It’s the start of June. That means it’s been 12 weeks since the Coronavirus pandemic sent most knowledge workers home to work remotely. We’ve been taking Zoom meetings, working out of bedrooms, commuting to the living room and trying to take care of our families during work hours for two months, and while some states are beginning to re-open, most workers are still at home.
For some, things are starting to get tense. Why? According to psychologists, we’re in what’s called the third quarter, and it’s not pretty. Third quarter phenomenon is the part of any confinement when isolation begins to feel unbearable; it was discovered in the 1980s when astronauts spent long periods of time in space — the first two quarters of a trip were fine, but the third quarter, when astronauts weren’t quite at the end of their spaceflight was marked by resentments, loneliness, and depression. The same has been found of scientists on long tours in Antartica. The third quarter of isolation — no matter how long the stay is — is the hardest.
We’re in the third quarter right now — at least mentally, say psychologists, which is tricky since we don’t actually know how long quarantine will last for remote workers. This uncertainty may be making your employees listless, unengaged, and unwilling to learn. You might notice that they’re not taking training. So how do you engage them remotely? What can you do from a distance to get them back on track?
1. Reach out to your learners (especially the least engaged)
You might not think it, but most of your employees want to hear from you — especially when it comes to training. So if someone’s not learning, it’s time for a meaningful chat about their life, learning, and their goals in the workplace.
According to LinkedIn, three quarters of employees say they’d take a course if it were assigned by their manager. LinkedIn’s latest Learning in the Workplace report, finds that most employees — especially the youngest ones — would spend more time on learning if their direct supervisor suggested they do so.
This backs up research from Gallup that finds a coaching model helps boost engagement in the workplace; when employees feel their manager knows their strengths and weaknesses and is truly trying to build their skills, they get more involved with training.
2. Offer learning in small chunks
Chances are, your learners don’t have the time or the bandwidth to take a long course right now. If your team is stressed out by the pressures of quarantine, an intense, information-heavy module probably isn’t going to help them at all right now. In fact, it might seem like one more task on an already-long list of things to deal with.
Micro-learning, on the other hand, might be exactly what your team needs. What is it? Micro-learning makes small, intensely-focused chunks of learning available to learners whenever they need it. It’s a way for learning pros to answer questions before they’re asked by learners, and it’s a way for learners to learn one piece of information quickly and thoroughly.
And bonus: your learners will feel a sense of accomplishment when they finish one quick module.
3. Use video assessments to connect with remote learners
It can be hard to connect with your learners now that you’re not in the same space with them, but if your learning management system (LMS) allows you to use video assessments, that’s one way for you to connect with learners.
Video assessments can be added to a course if a training manager wants to actually see learners’ progress in a course. Say your learner has to perfect a sales pitch; if you add a video your learner can upload a video of themselves giving the pitch, you can review it, and provide feedback. Used in conjunction with other forms of outreach, a video assessment allows you to to add a practice component to a remote coaching model.
4. Gamify your learning
Learners still seem unhappy? Maybe it’s time to make their training into a game.
Gamification is the introduction of game mechanics into non-game situations, like work or training. Gamification can take several forms, but in workplace learning it’s most often seen as a point system — learners learn points for taking training modules or are awarded badges. They may also on a leaderboard that ranks all staff by their training activity, and turns learning into a competition, either between team members or between teams of learners.
It may sound corny, but the psychological tactics used in gamification meet certain groups of learners’ specific needs, according to researchers. For example, learners with a strong achievement motive respond well if gamification emphasizes achievement, success and progress, while learners who are motivated by affiliation are motivated when gamification places emphasis on teamwork and membership of a group.
5. Ask your leaders to champion learning
It’s not just the immediate managers who should be reaching out. Executives should also be trying to engage learners. According to LinkedIn’s most recent Learning in the Workplace report, 83% of L&D professionals say their executives support learning and development, but not as many are active champions of learning — and to build a culture of learning in the workforce, company leaders must be actively pushing for learning and development.
What does that look like? Well, LinkedIn’s research found that when executives teach or recommend a course, engagement in training tends to explode. After all, if your CEO thinks a specific course is worth taking, many employees are likely to take it. If your CEO has created a course on leadership, plenty of employees will want to take that course because they want to know what their leader has to say about leadership.
How do you engage a team remotely?
It’s hard to keep people engaged in the office, let alone when you’re all working from home, where every employee has their own set of distractions to contend with. Fortunately, development itself is one of the strongest tools you have to combat disengagement; people love to learn.
Gallup found that if employees were engaged in learning, they were often highly engaged in other areas of their work life as well. If you can engage your team in learning well, they’ll be engaged with work — even during the dreaded third quarter.