Can Virtual Training Break Down Your Remote Working Roadblocks?
This article is part of a series on overcoming remote working challenges by building learning experiences that are based on solid learning science. What you are about to read is a fable. The company, AshCom, is fictional, but the learning challenges faced by Kathryn, AshCom’s CLO, and her team are real and commonly shared by learning teams in large organizations. It is our hope that you will be able to connect with the characters, their challenges, and the solutions they discover. We also invite you to read the first eBook in the series.
Looking For The Patterns
How would that work at a manufacturing company?” muttered Laszlo as he read yet another article on the growing trend of significant sections of the economy embracing remote work. As the Chief Human Resources Officer of AshCom, a 7,000-employee company located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Laszlo spent 45 minutes early each morning reading widely. He faithfully followed general business journals like Harvard Business Review, multiple manufacturing periodicals, and numerous blogs on human resources. An early riser, he often did this before his feet hit the floor in the early waking hours. If something caught his eye, his reading continued to his daily session on the treadmill in his basement.
Laszlo was not looking for as much information as his brain could process and hold. He was searching for repetition. More precisely, he was looking for patterns. As someone with deep experience in human resources at companies like Boeing and Lincoln Financial Group, Laszlo knew to be cautious in embracing the latest thing, but he also knew well the pain of missing a significant trend or being late to react.
Most of the time, the latest thing fizzled and fell to earth. Besides, those first reactions to what is in vogue often prove to be incorrect. It wasn’t that Laszlo lacked the courage to act. It was more that he was trying to grow in wisdom and understanding by taking a longer look before making changes.
Reading was not Laszlo’s only source of information. His HR team consisted of 87 other human resource professionals in multiple plant locations around the United States. He held a weekly update call each Monday morning with the entire group. Typically, Laszlo asked several questions of only a handful of managers primarily because the meeting was virtual and only 13 minutes long. Mainly, he wanted to know what challenges were being faced by his team. A rising call for remote work options was one of those challenges. And it was consistent not only with potential new hires but also among existing employees.
The New Remote Working Reality
The literature was telling him that AshCom had to face the new reality of an increasingly remote workforce. His team members were echoing that with what they heard in interviews and employee review sessions.
This was not something trendy and could not be ignored without creating a significant threat to the survival of the company he helped lead. This would not go away with time.
But his initial question continued to stump him. How could a manufacturing company that relied on people working on machines allow for an increasing number of remote workers?
Laszlo called a special meeting of his HR managers and asked them to identify all positions in their plant that could go either partially or fully remote. He gave them two weeks to complete the assignment. He read their reports and concluded that it might be possible for about 20% of their employees to spend some or all of their time working from home.
His next meeting was with Kathryn, the CLO of AshCom. Kathryn was smart and creative in leading her learning team. This team created a true learning game for managers focused on increasing their financial literacy. It was a remarkable success. The managers not only enjoyed the learning experience but were also putting what they learned to work. The financial performance of AshCom showed improvement, which was the whole point of the game.
Time For A Serious Talk
Laszlo and Kathryn had already met once to discuss increasing remote work. That first conversation was more of a “what if?” talk. The time had come for a more serious discussion.
Kathryn, too, had done some further thinking since their initial conversation about an increasingly remote workforce. She and her learning team spent significant time talking and thinking about remote and blended learning as one possible way to move forward.
Their second meeting was more serious, reflecting the changing circumstances. Laszlo began the conversation. “I’ve been watching this remote work development for over a year. The last time we discussed this, it was an idea. A concept bubbling up from my HR managers who were talking to both current AshCom employees and potential new hires.”
“But something’s changed?” asked Kathryn. “Most definitely,” replied Laszlo. “It isn’t anything new in one sense. But the intensity has changed. We are beginning to have retention problems in our current workforce. People are leaving for more flexible work schedules. In some cases, they are taking less salary just to be able to work from home.”
“Is that all?” asked Kathryn.
“Not by a long shot,” replied Laszlo. “Everyone in manufacturing is struggling to attract good talent, even people who mostly do office work. But our lack of flexibility is a serious problem that we have to fix as soon as we possibly can. Our competition is figuring it out, and we need to match or beat them. We are also seeing rising material costs which aren’t related to remote work but when all of these are combined, they are putting very real pressure on our bottom-line performance.”
Laszlo paused a moment and then continued, “Learning will be a big part of the remote work initiative. Since our last conversation, what has your team done?”
“Well,” said Kathryn, “because it wasn’t the highest priority, we did not get far. We mostly built a framework for how we would approach this when it was time. It isn’t that we haven’t done some virtual learning before. The game we built is certainly remote in that it is played by managers around the country. We’ve also transitioned a lot of our in-person learning experiences to a more digital format.”
A Holistic Virtual Learning Strategy
Laszlo nodded, “Your team has done good work, and I don’t want you to think that the whole company doesn’t appreciate that. What I’m asking of you now is to build a full virtual learning strategy.”
Kathryn smiled. “Strategy! One of my favorite words. I will have a lot of questions, but the first one that comes to mind is how do you turn a manufacturing company into a remote-friendly organization?”
It was Laszlo’s turn to smile. “Yeah, I get asked that a lot. I spent some time talking about this with my human resources leaders.
They gave me a list of positions that could be partially or even fully remote. Most of them are office workers, but there might be others. I would even say it is likely as we figure this out. We estimate that we can find about 1,400 jobs that might fit. What I need you and your team to do is to figure out how we can give them the learning experiences they need virtually—both new hires and existing employees.”
He continued, “Any idea where to start?” Kathryn responded, “Of course. We have an approach we usually take. We call it ‘slow down to go faster.’”
Laszlo chuckled. “You realize that makes no sense, right?”
“My team and I would strongly disagree with your assessment,” said Kathryn. “We always start with thinking through a problem and its possible solutions rather than just reacting. I promise you two things. First, it won’t take long for us to get our heads around what it would mean to have a finely tuned virtual learning strategy. My second promise is that the time spent thinking will pay off in the end.”
“You know your team and your processes,” replies Laszlo. “Do what you need to do, but think fast.”
“Message received,” said Kathryn as she stood up to leave Laszlo’s office.
Download the eBook Embracing Remote Working Challenges: How To Launch Learning Experiences Built On Solid Learning Science to discover how you can overcome obstacles with targeted solutions backed by learning psychology and proven methodologies. You can also join the webinar to discover which scientific principles are relevant for remote workforce training.