The Lockdown Is a Wake-up Call: 7 Tips for Better Virtual Training

Here we are, many of us separated from our traditional workplaces, with businesses all over the world wondering how virtual and remote work methods can suffice. What’s the best setup? How do you transition quickly? Why does Skype keep freezing my colleagues?

Are these problems really new? Long before COVID-19 prohibited face-to-face gatherings, many corporations keen to maximize leadership and development opportunities were benefiting from superior, online, cloud-based solutions. Deeply immersive business simulations have, after all, shown multiple advantages over old-school seminars for years. You might be surprised at how sophisticated, interactive and effective virtual solutions can be, especially when simulation is at their heart.

Of course, they’re not the same as the old ways of working — but in many ways, they’re better. Would your global colleagues really miss their commutes, all that jetlag and hours spent out of touch? Who enjoys those evenings alone with the minibar? The time and cost savings can be enormous. In the virtual world, you have business solutions at your fingertips 24/7.

Admittedly, many leaders see making this change as more of a challenge than an opportunity, perhaps because they are unaware of technology that is affordable, stable and already proven. But it’s out there, and it’s been serving leading companies for years. You don’t have to build your programs from scratch; plenty of pioneers have stuck their toes in the water already, and many of the solutions they’ve created are customizable and scalable.

Digital-first, cloud-enabled, virtually delivered leadership and development experiences have already developed and crystallized principles through practice, and they can ensure brilliant learner and client outcomes. And there’s never been a better time to take advantage of them. How can you achieve the best out of them? Here are some tips.

1. Journey More

More than ever, it’s critical to map out objectives, outcomes, key themes, critical conversations and learning points in advance, and messaging must be embedded and integrated clearly. Translate those maps into detailed session plans and run sheets. The levers to efficiency are flow, integration and enacting the right activities at the right time.

2. Up the Communication Ante

To be successful, preempt confusion by creating a participant communication plan. What touchpoints will you have? Will participants know exactly what happens — and when, where and why? Have you made adequate provisions for the management of expectations?

3. Chunk Content

Eight-hour classroom timetables don’t convert well to virtual delivery formats. Expect energy, engagement and enthusiasm to trail off and boredom to spike in return for asking people to sit behind computer screens for a prolonged period of time.

To retain focus, concentration and efficacy, limit total daily sessions to four hours at the most. Spread programs across several days, and make them interactive and entertaining as well as instructive.

4. Issue Early

Issue materials in advance, enabling users to digest, reflect and bring their ideas into the session. This approach maximizes important contact time for discussion and coaching rather than new material absorption. Pre-, post- and inter-session communication enables impactful learning sessions.

5. Broadcast Less

Avoid the simple translation of PowerPoint presentations into online slide shows. If “death by PowerPoint” meant anything in your in-person training, it inflicts double the pain in virtual training. To maximize engagement, plan sessions that promote group and teamwork.

6. Preparation Pays

Create an effective virtual environment by asking participants to find quiet spaces to join their colleagues — environments where they can avoid interruptions from incoming alerts and calls, deliveries, family members … even the dog. Allow extra time for technical glitches, including login challenges, participants’ being kicked off the platform and needing to reenter, patchy local network strength, audio and video failures, and so on. They will happen!

7. Assemble Your Toolbox

Video conferencing systems have outstanding breakout room capabilities for teamwork and team coaching. Using a reliable platform makes a huge difference to the success of your event. Equally important is ensuring that you have your own high-quality hardware and virtual setup.

The virtual world can move fast — very fast. It can deliver results quickly, too. One of the world’s foremost fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies created a virtual business acumen journey for more than 100 of its junior superstar managers, chunked into smaller sessions over four weeks, rather than the legacy three days out of the office. The secret sauce was to achieve focus and intentionality early in the course; people were talking, meeting virtually, and preparing inputs and tasks even before the first session. Focus, intentionality, momentum and a strong sense of community developed even before the first bell. The instructor and learners then spent contact time engaging, discussing, briefing and debriefing, coaching, and setting up the next set of detailed tasks.

The switch from in-person classroom training to entirely virtual experiences and journeys can seem daunting at first. With proper planning and the application of best practices, however, the jump needn’t be as big as you think. Plan carefully and in detail, build engagement early, use reliable video conferencing platforms, and work to the strengths of the virtual environment.

As the immediate threat of COVID-19 eventually dissipates, strong leaders across every level of their organization will determine the pace of commercial and economic recovery. If there was ever a time to invest in leaders, it’s now. Doing that well requires learning and development professionals to innovate and respond.

The good news? It’s already happening.

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