How to fuel a culture of remote learning and development

Gary Stringer
February 17, 2022
July 20, 2023
Learning And Development

Working from home isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. For every person that’s ramping up the productivity levels without distractions, there’s someone struggling without working face-to-face.

Don’t get us wrong, everybody loves snoozing their alarm an extra time instead of dashing for a packed train, and having more freedom around how they structure their day. But there are problems that need to be tackled if you’re going to help people create a work-life balance, especially one that empowers them to develop remotely.

The challenges of working remotely and the need for remote learning cultures

Way before the pandemic had us turning kitchens into home offices or getting creative with balcony desks to soak up the sun as we worked away, Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Report alluded to the challenges that lay ahead. As you can see, loneliness and collaboration were high up there, but distractions, motivations and connecting with other employees also challenged remote workers.

Buffer State of Remote Report
Source: Buffer

Since then, we’ve seen a new concern troubling people who work outside the office – progress. 41% believed their career development had stalled during the coronavirus-driven move to home-working, while 9% thought their career had gone backwards! And if those people were working in a company that relied on face-to-face training, you can really understand their frustrations.

The good news is that creating a remote learning culture that people buy into can help you tackle a lot of these challenges and concerns. Connecting people, giving them content that’s flexible, on-demand and with self-driven access, engaging people and providing pathways to progress are all achievable when you get your remote learning culture.

Encourage flexible, self-driven learning

What’s the point of working from home if you can’t have a little freedom around how you structure your day? If the sun’s beaming down at lunchtime, you might add 30 minutes onto your walk and work a little later. If you’re up early, you might get cracking before the sun’s even up. The reality is that 9-5 isn’t exactly the reality anymore, and learning needs to reflect that in many ways.

Parents working remotely might defer their important tasks or learning to the evening, when they’ve tucked the little ones in and can truly concentrate. Others might not be great concentrators anyway, so they may prefer to set aside a few 10-minute blocks to learn or read new things throughout each day.

And what about those people who can’t bear to sit in their house any longer and head out for a walk or to enjoy some fresh air on a bench and learn through their phones?

Self-driven learning as part of a remote culture.

When you start to consider who might be learning in this detail, that’s when the one-size-fits-all, join us for a full-day course mentality starts to fall apart. Information and resources need to be accessible, preferably across devices and in a variety of content formats.

What you need is one place for resources to live on-demand, so they’re just a search away when the moment of inspiration strikes. That’s where true freedom happens, because if someone is interested in a topic, they’re not waiting for you to give them the go-ahead or assign some course to them.

A lot of the time, people have a great understanding of skills or what they need to know to perform better in their role, and wouldn’t it be better if they had the means and freedom to act on that.

And one last thing, how long do you think the average person takes to reply to a work email? Well, if you don’t get a reply in five minutes, you’ll typically be waiting for 16.83 hours. People probably reply to instant messages faster, but that’s still too long in your moments of need. That’s the power of on-demand resources in a remote culture, they empower people to act when it matters.  

Blended learning: a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous methods.

It’s been a firm favourite for a long time, and with good reason! Blended learning gives you all the benefits of face-to-face training, with the element of online support to reinforce the key ideas. Take that in-person element out of the equation, and blended learning becomes a different beast, but it doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from those same principles.

Remotely, it’s about synchronous (any online course or content delivered in real-time) and asynchronous (on-demand content to support it) learning. The real-time element offers that chance to engage, give feedback and build a rapport, but the on-demand part gives that freedom to reinforce and build on the knowledge independently.

Perhaps more importantly, it empowers you to create a group element to learning. Instead of everything being a self-driven and independent effort, suddenly we’ve got a cohort of people all working towards the same learning goal. And the means you can tap into social and peer learning, making the whole prospect more appealing.

We’ve discussed this in more detail here and provided some examples, but here’s a quick one to whet your appetite. If our marketing team and creative minds join a brainstorming session for a new brand slogan, it’s important that there’s a platform to share and discuss each other’s ideas. This is how you might pull that off in HowNow, by creating a Nugget with your contribution, sharing with the right learning group and enabling the discussion feature.

Awareness of learning initiatives and the tools available to help drive performance

Somewhere out there right now, somebody might be giving out free ice cream! It’s just a pity we’re not aware of it. And it’s the same case with any great learning initiatives, opportunities and campaigns you’re offering. If they’re going under the radar, how are your people going to benefit from them? And what chance does your remote learning culture stand?

That’s the reason learning brands are so powerful and why you need clear, engaging communication about learning initiatives. We’ve written a full post on how to do that too, but here are some things you can put into practice right away through messaging and marketing techniques.

Marketing your learning brand

Why should people care? That’s a good place to start, because connecting with people’s pain points is a great way to get buy-in. They don’t want to know about the features or specific details, it’s the benefits and what’s in it for them that matters. In a sense, it’s tapping into great storytelling – creating a message that makes people feel like it’s personal to them, and they’re the hero.

If you don’t already know what the pain points or challenges are for remote learners, speak with them and get an understanding of that. While you’re doing that, figure out where people are already talking with others or engaging with what the company’s putting out in any sense. That should be a primary channel for pushing your brand and remote learning culture.

Building a learning community: social, knowledge sharing, subject matter experts, mentoring.

It’s not just the idea of creating culture, it’s also the opportunity to create a community. If we’re talking about pain points, we know that loneliness, collaboration and communication are right up there. We also know that typically 20% of what we learn at work comes from interactions with others. So, you’re more likely to create an effective remote culture if you’re offering a chance to share knowledge and learn socially.

Think about all the times you’ve swung by someone’s desk to quickly pick their brains, some of the best things you’ve learnt will have happened from that informal manner. Or maybe you’ve set aside a half-hour in-person brainstorming session, where you can get creative juices flowing and learn how to do something from them.

You need to replicate that remotely to whichever extent you can. But how could the right learning platform help? In a nutshell, it could offer one place for all your collective knowledge to live and allow your people to share freely with each other.

When everyone has the platform to impart wisdom, discuss their experiences and mentor one another, that’s a great incentive to get involved. It’s certainly more appealing than a course being assigned from the top down and your involvement ends at whether or not you complete it.

We’ve got a few tools and integrations that might help you do that. If you’re spending most of your day in Slack or Teams, how helpful would it be to capture a response to a message in the platform and make that available to everyone? Or if you’re the expert, it would be great to share a resource from HowNow in a Slack channel and have everyone access it right there.

As we alluded to earlier, it’s the right information in the right moment, which makes remote learning easier but also drives positive outcomes.

The right kind of content, in the right moments

It’s not only true that different people engage better with different types of content, but there’s also a case that we engage with different formats in different situations. You might follow instructional videos when you’re learning to use tech, but may prefer to read the theory behind why you do it.

Now, if one person alone can fluctuate between content types, imagine the challenge when you’re fostering a remote learning culture in a wider team. Variety is always the spice of life, and it’s great if you can find a platform that curates high-quality content in many formats. But a particular challenge for the remote learner is getting the right knowledge in the important moments (remember how long response times might be!).

Picking the right content formats and microlearning

And that’s where the idea of microlearning becomes so important, to offer people specific guidance for a specific task that can be understood and applied before the moment of need has passed. If you can’t tap someone on the shoulder, the next best thing is to tap your question into your knowledge base or learning platform.

And it ties back into a lot of the ideas we’ve already discussed. If somebody has completed a task hundreds of times, they should be able to create a resource to guide colleagues. It also needs to be captured so that the advice is available when that person is not around. And people need to be able to find it flexibly, on-demand and when they might want to find it.

Keep people engaged through rewards

In the same way that shoulder taps can’t happen remotely, pats on the back need a virtual alternative. Luckily, we’ve got the concepts of gamification or rewarding people for their achievements and participations in our learning initiatives. Whether it was a sticker for behaving at the dentist or a certificate for great work at school, it’s an idea we’re all familiar with and gives us a sense of warmth we can’t always rationalise.

Rewarding learning with badges in HowNow

It’s another way you can stamp your brand’s values onto your remote learning culture. Find rewards that reflect your values and get as creative as you like. One last tip, this is another time you should consider what’s important to your people. No point offering a skydiving experience as a reward if everybody’s afraid of heights.

Check out our other learning and development resources