Remote workforces are here to stay. And thus, remote productivity is at the top of many managers’ minds. Even before the COVID crisis, the number of remote workers was expanding quickly. And even though some businesses are now asking employees to return to physical offices, others are either remaining remote for the foreseeable future or adopting hybrid work models.
At the beginning of the pandemic, companies questioned how to ensure continued remote productivity. They invested heavily in resources—video conferencing services, cloud-based applications, and more—to promote the productivity of remote employees. And going forward, companies will also need to invest in ways to train remote workers effectively.
Online courses are effective tools for improving productivity of remote employees, keeping the remote workforce engaged with the business, and helping retain remote employees.
What is remote productivity?
One challenge facing companies with remote workforces is maintaining productivity without tracking employees’ every moves. In the past, some attempts to ensure productivity backfired, taking legitimate work time away from employees.
Perhaps the worst anti-productivity culprit during the COVID crisis has been the Zoom meeting. Companies set up Zoom meetings with the best intentions. They replaced in-person meetings, kept employees in touch with others in the company, and gave managers and executives a way to ensure that employees were working.
But Zoom meetings soon began to dominate many employees’ days. And spawned what became known as Zoom fatigue. And remote productivity began to falter as a result. Companies now need new ways to monitor and quantify remote worker productivity. Measuring productivity by whether remote employees show up on a video call is misleading at best.
Flexibility is the name of the game
One reason remote work was on the rise even before COVID was that it gave employees much-needed flexibility. Some employees had family care issues not easily handled outside of commonly accepted business hours. Some employees pursued remote work because a significant other found a job elsewhere, and they did not want to choose between their partner and their job. To retain these valuable employees, companies responded with remote working options.
Employees continue to seek flexibility in their employment terms. Online training is one way for companies to meet this need. So long as employees complete their training on time, they can arrange training as befits their schedules. Employees can focus more on their substantive work at critical times, making them more productive. Companies also benefit, as they no longer have to try and coordinate both a trainer’s schedule and those of their employees.
Added flexibility is also an effective tool for both recruitment and retention of employees. It shows that companies recognize and are concerned about their employees’ other commitments.
This is not to suggest that online training should be the only option. In-person training is still highly practical for improving productivity, as it relies on personal interactions that are missing from online training. But flexible companies will offer in-person training in conjunction with online training, thus allowing employees to tailor their training to their individual needs and learning methods.
Bridging the skills gaps
Many companies face considerable skills gaps in critical areas such as cybersecurity, programming, data analytics, and even executive management. Indeed, according to a recent McKinsey study, nearly 90% of executives are concerned about existing and future skills gaps. While not an individual productivity issue, skills gaps affect an organization’s overall productivity.
With tremendous competition for skilled professionals, many companies are instead reskilling and upskilling workers. Upskilling is especially applicable for training the next generation of programmers and cybersecurity experts. And it’s an area where online training can be particularly beneficial.
In addition to increasing productivity, reskilling and upskilling also present companies with the opportunity to address diversity issues, which are ever more visible today. Through online training and upskilling, companies can move diverse candidates into areas where they are traditionally underrepresented, including management.
Real-time progress monitoring
With online training, both companies and employees receive a real-time assessment of the training’s effectiveness. Managers can quickly review the progress of individual employees or entire departments, making it easy for them to determine if training is accomplishing its intended goals. They can then more appropriately tailor future training efforts.
Online training systems offer many more benefits using the same data. For example, companies can automate maintenance of training logs, which is particularly important when courses deal with compliance issues. More robust and real-time monitoring of training also makes it easier for companies to calculate the return on investment of their training dollars.
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Planning for pitfalls
Online learning does not come without challenges. Many of the students that spent a year in online courses during COVID lockdowns stated that online learning was much less effective than in-person learning. You can expect that your adult employees may have similar reactions. It’s thus crucial to select well-designed, engaging courses that have frequent progress assessments and opportunities for student feedback. And companies must use the feedback they obtain to improve online training going forward and work toward maximum remote productivity.
Online learning also has the unfortunate potential to exacerbate diversity and racial equity issues. Although most studies focus on pre-college students, there is now an extensive collection of data suggesting that online learning can be more difficult for persons of color, frequently due to infrastructure issues such as limited access to high-speed networks. And employees who have previously had poor experiences with online learning as students may be more resistant to additional online training. Companies must therefore ensure that all remote employees have the proper tools to participate in online training, including up-to-date computers and software, as well as high-speed internet access.
Interestingly, some studies suggest that persons of color are more likely to consider online learning more effective than in-person training when they have access to proper technology. One recent survey found that 43% of persons of color thought online courses were equally or more effective than in-person classes, while only 32% of white students agreed.
Engaging and retaining
Employee engagement and its effect on remote productivity is a tricky issue when it comes to online training for both in-office employees and remote employees. Employees who suffer through poorly designed and executed courses will feel as if the company is wasting their time. As a result, they will have less energy and motivation for accomplishing their primary tasks.
On the other hand, engaging and informative online training serves as an added value for employees. This is particularly true if its purpose is to help them move laterally or vertically in the organization. Employees who believe the company is interested in their personal success because it helps drive the company’s success are more engaged. Moreover, they become increasingly invested in doing what it takes to move themselves and the company forward. Engaged and invested employees are productive employees.
Giving employees a chance to apply the knowledge they gain from training further increases engagement. Workers get the chance to try something new, letting them step away from their accepted routines and bringing variety into their workday. Companies will also find that their employees become more creative and innovative as their skillsets expand.
For remote workers, online training is also a critical line of contact with the organization. But companies must use online training judiciously to avoid creating just another version of Zoom fatigue among remote employees and losing any traction they’ve gained in remote productivity.
A benefit for all
Online training is more than just a necessary response to the COVID crisis because more workers are remote. Properly implemented online training can increase employee engagement (both remote and on-premise), help companies fill currently unmet skills needs, improve organizational diversity, and act as a recruitment tool for new employees. Taken together, these benefits mean more productive employees and departments and a stronger and more profitable company.