just finished interviewing your top candidates and have received the signed offer letter back. It’s easy to feel like all the hard work is finally done. But while it’s important to take the time to recognize and celebrate a new hire, there’s still a lot of work involved in training and onboarding them so that they are set up for success in the company.

What comes next, the job training and onboarding, is a critical period that will give the new hire a strong foundation to excel and grow in the company. One study conducted by Glassdoor even showed that strong onboarding programs can improve new hire retention by 82%.

Strong onboarding can improve new hire retention by 82%

Given the time and investment that goes into hiring, it’s beneficial for companies to consider optimizing their onboarding and training procedures. As the structure of company teams evolves to reflect the growing distributed workforce, so too must the way companies conduct job training for new employees. 

In this article, you’ll learn how job training during the onboarding process differs when dealing with distributed team members and what you should keep in mind for successful job training completion.

What exactly is a distributed team?

If you’ve read the news recently, you’ve probably seen or heard the terms ‘remote teams’ and ‘distributed teams’ when referencing the location-agnostic approach to hiring that many companies have embraced, spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. Remote teams will often have a main office where most members will work from on a full-time or part-time basis. Some members will work outside of the office. 

In contrast, distributed teams are composed of members that live and work across regions and timezones, in a fully remote environment. What sets a distributed team apart from a remote team is that there is no central location and therefore, no geographic hierarchy.

It is important to understand that different methods will be required to onboard and train new members for remote and distributed teams since in-person training will be limited if not impossible. 

How job training distributed teams should be different

You’ll need heavy emphasis on real-time documentation

Job training for distributed teams relies more heavily on digital tools to share training materials. Ideally, these materials are updated in real time so that new employees are keeping up to date with the latest company processes and procedures. 

Some popular tools for this include Notion, Google Workspace, and other cloud software programs. These documents will also serve the dual benefit of acting as an internal knowledge base if your company doesn’t already have one. 

Accessibility to information is essential for distributed teams, especially those that are spread across time zones or work asynchronously, so that new employees can quickly access the resources they need. In the case of a new hire’s training, this can include access to recorded video training materials, company policies and procedures, and other relevant information for the job function. 

Encourage self-paced learning

Employees that are successful working on distributed teams often thrive in flexible work environments that allow them to use their time however is best suited to get the job done. 

One benefit of providing job training to distributed teams is the ability for employees to set the pace of their learning, spending more time learning unfamiliar concepts and tasks and less time training on areas of expertise. Providing this flexibility empowers new employees to use their time efficiently and encourages them to be proactive in the company from day one. 

Job onboarding programs for distributed teams can take advantage of asynchronous forms of communication, such as recorded videos and webinars. 

Additionally, live training should supplement self-paced training. This could include meeting one-on-one with a manager, attending a virtual lunch-and-learn, or watching a live webinar. These early opportunities to build relationships with coworkers are essential to promote collaboration.

Graphic that shows the different models of training

A hybrid model which includes both synchronous and asynchronous forms of training offers several benefits which include: 

  • saving the company time by pre-recording training materials
  • providing opportunities for new employees to re-watch or refer back to the training materials as needed in the first few weeks
  • offering opportunities for the new employee to take breaks as needed (because Zoom fatigue is real and starting a new job takes a lot of mental energy)

When developing self-paced training programs for distributed teams, it is important to implement specific deadlines so that the expectations are clear and the new employee can feel confident that they are making appropriate progress. 

And don’t forget the workflow management system

New employees will need a clear structure to follow; this structure should help them understand what needs to be completed and in what order. This is especially important as the team sizes and company grow, and as a result, the amount of information that a new employee is expected to learn increases. 

Workflow management systems can help new employees prioritize the metaphorical fire hydrant of information that they receive when starting a new position. 

Like with real-time documentation, there are plenty of online tools available to help with this. For example, Asana is a great project management tool for teams that allows you to assign tasks and track them through to completion. Trello is another useful tool for those that prefer a Kanban board to visualize onboarding tasks. 

Share objective key results

Make sure to set clear expectations for the new distributed team member at the beginning of the training program. The employee should have a clear understanding of what they need to know and to be able to do after completing the onboarding and job training. 

When the key results are communicated clearly, employees can independently decide how best to use their time to achieve the end goal. 

For example, while some may prefer to spend most of their first days sitting in on meetings and watching webinars, others would prefer to read through company documents and schedule one on ones with team members. Job training could include a mix of videos, interactive exercises, readings, and synchronous sessions.

Encourage reaching out for help

Graphic that outlines ways to encourage new employees to ask for help

It can be intimidating to ask for help, especially when your coworkers aren’t quickly accessible via a tap on the shoulder or an office drop-in. As a result, it is important to ensure that the new employee feels comfortable reaching out if they have any questions. There should be specific times set aside for questions such as at the beginning or end of a check in. 

One way that you can make it easier for a new hire to ask questions is by assigning an ‘onboarding buddy,’ other than the manager, for new employees to reach out to if they have any questions. This can remove some of the concern of asking your manager ‘silly’ questions. 

Another solution could be designating a specific Slack channel (or any other company-wide group message) for new hires to post questions. This can serve as a live database of questions new hires often have (which can be leveraged as feedback to improve onboarding and training) and a space for anyone in the company to jump in and answer questions. This is especially helpful since new employees may not always know who to direct their questions to. 

Why you should invest in training programs for distributed team members

Designing a training program for distributed team members takes some upfront investment but will make a lasting difference. Onboarding and job training should be intentionally adapted to account for a remote environment, which can pose unique communication and time management challenges for onboarding programs. 

It is important that the work training is specifically designed with distributed teams in mind rather than attempting to ‘translate’ an in-person training program to a virtual training program. While some methods are great for in-office, they may not easily transfer to a Zoom call. The content of the training should reflect the delivery method of the program. 

Despite these challenges, if you intentionally design a program with the unique needs of a distributed team in mind, there are numerous benefits to the company and employee. 

Companies will have better communication and thorough documentation, while saving some time from in-person training. New employees will appreciate the flexibility to work through the onboarding tasks at their own pace and the opportunity to be proactive in the role. This will set the tone for the rest of their experience with the company.  

Thinking about building a learning and development program for your remote team? We outline some advice here.

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 global workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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