Looking to train your virtual team?
Thousands of companies are now employing remote teams to quickly scale their workforce.
But hiring remote teams comes the added challenge of delivering the necessary training virtually.
A solid virtual training program will help you produce a super-efficient global virtual team. They’ll be well-versed with the right tools for their work and will be able to communicate effectively with team members and managers.
These well-trained, cohesive teams make managing virtual teams a piece of cake for any employer!
So what exactly goes into an excellent virtual team training program and how do you start?
In this article, we’ll explore what should go into your virtual team training. We’ll also review some key factors involved to help you avoid any potential training pitfalls.
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What should a virtual team training program cover?
Training a virtual team is no easy task.
Your goal is to provide your team with the tools and processes they need to perform remote work efficiently. You should also be able to monitor their training progress to ensure that things are proceeding according to plan.
So here are 3 things your virtual team training program should definitely address:
1. Training in the required technology
There are tons of software available today that can help a virtual team stay organized and productive.
However, remember to pick the right apps for your virtual workers to help them complete their tasks as easily as possible.
Here are some tools that can help you increase virtual team effectiveness:
- Video conferencing software like GoToMeeting or Zoom Meetings for team meetings.
- Whiteboard software like Miro or InVision for project discussions.
- Project and team management apps like Asana and Basecamp to track project progress.
- Communication technology like Slack to keep team members up-to-date.
- Productivity tracking apps like Time Doctor to record virtual work hours accurately.
Your team members should be well-versed with different collaboration methods and know which tool to use for a specific situation. Once you have the right tools figured out, the next step is to train your team on how, and when, to use those tools.
For example, if visual cues are needed, train your team to use video conferencing to share information. If they need to share confidential information, learning how to create a password-secured shared drive or folder (like on Google Drive) for select team members is important.
2. Group processes training
Group processes training is where a team member’s role and responsibilities are defined, including learning how to deal with issues and conflict within a group.
But before you begin planning out your group processes module, you should evaluate the life stage of your virtual team:
A. Understanding your team’s life stage
Is your team full of new members?
Then the entire team will need training on roles, responsibilities, collaboration and communication skills.
But what if your virtual team has been around for a while?
Working in an isolated environment can take a toll on your virtual employees.
A seasoned project team won’t need to learn how to use their project management apps. But they’ll likely require support and training on managing conflict and staying connected with fellow virtual team members.
An effective group process training session should cover various useful topics like:
- Setting a common goal for project execution.
- Problem-solving tactics.
- Building trust, communication and collaboration.
- Individual and team performance monitoring.
- Leadership for virtual team management skills.
Your training should communicate how individual and team goals align with company goals. This will give your virtual team an idea of how they fit in the big picture.
Not only will this help remove the sense of isolation an individual may have, but it’ll also improve their morale and productivity.
B. Delivering group process training
So how do you go about this type of training?
Group processes training is best provided through web-based e-learning modules. Set a targeted deadline that allows a virtual team member to complete the module at their own pace.
Encourage your team to discuss and give feedback on the training among themselves. This gives them a chance to air their opinions and interact with other team members. Effective communication will also help solidify the knowledge of their roles within the team.
3. Cross-cultural training
A virtual environment can bring together team members from different parts of the world.
It gives an employer access to an almost unlimited talent pool and recruitment opportunities.
However, even two people in the same room can have many different thoughts, right?
Naturally, people from different countries and cultures will have different views and approaches to a specific situation.
So how do you deal with this?
The first step involves learning to use the right tone of communication. This easily prevents any misunderstandings that could negatively affect project progress and virtual team success.
Next, encourage cultural sensitivity training sessions to make your global team aware of different cultures and to appreciate these differences.
Additionally, team members and trainers should be mindful of time zone and cultural differences.
Live online training sessions should consider the availability of participants in different time zones. However, this can be tricky if time zones are separated by night and day. A morning training session in Tokyo could be sleep time for someone in New York!
In this case, you could run two separate training sessions, or discuss the times with your participants to find common hours. However, sometimes participants may have no choice but to attend training during odd hours. Be sure to appreciate their effort if this happens.
8 key factors to consider when training a virtual team
Let’s now take a look at 8 key factors that can directly affect the effectiveness of your training:
1. Ensure multi-platform support
Can your virtual team training software run on any platform?
Your virtual team members might be using various devices to access the training session on different browsers or operating systems.
So you need to make sure that everyone can easily access the training software. Look for a tool that runs on both mobile (Android and iOS) and desktop (Windows, macOS) platforms and is easily accessible.
Additionally, ensure your employees prepare their devices for the meeting well ahead of time to avoid delays caused by last-minute installations. Ideally, send out email or calendar alerts 3–4 days before the training session to ensure that everyone has enough time to prepare.
2. Address pre and post-training concerns
Sometimes, teams are so focused on a training program that the prep work and follow-ups are more of an afterthought.
You shouldn’t neglect pre-training tasks or post-training support to optimize the overall impact of the training.
What do pre-training tasks involve?
Make sure that any prior requirements for your virtual team training are completed ahead.
This could be something as simple as installing the required tools on your remote team member’s devices. Or it could be something more complex, involving studying case studies of other training programs.
This gives you insight into how to structure your virtual training to make it as effective as possible.
What about post-training support?
People in the company’s leadership roles should be aware of the training expectations and be ready to provide support when questions arise.
For example, let’s say that your virtual team is trained on using a new project management software, and a licensing issue crops up. If your managers are not aware of licensing requirements, it’ll be difficult for your team to get their help in resolving it.
3. Don’t neglect testing
Conduct several trial tests of your virtual team training program on different systems.
This will ensure that it won’t fail in the middle of a training session. Troubleshooting a glitched system in the middle of your session is a waste of everyone’s valuable training time!
However, if there’s a risk of your training system failing due to uncontrollable reasons (like power or network failure), have a backup plan in place when you test. This could be like recording training sessions or creating reference notes that could be distributed to team members.
It will give your team members something to refer to if they end up missing training segments. This is especially useful if your training schedule is tight, and you don’t have time to conduct repeated sessions.
4. Create interactive modules
Want your team members to interact during the session?
Traditional companies often run team building activities to help their employees get to know each other. It creates a feeling of community and builds team spirit.
A team building trip to the beach is obviously not viable for a virtual team.
But you can still create something that builds interaction and participation among members into an online course. This helps develop team cohesion and effective communication skills easily.
How do you do that?
Have a virtual team building activity that requires team participants to work as a group.
It could be something like asking each member to learn a topic and have them teach it to the rest of the group. This will improve their understanding of their topic, and their communication skills with others.
5. Include virtual leadership training
When creating and training virtual teams, leadership can sometimes be overlooked.
It’s not right to assume that all virtual leaders are comfortable with managing virtual teams. Some project managers aren’t used to having their teams off-site and may want to micromanage — which could demotivate a virtual team in the long run.
Managing virtual teams well is a skill that any virtual team leader should have.
Train your managers with courses and webinars on virtual leadership. These courses can also help them host an engaging and interactive virtual meeting, which can seem difficult in a virtual environment.
Hosting a fruitful virtual training session will ensure that your managers are comfortable leading virtual teams, and are capable of virtual collaboration.
6. Ask for training feedback
Your virtual training needs to have an impact, so you don’t waste your team and company’s time.
After the training, ask your participants and yourself these questions:
- How effective was your training?
- Was the delivery good?
- Were the topics of value?
Additionally, evaluate the training program regularly based on these factors:
- Trainee reaction – How did your team members react to the training? Did the participants find it easy to follow? Gather feedback on the training immediately to evaluate its effectiveness.
- Engagement – Were your team members engaged in the training (especially in group interaction and discussion). Were they interested in the topic, and did they ask relevant questions?
- Level of skill improvement, knowledge or attitude – Have a system in place to evaluate team member improvement on the trained topic.
- Ease of application on the job – Is the topic taught easy for your team members to apply to their daily work? Does it improve their working efficiency?
Having a feedback system in place helps tweak and improve your virtual training program. This ensures that it remains relevant for future team development.
7. Create FAQs
As your virtual team training course is repeated with different teams, you’ll likely gather a pile of similar questions asked by the participants.
The questions can show you where your training program may be lacking. In this case, you can address those issues by incorporating them into your training modules.
Otherwise, an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document could help. An FAQ can cover repeating questions in a training program. It can also address questions that participants may not have thought of until after the training is over.
8. Encourage real-life or virtual get-togethers
If possible, bring your team together in real life (like traditional teams) to foster trust, culture and commitment to their work and company.
This may not be possible for a distributed team that is fully remote and lives in different countries.
However, team members that live in the same city or country could be encouraged to meet now and then. This adds live human interaction among your team and encourages their virtual teamwork.
If a real-life meetup is not in the picture (with the ongoing pandemic), you could also conduct a virtual get-together.
Have your team members come online for a casual chat session with their favorite food and drinks, and ban any work-related talk. This is an indirect form of virtual team building. It can substitute the watercooler chats that often exist in traditional office spaces.
After all, encouraging team spirit is just as important as keeping your team up-to-date on the latest software and company policies!
What to consider when training new hires for a virtual team
Virtual team training isn’t all about training existing employees, right?
Here’s what you should keep in mind when you onboard new hires to your organization:
A. Onboarding orientations
It’s important to implement a solid orientation process when onboarding new remote hires.
Let remote members meet their virtual team leaders and mentors face-to-face virtually. This gives them a chance to get to know each other to help build trust and cooperation.
Provide online courses or instructor-led webinars on company values, policies and procedures for virtual employees. You should have participants complete these before launching a virtual team training course.
B. Mentoring programs
It can be tough working on a virtual team when you’re new and don’t know who to ask for help.
Mentoring is one of the best ways to help new team members adjust to a virtual team environment.
Assign a member on your virtual team to guide the new member until they are familiar with the virtual working environment. This makes it easier for your new member to ease into the job. Having a mentor also fosters excellent team relations — essential for effective virtual teams.
Remote employees are becoming more common as companies leverage the technology that makes managing virtual teams a piece of cake.
Cost savings, expanding recruitment options, and increasing workplace diversity, are all sound business reasons to invest in a remote team.
And with the current COVID-19 pandemic keeping people at home, companies have even more cause to shift to the virtual team option.
However, when it comes to remote workers, developing skills virtually can be a complicated process. As virtual team performance can depend on the quality of learning they receive, it’s essential to take a thoughtful and strategic approach to virtual team training.
Follow the tips we covered here to create an effective action plan for your training programs. This way, you’ll be able to transform your employees into a successful virtual team in no time!
Liam Martin is a co-founder of Time Doctor which is software to improve productivity and help keep track and know what your team is working on, even when working from home.