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Cross training isn’t just for the gym: 5 ways to broaden your employees’ skillsets during quarantine

employees working from home during quarantine

The coronavirus pandemic has forced a new state of normal. Stay-at-home mandates for non-essential employees and social distancing have quickly become what we wake up to each day. But even for those whose jobs have remained intact, albeit remotely, it's not really business as usual. We're coloring outside our usual lines to adapt to changed work environments, job security and lack of social contact. What shouldn't be overlooked is the opportunity this change of routine can bring to siloed employee skillsets.

Why not use this time to encourage employees to learn and develop new skills that will not only make them more valuable to your business post-pandemic, but also add a new dimension to how they function within their roles?

So how and where can you begin to deliver this message to employees as we move toward the reopening of America? Here are some places that offer remote training, some top training strategies, and tips and tools for cross-training employees during the quarantine.

Why businesses should offer remote training during the coronavirus crisis

Remotely training employees offers multiple benefits. It not only improves their job performance and problem-solving skills, but also empowers them to tackle new roles and responsibilities. That creates a lot of value for businesses; in fact, companies that invest in extensive training programs can yield 218% higher income per employee and 24% greater profit margins.

Cross-training employees can save companies money, too, since there’s a direct link between training and retention – and the cost to replace an employee can range anywhere between $15,000 to $45,000 or more. Providing training during the coronavirus crisis not only helps employees build the skills they need to be more valuable once things return to normal, it also enables companies to maintain employment and avoid losing employees to other companies that can offer remote work during the quarantine.

Despite such clear advantages, many companies fail to deliver the skills training 84% of employees say they want. Indeed, a full 67% of remote workers say they need more training than their companies provide. As crippling as the pandemic is, that means now is a prime opportunity to cross-train employees so they’re prepared to help businesses recover and even thrive post-pandemic.

5 training strategies for remote employee education

There’s no single “right” way to train employees who are stuck at home. Different strategies work for different types of people and businesses. Here are five methods companies can explore.

1. Online workshops/live training

Businesses can use video conferencing tools to create online workshops that teach employees new skills. This type of live training allows for instant feedback and discussion, which can help employees get immediate answers to specific questions and take deep dives into subject matters for comprehensive education. 

Business owners can appoint managers or employees who specialize in specific areas to plan and lead online workshops. Naturally, live training sessions must be scheduled, so it’s important to select a time that works for most team members. Alternatively, live sessions can be recorded so those who can’t make it can watch later and follow up with presenters.

2. Online courses

Companies can develop curricula for online courses that employees can take at their own pace. They can also appoint different employees to plan and instruct modules according to their roles and unique skillsets. Of course, this approach requires businesses to develop their own educational materials. The task is easier with learning management systems, which feature tools that enable businesses to design their own custom employee courses. Popular options are listed below.

Alternatively, companies can cover the cost for employees to take existing online courses. This strategy eliminates overhead and the need to plan and develop custom content. Businesses should be able to find courses for just about any topic already available online (some options are listed below). 

3. Employee mentorship and coaching

Instead of formal coursework, companies can appoint managers and other leaders to remotely mentor or coach other employees during the quarantine. Essentially, a junior employee can shadow a senior team member as they tackle a specific problem or work on a new project. The mentor teaches the other employee the ropes in a real-world situation, so they’re prepared to assume new responsibilities post-pandemic.

Another approach is to have a mentor lead a small team of trainees through a project, which mimics what might happen on-site and can prove invaluable to both employees and the future of the company.

This strategy personalizes training and offers greater opportunities for trainees to address real-life business issues, understand how to resolve them according to company policies and procedures, and promotes collaboration with other team members on important projects. It simultaneously enables the business to maintain a portion of operations during training sessions.

4. Microlearning

Microlearning is the term applied to disseminating snippets of educational information, one small piece at a time. It can be an excellent strategy for training employees whose lives are disrupted during the pandemic. Businesses can create short training guides and videos designed to be digested in 10 to 20 minutes, which can prove more effective than other training methods – especially given the average adult attention span is just 15 to 20 minutes.

Companies do not need to create their own custom microlearning content, either. Senior leaders, managers and other team members can curate a selection of educational content that fosters needed skills. Educational videos can easily be found on YouTube, for example, while TED Talks can be invaluable sources for spurring creativity, problem-solving and outside-the-box thinking.

5. Self-directed learning

Rather than formalize a training path, businesses can allow employees to select their own learning materials. One approach is for companies to create a list of skills they would like employees to learn. Employees can then submit training options they find independently, get approval from senior leadership, demonstrate what they’ve learned via a summary email or questionnaire, and receive compensation for completing the selected training. 

This method empowers employees to choose training options that cater to their learning styles, retain more information and learn at their own pace. Moreover, it increases the likelihood that employees will learn new ways to tackle existing problems, resulting in a more diverse collective skillset that can benefit the entire business. Online courses, videos, articles and books are all options for self-directed learning.

employee working remote

10 remote employee cross-training tips

Companies can use these tips to implement effective training programs that broaden employees’ skillsets during the coronavirus crisis.

1. List business deficiencies and needed skills

Businesses can start by listing areas of deficiency and which skills they would like employees to learn. Consideration should be given not only to those skills current employees do not have, but also skills that enable employees to quickly step into roles vacated when staff members take vacations, sick leave, personal time or quit.

2. Identify objectives and desired outcomes

Companies should identify expected cross-training outcomes, including direct business benefits, benefits to employees and new or enhanced capabilities. Developing objectives can help businesses select the best training strategies for their teams.

3. Appoint proper personnel

Businesses should consider which staff members are best suited to plan, develop, lead and curate training objectives. Management and other senior leaders might be appropriate for some objectives, while specialized employees might be better for others. Some employees might be great instructors, while others might function better in a mentorship or coaching role. Some might be good at creating instructional content, while others might be better at teaching it.

4. Identify what employees want to learn

While it’s important for businesses to foster the skills they want their employees to have, it’s also important to grant employees the opportunity to learn the skills they want. Doing so can excite and motivate career-minded employees and make it easier for companies to retain top talent: some employees are seeking advancement opportunities, while others might want to move from one department to another. Helping employees achieve their goals is a powerful way to earn long-term loyalty and influence high-quality work.

5. Select the best learning platforms and collaboration tools

Each learning platform and collaboration tool has its own advantages and disadvantages, so employers should vet options to ensure they meet their training needs. Companies should identify the most desired features and compare solutions: live video, progress tracking, scored activities, quick lessons, collaboration and more. Some of the most popular platforms and tools are listed below.

6. Cater to multiple learning styles

It’s important for companies to recognize that employees have different learning styles. Some learn better by watching. Others prefer listening or reading. Some are adept at solitary learning, while others prefer a group setting (which can be achieved via collaboration tools). No matter which training strategy is selected, it’s a good idea to present the material in multiple formats to cater to visual, aural, verbal and other styles of learning.

7. Offer out-of-hours learning and communication opportunities

Disrupted lifestyles, school closings and other inconveniences can make it difficult or impossible for many employees to attend scheduled training sessions. Companies can help by recording live sessions and making materials available for consumption whenever it works for each employee. Employees should likewise be able to ask questions, leave comments and otherwise communicate on whiteboards and other collaboration platforms at their convenience.

8. Apply real-world scenarios

Though generalized education can certainly have value, learning abstract principles isn’t as valuable as applying learned material to real-world situations. Employee training should focus on helping the business solve real problems it’s facing or otherwise relate to business operations and needs. Companies can identify opportunities to train employees while they’re working on real projects.

9. Reward employees

Though some businesses might not be able to compensate employees at their full-time wages during the pandemic, they should pay them for any time spent training. Businesses can also develop a rewards-based system to encourage skills building during the crisis; for example, a monetary reward for completing a course. Other ideas include extra personal days, wage increases and promotions post-pandemic. Even recognition via company newsletters and social media can help motivate employees to enhance their skillsets during the crisis.

10. Ask for employee feedback

Good training programs should impart new skills, not feel like busy work. Ideally, employees will be excited to learn and apply their talents, so it’s important for companies to get their feedback during training programs. Businesses should ask employees what they like and don’t like, then make changes accordingly to secure employee buy in and ultimately reap the rewards of a more capable, skillful workforce.

employee training at home

Cross-training topics

The following lists potential training topics for remote employees. Of course, there’s no limit to the diverse and niche skills employees can learn from home, and businesses should create their own lists according to company needs.

  • Office software and applications
  • Graphic and web design/programming
  • Time management and organization
  • Customer service
  • Advertising and marketing
  • Digital security
  • Communication, presentation and collaboration
  • Compliance
  • Company culture and policies
  • Sales
  • Accounting/bookkeeping
  • Leadership and management
  • Problem solving and critical thinking

Examples of unique, niche business needs include menu creation for restaurant staff, cash flow management for financial services and production cost analysis for manufacturing.

Remote training tools and resources

There are many different types of training and collaboration tools that can help employees broaden their skillsets during the coronavirus crisis. Some of them are offering free access during the pandemic. Here are a few popular options.

Live training and collaboration tools

These platforms make it easy to host online workshops and live sessions. They also feature recording, sharing, communication and collaboration tools for comprehensive training.

Learning management systems

Learning management systems allow businesses to create their own custom courses, complete with scored activities, multimedia, progress tracking and communication tools. With an LMS, companies can manage end-to-end remote employee training from a single platform.

Online courses

These platforms feature pre-made courses companies can curate to broaden employee skillsets. They also allow businesses to create their own custom courses outside of an LMS framework.

Microlearning resources

Businesses seeking quick, yet effective, training opportunities can find them by searching these resources. 

Of course, these aren’t the only training resources available. Many more can be found with a quick online search, and businesses should select the platforms and tools that meet their specific needs.

The coronavirus crisis has disrupted everyone’s lives, but forward-thinking businesses can find ways to improve their companies even when employees can’t come to work. Rather than allowing skills to stagnate, businesses can develop cross-training programs that enhance employee skillsets, maintain employment opportunities and prepare employees to hit the ground running with new and improved talents when the pandemic ends.

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