As more employers embrace the mobile culture, the remote employee is becoming the norm in many companies. Managers face different dilemmas when managing and training a dispersed staff, but strategies typically applied to improving eLearning can help avoid or resolve issues that might arise. These six tips can help create a culture of trust and inclusion while fostering effective communication and knowledge sharing among employees, wherever they sit.

  1. Provide an office tour: New tools like 360-degree video can give remote employees a sense of what the office looks and feels like. When onboarding an employee who is too far from the office to visit, a thorough video tour can provide the next-best thing to being there. If 360-degree video is impractical, try a walk through the office, with short meet-and-greets with key colleagues. Using a smartphone can accomplish this, but other tools, such as video conferencing or virtual classroom platforms, might do a better job. (Editor’s note: See Jane Bozarth’s article on social media in eLearning, where she shows how to use Pinterest boards to provide an office orientation.)
  2. Leverage eLearning platforms: You can put the platform the company uses for webinars, web conferencing, or virtual classroom training to use to connect with remote colleagues as well. A video conferencing tool like Skype, an online meeting platform, or even a full-featured virtual classroom provides a venue for formal meetings, sure—but also for informal chats and opportunities for colleagues to meet face-to-virtual-face. Video meetings can solidify the connection in ways that an email or even a traditional telephone chat cannot.
  3. Competition builds camaraderie: Put the trend toward gamification to work building relationships among employees. It doesn’t matter whether they work from the office or a home office: Adding in game mechanics like leaderboards, points, leveling up, and the opportunity to win prizes can get employees’ adrenaline flowing. Form teams for even more relationship building—but keep the competition friendly!
  4. Crowdsource curated content: Encouraging employees to contribute to shared content curation sites is another way to encourage collaboration and sharing. Establish digital bulletin boards with themes related to shared projects, and create a discussion space on each. Remote and office-based employees can all participate in the discussion. This might be a springboard to informal chatting, which is just another way to cement relationships.
  5. Boost performance with job aids: Just-in-time training boosts everyone’s performance, including remote workers’. When designing eLearning and job aids, be mindful of employees’ circumstances. Are they remotely using a desktop or laptop? Are they working with smartphones or tablets? Create performance support aids that offer the info that employees need in a format that they can access easily.
  6. Responsive design works for all employees: What if some employees use tablets, others work from a laptop at home, and still others use a desktop computer at the office? Or the same employee uses all of the above? Responsive design has them all covered: It enables instructional designers to provide the same information to multiple devices, using a design that reduces maintenance and potential for errors by keeping all the content in a single source for updates. Responsively designed eLearning and job aids serve all employees, wherever they are.

Communication is essential

Of course, all the tips and tools in the world won’t help if the office culture doesn’t support the remote employees. Scheduling conversations and video chats is essential to keeping remote colleagues in the loop—both professionally and personally. Since colleagues won’t bump into one another in the hallway or by the coffee maker, contact has to be more deliberate. Build in time for conversations about the minutiae of daily life, and chat with remote colleagues about the same things you’d chat about over lunch or coffee with in-office co-workers. Some offices schedule a weekly lunch with their remote colleagues, who attend by video conference. And remember, just as people in the office might take breaks, be on calls or in meetings, or be out of the office at times, remote employees might not be immediately available every time a colleague calls. Open communication—among peers and between managers and reports—about schedules and workflow is critical to avoid misunderstandings.

Corporate culture is reflected in small details as well: When remote employees attend a meeting using Zoom or Skype, include them in the discussion, and ask for their input. Mute mics or minimize noise in the conference room—rustling papers or whispered conversations sound much louder to the remote people. When all employees feel included in projects, the effort will pay off in improved performance and closer working relationships.