If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it is adaptability. The coronavirus pandemic showed us how unpredictable life can be and when change hits, it’s incredibly important to know how to pivot and adapt to those changing circumstances. 

While a few companies were already investing in upskilling employees, COVID-19 accelerated the process and emerged as one of the ways companies can protect themselves from future disruptions.

For instance, during the lockdown, 43% of employers offered more courses and training material to expand their employees’ skill sets.

It is safe to say that incorporating upskilling as part of your employee training and development:

  • Boosts productivity and team performance
  • Improves confidence and morale
  • Increases employee retention
  • Reduces hiring costs

Let’s take a look at how you can upskill your remote employees and strengthen your workforce.

Map out Personal Development Plans

Upskilling demands time, effort, and money. There is no point in introducing upskilling initiatives if you don’t measure progress and tie them to specific goals.

This is why it’s important to map out Personal Development Plans (PDPs) for each employee. A PDP is a strategic tool that helps employees identify skill gaps, set goals, document a strategy, and measure progress. 

PDP goals need to be jointly set by the employee and manager (or mentor). What’s important is setting goals tailored to each employee’s skill set while being in line with the over-arching business goals. 

For example, a McKinsey report cited that when an international bank realized that its face-to-face sales model faced disruption due to the pandemic, it turned to virtual selling and created a tailored upskilling journey for its sales representatives. 

The idea was to deepen their core sales skills while improving their virtual ways of working.

According to Clear Review, PDP goals need to be:

  • Aligned
  • Accountable
  • Agile
  • Assessable

Mapping out PDPs adds structure to the process, avoids miscommunication, and helps stakeholders track effectiveness with ease.

Create bite-sized training material

Learner engagement has always been a challenge for employee training and development programs. To add to it, the remote work environment makes it even more difficult to retain people’s attention. 

The question is: how do you engage your remote employees and encourage them to complete the online courses? The answer lies in bite-sized training.

Bite-sized training refers to the creation of short and focused content pieces. Instead of providing your employees with a 30-page PDF, you need to create bite-sized modules that focus on a single objective.

That’s not all, you should also incorporate visuals to make the information more digestible and memorable. You can use visuals such as:

  • Infographics
  • Checklists
  • Charts and graphs
  • Roadmaps
  • Flow charts

Here’s an example of a process infographic. Notice how it explains the steps in product design in an easy-to-understand manner.

upskilling employees

Source: Venngage

Offer a blended learning experience

When you’re working with remote employees spread across time zones, it can get difficult to conduct regular instructor-led virtual training sessions. 

At the same time, purely relying on self-paced learning strategies may also be ineffective as they might not be taken seriously by your employees.

The key is to include a mix of synchronous and asynchronous training strategies and offer a blended learning experience.

For instance, you can host live training sessions once a month which can include simulations and collaborative exercises. At other times, you can offer mobile-friendly training modules that include a mix of formats such as PDFs, video recordings, quizzes, polls, animations, and more.

This lets employees learn and upskill at their own pace while retaining learner participation and engagement levels.

Use job aids

While learner engagement is one part of the story, the other half is ensuring your employees retain the knowledge they acquire from the upskilling training initiatives.

Upskilling employees can’t be a one-time event. For it to impact performance, you need to incorporate tactics that promote continuous learning and development. 

The use of job aids is one such tactic. 

Job aids support learning by providing quick information related to a job or task. Usually one-page or less, job aids need to be crisp, clear, and well-designed. 

Here’s an example of a two-column format job aid that does a clear compare and contrast. This format makes it easy for readers to absorb and retain the information.

upskilling employees remote workforce

Source: Venngage

Assign mentors

As we know, remote employees have a tendency to feel lonely, isolated, and disconnected which can prove to be a training barrier. 

This is why it’s a good idea to assign mentors as part of your upskilling training initiatives. This fosters a one-on-one relationship and provides a conducive learning environment. 

According to seven-time Chief Information Officer, Mark Settle, “The mentor should serve as a non-judgmental sounding board for the mentee, giving the mentee an opportunity to think more creatively about ways in which they can develop their skills and abilities.”

Apart from monitoring learner progress, mentors can also offer guidance and manage mentee expectations, helping them grow and reach their individual goals.

It’s a good idea to schedule one-on-one meetings over video conferencing to regularly check-in with mentees and address their concerns.

Offer training incentives

Between juggling meetings, to-do lists, and day-to-day responsibilities, employees may start treating upskilling initiatives as a tick-box exercise. 

This will leave you with a group of disengaged employees who attend training sessions half-heartedly and wait to get done with them. Such an attitude is hardly effective. 

In spite of investing all the time, money, and effort, your employees will leave these sessions without learning anything new.

One of the ways to get employees excited about upskilling initiatives is by offering incentives and rewards. This serves as a motivational push, leading to an increase in engagement and participation. 

Here are the different types of training incentives and rewards you can offer your remote employees:

  • Gift cards
  • Vouchers and discounts
  • Recognition certificates
  • Permit flexible hours or paid time off
  • One-time bonus

Joanna Wallace and her team implemented this tactic at CSX Transportation. They offered gifts and gift cards to motivate their fleet of drives to take up training programs. 

They would also make it a point to explain how these training programs would benefit them in their careers. 

Speaking about the impact of the incentivized training program, Joanna said, “It was really, really successful with the employees because from time to time, to ensure that they actually retained the information after a test or after the course, I would send questions out. 

And we would randomly send to different employees within the region and each one would have to answer the questions. It became fun, where people were actually asking, ‘Joanna when are your next questions coming out, what’s the next course?’”

Now, that’s an example of a well-planned training incentive program. 

The takeaway: Strengthen your remote workforce by upskilling employees

We’re living in times when it’s crucial to prepare for what’s to come and one of the most effective ways to future-proof your company is to invest in your employees. 

These five strategies will help you upskill your employees and build a stronger workforce that drives growth.