Written by Ashley Tyler
Many companies have been forced to operate remotely due to the disruptive global health crisis. While this has allowed organizations to stay afloat and even find more success during these economically distressing times, it has not been easy to manage, train, and motivate remote teams. In fact, a survey by performance management company Actus reports that managing remote teams is noted to be more time-consuming than handling traditional in-office employees. In addition, remote teams often force managers and team leaders to adopt a ‘delegative’, hands-off style, which most consider to be the least effective management style.
So, how can managers ensure that their team’s performance remains high in remote settings? The answer lies in practical and experiential learning, which we will discuss below.
Why remote teams should pursue practical and experiential learning
Through practical and experiential learning, employees are placed at the center of what they need to know, rather than putting all the importance on information and facts. American philosopher John Dewey also notes that experiential learning takes place when a person looks back at the actions they did and evaluates them, remembers all the important information, and then applies what they’ve learned on their future tasks and activities. Simply put, practical and experiential learning in the office is a hands-on type of training that allows employees to masterfully comprehend company processes and information by performing the activity or task at hand and receiving feedback from their trainers or superiors.
Some examples of practical and experiential learning with immediate application in the workplace are:
- A discussion forum used by mid-management personnel for getting advice from global peers in which monthly scenario-based exercises are explored together, solved by groups, and reviewed by other groups — bonus: more junior team members will learn through the process who they can go to later for specific niche knowledge when opportunities or challenges arise
- A course on soft skills which members of a department complete together that includes milestone assignments in which participants report how newly-learned skills were implemented in real life, and the outcomes
- A sales enablement course with each week’s assignment relating to building out aspects of a sales plan for a specific real-life opportunity, so that the end of the course, the learner not only has sharper sales skills, but has created an immediately actionable opportunity plan.
All of the examples we’ve listed above are considered as practical and experiential learning as they focus on absorbing information by doing, instead of passive learning where they receive no feedback from their instructor or peers. In remote teams, practical and experiential learning should be prioritized, since the digital workplace creates a sense of individualism and disconnect that may discourage employees from seeking advice from their mentors. Furthermore, practical and experiential learning also benefits remote teams by preparing an employee to adapt to new situations, assuring employees that they have a safe space to fail, creates a more accurate assessment of skills, and connects the gap between theory and practice.
Incorporating practical and experiential learning in remote team training opportunities
One way to integrate practical and experiential learning into how managers handle remote teams is first by helping them cope with working away from the office. Remote working arrangements present a unique set of challenges to employees that are not present in traditional office settings. For this reason, remote employees may feel too stressed and become unable to focus on the work at hand, which then counteracts all the manager's efforts into incorporating practical and experiential learning in their training activities.
To help remote employees cope, resilience coach L. Barbour advises that managers should teach their teams how to better manage stress and create some semblance of structure to their work day. Some examples of stress-busting tips that managers can teach their employees are setting regular times to log in, focusing on only one important task at a time, scheduling fun activities throughout the week, taking regular breaks, and practicing mindful eating. In addition, doing this also encourages remote employees to open up and ask for feedback from their managers, which is a key pillar in experiential learning.
Once managers are sure that their employees are well-prepared to engage with their peers and absorb as much information as they can, they can use various learning tools such as teleconferencing programs, digital adoption platforms, online training platforms, training progress apps, and even VR programs to create practical and experiential learning opportunities for remote employees. To add, it’s important for managers to make sure that their learning courses do not exist in a vacuum and that they create actual activities where their employees can apply what they’ve learned. David Wentworth of the Brandon Hall Group further drives this point by explaining how learners need the ability to not only learn the material, but also collaborate with their peers, learn from experts, and use their knowledge in real-life situations.
Without a doubt, practical and experiential learning plays a huge part in making remote work sustainable and ensuring the success of remote employees. If you want to keep your employees competent and prepare them for the challenges they may face, be sure to check out the Corporate Training Solutions we offer here at Intrepid.