Employee training is a critical function for successful companies. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are now faced with the question of how to properly train their employees while also keeping them safe. Organizations worldwide are implementing changes to training programs, including canceling in-person sessions and transitioning to virtual training and learning.
Pre-COVID-19, collaborative learning was already gaining a foothold in the corporate world. For many businesses, however, the current pandemic catapulted them into remote work, virtual meetings, and online training programs for the first time.
If you are planning to go virtual with your employee training programs, or have just made the transition, these tips will help you create and manage effective online training sessions that meet organizational objectives and engage your employees.
Tips for hosting effective virtual sessions
1. Invest in reliable technology
Because your business is going to dedicate money, time, and resources to adopting virtual training technology, an important consideration is identifying a platform that is reliable and meets your specific training needs. Many platforms, such as GoToWebinar, Zoom, and WebEx, provide seamless, multisession online classes, but there are several factors to consider before deciding which technology to invest in, including:
- Size of your audience – Will it be a small or large group that you are training? Which platform will provide the best value for the group’s size?
- Type of content – Will the training be prerecorded or a live demonstration? Is the content interactive with questions and answers or polls? Determining factors such as content presentation, interaction, and type of content is crucial to deciding what training platform will work best. Making use of software trials is a reliable way to test different platforms and features.
- Ease of access – Will the training be accessible via mobile app or browser, or will it require a software download? In today’s world, employees access information from a variety of devices – not just from a PC. Choosing a solution that will be easy for your employees to access and use will set your online training program up for greater success.
- Security – Can you control who joins your virtual training sessions? Can users share files and send messages securely? Are you able to upload content to a secure location?
In addition to taking advantage of free trials, check out reviews from current users to help inform your decision. Technology review sites like G2 and TrustRadius that have ratings and reviews from verified business software users.
2. Adjust training materials for the virtual environment
Before you can begin training employees remotely, it is best to evaluate what training sessions and materials you have that need to work in a virtual environment. While you can walk the room in an in-person training session, distribute printed handouts, and see your team members face-to-face, communicating through a screen can make connection a challenge.
Tips for prepping your business’ virtual training materials for the digital world include:
- Make use of your laptop or computer video camera and ensure your team members can see your face and the presentation materials throughout the session. Adjust your background and lighting to create a professional on-camera look.
- Modify all materials that will be shown on-screen, such as a PowerPoint, to be visually appealing and interesting by making use of photos and videos that support your topic.
- Upload any supporting documents so that attendees can download them and reference them as needed throughout the class.
- If you use a quiz or test as part of your in-person training classes, convert it to a digital poll within your online training software or a postsurvey using your preferred survey tool.
Tips to keep your virtual sessions engaging
Keeping attendees engaged during a training session is nothing new. As an example, some trainers like to keep the training room very cool to keep attendees alert. Traditional engagement tactics like that are not going to work in a virtual environment.
“With the onset of COVID-19 and remote work, training and onboarding have to be approached uniquely,” said Kami Falkenberry, HR and Talent Acquisition Specialist at Inova Payroll. “The remote environment changes the methods of interaction and communication styles have to be adjusted.”
1. Choose the right facilitator
A facilitator can make or break a training session, so make sure that they are knowledgeable about the subject matter and can answer a range of questions.
As with in-person classes, the presenter should have excellent presentation skills. If she has not presented on screen previously, it’s a good idea to run through a few practice sessions. Record a practice session and then review it with a trusted colleague. Get feedback on presentation style and ways you can improve.
2. Make it interactive
Make your training class attendees active participants by asking questions and soliciting feedback through chat or Q&A widgets. Run polls throughout the session that employees can take and then discuss the results live. This will bring the attendees into the presentation and keep it interesting. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom offer a useful tool known as breakout rooms, which allows users to split into separate virtual rooms to have discussions and join back together as a larger group later. This can be helpful for encouraging group discussions and collaboration among attendees.
If you are requiring employees to be on camera, Falkenberry says creating a comfort level is important. “Some people aren’t comfortable using cameras and can feel self-conscious, so that needs to be addressed early on. Setting clear expectations when transitioning to virtual training is important, as is frequent communication and encouraging participation within the group.”
3. Involve in-house experts
You can increase engagement in training classes by creating more opportunities to involve employees who can serve as subject matter experts. Bring them into part of the session to speak from experience or guide a portion of the training. It’s a way to recognize and reward your top performers and also provide a chance for them to learn a new skill. There’s no doubt that in our new normal, having great virtual presentation skills is a professional asset.
4. Bring in a little fun
By incorporating fun activities, like ice breakers or interactive trivia games, you can set a positive tone for the session. Adding a lively midsession challenge, such as a team scavenger hunt, can serve to break up the educational content and refocus for the next session. You can also do this outside of your training sessions. As an example, the team at InsuranceHub hosts a trivia game every Friday, which gives their employees the chance to engage with each other and have some fun as they kick off the weekend.
Tips to make your virtual learning program successful
1. Request and take action on post-training feedback
Request feedback from class participants after a virtual training session to understand how well it was received. A post-training survey will provide helpful information on what attendees liked as well as identify areas for improvement. Through video conferencing and webinar software, you can launch an online survey immediately after the training session ends. Be sure to mention the survey as you close out the training session and let attendees know that their feedback is a helpful part of the overall training program.
2. Measure your impact
Track participation rates, course completion rates, and test scores to gauge the effectiveness of each virtual class. Recording and analyzing your data over time will help you make informed business decisions regarding future training sessions. It will also add helpful information to the employee files of each attendee and aid in personnel decisions such as promotions.
For some classes or training tracks, it will make sense to measure the impact the classes have on the business. For example, harassment training program data can be compared to harassment complaints over time. Sales training programs can be analyzed with sales revenue.
The best way to make sure that your virtual training programs are accomplishing something, not just checking a box, is to measure and analyze impact over time.
3. Celebrate employee achievements
When employees complete training milestones, celebrate their achievements! Recognize the employee with a certificate or award. You can even take it one step further by sharing employee successes internally. Recognizing employee training accomplishments through internal communications channels widely acknowledges the employee’s good work and promotes the training program among your other employees.
If your employee training classes were created for an in-person presentation format, transitioning to virtual training sessions is well worth the effort, especially now as the business world continues to adjust to the challenges of a global pandemic.
“I think more people will be comfortable using virtual meeting platforms and will expect it to be a normal part of their work day,” Falkenberry said. “The new methods of communication will be the new normal. It will also enable teams to allow more flexibility, which will result in higher job satisfaction, candidate attraction and retention.”
At the heart of employee training is the goal to equip employees with new skills and information that will reduce risk, positively affect job performance, boost employee retention, and improve the company’s overall productivity. You can continue to meet those objectives through virtual employee training. You will gain new tools to meet the current challenges of a dispersed workforce, connecting with and engaging your employees, whether they are in an office or working from home.
At some point in the near future, you will be able to return to in-person training classes, which will continue to have value within your organization. But you may find that incorporating virtual sessions into your training program has benefits as well, such as accommodating different learning styles and reducing overall training costs. These benefits will ultimately shape a new era for training professionals