During these difficult times, I wanted to take a moment to start this post with an expression of gratitude. I’m so grateful that our consulting practice has been busy during these past few months, so much so that we have recently hired several project managers and are in the process of hiring more first-tier support assistance. As a result, I’ve learned, through trial and error, some do’s and don’ts for remote onboarding and training. Whether you’re growing your teams today or will be in the future, I hope you’ll find value in these seven tips.
1. Give trainees as much in writing as possible. Corollary: Ask your trainees to print the documents, and if they don’t have access to a printer, send the printed documents in the mail — yes, the blue box, with real stamps. Here’s why: Your trainees can listen more and follow along when looking at a printed document. They can take their own notes in the (wide) margins and even use highlighters. What’s more, the documents can serve as their handy physical knowledge base as they move through your mounds of information. They can easily locate a specific piece of information you covered three days ago, instead of opening multiple electronic files to dig for it. Managers, too, will benefit by being able to identify the great new hires from the mediocre, as the great ones will have read all the documents ahead of time.
2. Use videos as much as possible. For trainees, this is like watching TV instead of going through training. It can be much more engaging than in-person training. With video training, new hires can pause, rewind, and re-watch, as much as they need, whereas they might feel shy asking the trainer to pause while they make a note or to review a complex item. Fortunately, there are options for those organizations that don’t have the time, resources, and money to create custom videos. First, most software platform providers offer professionally-produced videos. For example, we rely on Pelago’s myintervals.com, which offers many quick, single-subject videos. With these, all the trainer has to do is explain how we use each component to do our work, instead of spending time explaining how to work the component. Second, you can create your own simple videos in Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides. For this, you simply chop up your documents into bit-size slides, add some cartoonish pictures to emphasize key aspects (and keep things visually interesting), and then record the trainer’s voice, walking the viewer through the items on each slide.
3. Take lots of breaks and, if your company allows, don’t have the first week be full, eight-hour days. We all have screen-itis, my pseudo medical term for going crazy being in front of our screens night and day. Each break should be at least 10 minutes, and ask your trainees not just to jump right onto their cell phones (this will only make their screen-itis worse). Request that they get up and walk around their home-office, get something to eat or drink, and even go outside (the place that has green carpet and blue ceilings!). The adult brain can only handle so much in a day, before it all starts to sound like the teacher in the old Charlie Brown cartoons — wah-wah-wah. Day one, just go over general paperwork, policies, and the coming week summary. This should take less than four hours. Day two through five, go no longer than six hours per day, with plenty of those breaks, and at least 30 minutes for lunch. So, if you start them at 9 a.m., and give them three 10-minute breaks, and one 30-minute lunch break, you will have them until 3 p.m., but only for an actual five hours of training. It’s up to your company policy whether you pay them for five or six hours.
4. Use games and quizzes. We recently began using Kahoot.com, but there are plenty more out there for very little money. Have your trainees either take a quiz after each training module or, even better, the next day as your first action. The quizzes will show the trainer who is retaining the information, and what topics need reviewing.
5. Before sending the trainees to try working some example items, the trainer should first just become their hands. Here’s what I mean:
- Go over a particular item, which includes showing the how, why, when, and where
- Bring up a new example of the same item and ask the trainees to tell the trainer what steps to take with their hands and why. Example: Click, File, Open, browse to…
6. Finally, review, review, review, but make them do the work instead of just showing them how to do things. Similar to using the quizzes the next morning on the items covered the day before, take time to talk through the content from the prior day. If the trainees hesitate in responding to questions about what they’ve learned, trainers will know they need to go back through the material. Note, most people learn by doing, and only comprehend a very small amount of the task when only shown what to do. Show them once or twice, and then let them work through some examples. If they fail, there’s no harm to your systems or clients. You can also bring everyone together to review all of the examples. Let the other trainees see if they can find the mistakes of their peers.
7. Bonus tip: Give the trainer two computers and monitors, or other similar setup, so that the trainer’s face is the same size as the trainees in a separate window from the material being shared on the screen. Most video-room software minimizes the presenter’s camera, in order to maximize the shared-screen. Creating two instances of attendance to the video room for the trainer will enable your trainees to better see the trainer’s facial expressions, which can assist in training.
I know that many of these steps may seem like a Herculean task. But think of the hours you or your HR team spent recruiting these new folks, and the productivity they will contribute to your team if trained correctly. Take the time and develop a training program that doesn’t just consist of one person talking all day! You’ll be glad you did, and so will your new team members.
"SCTC Perspective" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communications technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.