The remote workforce is growing.
Numbers from Gallup show that 43 percent of employees work remotely at least some of the time, and according to Globalworkplaceanalytics.com, the number of employees who work remotely has grown by 140 percent since 2005, nearly 10 times the rate of the rest of the workforce. That number does not include freelance and contract workers, who are sometimes treated as team members and often don’t work in the office.
While remote workers are a welcome addition to a business – they make it easier for a company to hire the right person for a job regardless of location, for example — one of the struggles of employing remote workers is creating a sense of engagement.
For a company that’s trying to introduce a culture of continuous learning, that challenge may be exacerbated. How do you expand your office’s culture of learning to someone who is rarely – if ever — in the office?
Why Continuous Learning?
Old-school learning and development— sending employees to the corporate university either in person or online – is changing. Part of the reason for this is that it’s almost impossible for the curriculum at corporate universities to keep up with technology.
Technology is changing rapidly and the skills workers need to use that technology are also changing quickly. In fact, according to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, the half life of a skill is five years.
Because of this, transforming corporate learning emerged as the second most important trend in that report, with 83 percent of Deloitte’s respondents saying they are shifting to “flexible, open career models that offer enriching assignments, projects, and experiences rather than a static career progression.”
This means that instead of the old model, in which a company’s L&D department determined curriculum for corporate learners, learners are now in control of their own learning, and encouraged to learn continuously.
Assuming a business can cope with the culture shift that embracing continuous learning entails, this new way of handling corporate learning is good for both businesses and workers, who know what they need to learn in order to do their job well and remain viable in the job market. But for remote workers, creating a culture of continuous learning may seem problematic. Because they’re remote, it’s often hard to engage remote employees in any kind of corporate culture. How can a manager include them in a culture of continuous learning?
It may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately remote workers are the sort of people who take well to independent, self-directed learning. There are many simple steps managers can take to include these employees, and build a culture of continuous learning that includes everyone, no matter where they’re based.
1. Have a plan in place for remote workers.
If you’re building your culture of continuous learning now, plan for remote workers’ development, even if your company doesn’t employ any at the moment. It’s much easier to plan for a remote workforce and have a framework that can support their learning in place before you hire a remote employee than it is to figure out how to handle their training after a hire. Make sure you know how you’ll be communicating with them, and how you will be delivering learning. It will make it easier for you to start training them when it comes time to onboard a new employee who lives on another continent.
2. Offer them the same learning as everyone else.
The beauty of an online, self-paced learning platform is that no matter where your employees are — and no matter what their first language is — they get the same training. Make sure your remote employees know about the online modules available to them, and check in with them about their training. Understand, however, that you cannot stop there. A culture of continuous learning requires more than a good learning platform – learners should have that resource, but they also need contact with you and with the rest of the company. That’s why the next point is so important.
3. Set up a solid system of communication.
Because remote workers aren’t in the office, special attention needs to be paid to how they’ll be communicating, with you and with their on-site co-workers. A culture of continuous learning involves sharing resources and reflecting on what they’ve learned. Investing in a co-working platform, which will allow them to communicate securely with on-premise employees, will help them do that in the course of their daily work.
4. Make opportunities for collaborative learning.
Learning in isolation is just that: isolated. If you want to involve remote workers in a company-wide culture of learning, they should be able to do more than simply speak with their on-site workers — they should be able to learn with them as well. This doesn’t necessarily mean flying remote workers in for seminars. It could mean blending your corporate learning by conducting trainings via video chat that complement the modules you use in your learning platform, or assigning group projects to employees. If you have remote workers spread across time zones and it’s difficult to set up meeting times, something as simple as using gamification in training can help unite learners. You might divide employees into teams and use a leaderboard to help them compete against one another, for example.
5. Make regular contact.
It’s also important for managers to be in touch with learners. Make time to check in with your remote employees’ learning, find out what they’re interested in learning next, and offer guidance. Part of a culture of continuous learning is that employees seek out what they need to learn — so ask what they would like to be learning and offer them the resources to do that. Those resources could be funds for training from an outside source, webinars or books related to their work, or anything else that will help them with their learning goals. Also be prepared to offer guidance. While you want learners to control their own learning, you also want that learning to benefit your organization. According to CEB (now Gartner), learners with no guidance spend about 11 percent of their time on unproductive learning, costing their organizations more than $134.5 million a year in employee productivity.
6. Understand that remote employees see “company time” differently.
Time to learn is often seen as a perk by employees who work in the office. They appreciate being able to learn on company time, rather than being expected to log on to a learning platform from home at night or on the weekend. Remote employees, however, are home. Depending on what they do, they may work nights and weekends while caring for family members during the day. Adding learning modules to that workload may seem daunting. Make it clear at the outset of your training program that those employers should be billing you for time spent learning. That will help them set a clear boundary between work time and personal time.
7. Remember that remote workers want and can handle continuous learning.
Remote workers may not actually be in the office, but fortunately, they are already primed for the learner-centric continuous learning; because they work outside the office, they’re typically self-directed, productive employees — a 2014 study showed increased productivity among workers allowed to work from home; they completed more work, worked longer hours, and took shorter breaks.
This group of workers is likely to seek out learning when they need it. All an employer needs to do to include them in a culture of continuous learning is engage them.