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Scheduling conflicts, cultural misunderstandings, disengaged employees: These are just some of the many challenges inherent in companies with employees spread around the world. We decided to tackle these issues head-on in our latest webinar, in which 360Learning teamed up with Globalization Partners to help managers and learning and development professionals better master the intricacies of working with global teams.
Read on for tips from our speakers Clémence Condomines, Product Marketing Manager at 360Learning, and Jennifer Therrien, Senior Director of Talent Management at Globalization Partners, on how to better manage and train your global teams.
Training and managing challenges for global teams
When it comes to employee training, there are several unavoidable challenges learning and development professionals face:
- Scheduling: If you’re relying on synchronous (real-time) training sessions, finding a time that works for everyone is a nightmare, not to mention internet connectivity issues, local differences around when a workday starts and ends — all while being mindful of preventing overworking.
- Disengagement: Let’s face it: when not done right, online training can get pretty boring, pretty fast, especially if it isn’t in the learner’s native language or at a time that suits them.
- Relevance: What might be a pertinent course on safety measures, sexual harassment, or role-specific training in one country might miss the mark in another, due to cultural or market differences.
When it comes to managing teams, similar challenges abound:
- Fostering connection: Most people would say it’s easier to create team spirit (and psychological safety) with colleagues when you’re working in the same physical location, or at least in the same country.
- Creating norms: How do team members know how to act during an online meeting, or if they need to respond to an urgent email that arrives in their inbox at 9 p.m.?
- Maintaining efficiency: You don’t want to micromanage, but you also want to make sure people stay efficient — how can you encourage the right kind of communication?
Even though it’s arguably much more challenging to train and manage global teams, with the right strategies in place, you don’t have to see engagement drop or frustrations mount.
How to do training in a global context
Let’s zoom in first on the issue of training. How can learning and development professionals maintain a high level of learner engagement, knowledge retention, and completion rates when their audience is spread across the globe?
1. Go big for asynchronous training
There’s a misconception that all good training has to be done synchronously — that is, in real-time, with an instructor teaching and learners in attendance. But it’s the “in real-time” aspect that can be tricky to manage for global teams. What if quality training could happen asynchronously?
If your LMS or mobile learning platform supports creating this kind of asynchronous learning, this is an excellent way to get around scheduling conflicts or even language barriers. A huge chunk of our onboarding training at 360Learning, for instance, is 100 percent asynchronous —and of course, remote-friendly. This enables us to onboard new hires anywhere in the world, not to mention maintain scheduling flexibility for all of our employees, so they can learn whenever and wherever they like.
2. Keep content engaging
But I’m guessing the question on your lips is, “Yeah, but is that content really as engaging as a synchronous course is?” The answer is yes, because we’ve made every effort to ensure this.
It’s crucial not to fall into the trap of building boring, one-dimensional asynchronous training programs: page upon page of PDFs, hour-long videos without any context or interaction, off-the-shelf content that isn’t adapted to your workforce … just because it’s asynchronous, doesn’t by default mean it’s good!
Here are a few of the ways you can ensure your asynchronous content isn’t putting your learners to sleep:
- Add quizzes: Adding quizzes (multiple-choice, match-up, fill in the blank) is a quick and easy way to keep asynchronous learners engaged. Plus, it can give you an indication regarding knowledge retention or help to establish a baseline for competence in a given area.
- Solicit learner feedback: Especially long-distance, it’s crucial to maintain a direct feedback loop with your learners about the quality and relevance of your asynchronous courses. At 360Learning, we do this using emoji-style reactions, but even if you’re not using our platform, a simple survey will do.
- Use varied, interactive media: Short interactive videos, clickable images, branching scenarios, self-recordings: There are a million and one ways to make your asynchronous courses interactive, even if there isn’t a live person in front of your learner.
3. Make learning collaborative
The best way to ensure your learners stay engaged is to broaden their scope — and turn learners into course creators. This is one of the main pillars of a Collaborative Learning approach to learning and development. In this setup, employees participate in creating courses based on their peers’ self-determined learning needs.
When learners get involved in course creation and iteration, it’s a sign that their employer values their institutional knowledge. It also helps cement the learning they’ve already acquired, as studies show that teaching material is one of the best ways to master it.
Management best practices for distributed teams
Even if you’re not on the learning and development team, simply managing global workforces is tricky, for similar reasons. Here are a few tried and tested methods for upholding engagement and motivation across the board:
1. Establish team norms and ways of working
In a global context, it’s probably worth your while to spend a little extra time on goal-setting, check-ins, and expectations. You want to be sure you and your direct report are on the same page about who is doing what, when, and why. Consider asking them to draft monthly, quarterly, and annual goals, along with any other useful performance metrics and milestones. Maintain consistent check-ins to see how these goals are progressing and to answer any questions.
Especially if you’re new to management or have a new team member, a “norming session” is a great way to make sure your team is functioning on the same wavelength. This can be particularly important when it comes to long-distance communication.
In a norming session, you can establish:
- Whether it’s preferable to keep your camera on or off during a meeting.
- What to do if you’re having technical issues joining or need to leave the room for a moment.
- What constitutes as an urgent email, and a service-level agreement (SLA) for responding across time zones.
2. Reinforce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives
Building remote teams is not just about expanding globally, it’s also about consolidating an organizational culture that brings teams together. Employees should feel a sense of connection as a member of your company, even halfway across the world from the main headquarters.
To create a unified global team, leaders must think about:
- How to foster personal connections.
- How to celebrate wins as a team.
- How to build social cohesion and shared culture.
- What deliberate actions are being taken to ensure inclusivity.
3. Leave space to recharge
Research carried out by LinkedIn and the Mental Health Foundation found that 54 percent of HR managers agreed that mental health issues like anxiety, burnout, loneliness, and isolation have become more prevalent in their workplace as a result of remote work. The research also noted that 75 percent of U.S. workers have struggled with anxiety at work due to the pandemic.
Offering employees guidance and resources that promote wellbeing, supporting activities and initiatives that encourage healthy habits in and out of work, and ensuring employees take time off will help create a culture around mental wellness. Companies can also help employees cope with mental health issues by providing flexible work schedules.
When thinking about the above, you may want to ask yourself:
- How can we create ways to recharge as a team?
- How can we find moments as a team to truly turn off and disengage from the screen?
- How can we cover for colleagues that are on vacation, so they don’t feel the need to check their email or log on?
- Can we arrange a round-robin meeting schedule so that it’s not always one team or employee adapting to a specific time zone?
There’s no doubt about it — training and managing global teams adds an extra layer of complexity. But that certainly doesn’t mean it’s an impossible feat, especially if you have adequate tools and processes in place. By adding asynchronous, peer-driven content into your learning and development programs, and by managing in a way that acknowledges these challenges and actively works to find solutions, you can keep employees engaged and learning no matter where they’re based.