Are You and Your Team Getting the Most from Remote Learning?

April 26, 2021

By Simon Bradley

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It was a cold, dark morning in late Fall 2020. I logged on at seven in the morning, with a large coffee beside me, ready to run a 3-hour virtual workshop for an ANA member. I remember thinking, “why am I doing this at seven in the morning?!” Then I remembered this was a global organization and it was the best time for everyone to participate. Suddenly came a burst of energy as marketing professionals from around the world started to join me. First, a senior leader from a cozy cabin in the Smoky Mountains, soon to be followed by his co-workers from Singapore (which looked much warmer than my office), China, New York, Ireland, India, and countless other exciting places.

What followed was three hours of fun, interactivity and according to the feedback we received, a positive learning experience. But more than anything, I was struck how brilliantly this group of disparate marketers worked together remotely and how, if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, they may never have considered it as a learning and development option.

According to recent research, remote interaction, learning, and socializing are here to stay, even in the post-COVID world. In a survey of US adults in late 2020, McKinsey found that 60 percent of those who have tried or increased their use of online learning intend to continue after the pandemic. Meanwhile, according to a survey by PwC, also in 2020, company executives are embracing remote working models with 55 percent believing that most of their employees will be remote for at least one day a week after the pandemic is over.

There are some clear benefits from remote learning and development programs, which many of us have discovered during the last year. It is clearly much more efficient and cost-effective. Remote sessions can be slotted into the working day more easily than in-person training. Global teams can come together on equal terms. And the incremental infrastructure investment is minimal. However, there are also concerns about its stickiness, efficacy, and the ability for remote sessions to ‘land’ the learning objective as well as in-person.

Like anything, we all have to work at remote learning to make it a success. It is not and cannot be a passive experience! During 2020, across my NYU and ANA work, I think I ran about 100 online learning experiences and I learned a lot. So here are a few tips on how you and your team can get the most from coming together for your development remotely in the post-COVID world:

  • Preparation, preparation, preparation: Like in-person training, remote demands a lot of preparation to make it a success. Think carefully about how you want to position the session internally. Can attendees get away from emails, etc. while the program is running? What is the best time for the session to maximize attention? Which groups will work together and on what? What pre-work you want people to do?
  • Make it focused and interactive: Attention spans can suffer during online training as Zoom fatigue sets in. It is really important that sessions are super-focused and offer plenty of engagement for attendees. Online training lends itself well to flexibility, so you might consider a series of ‘sprints’ rather than a long workshop.
  • Make it social: Embrace the messiness and humanity of remote working! During 2020, my workshops were immeasurably brightened by dogs, children, spouses, backgrounds, backyards, creative lunches, cocktails, group chat banter, and much more! I’ve learned to make this a feature of the session and I think my workshops are generally better for it!
  • Mix up your teams: Using virtual breakout rooms is a great way to bring smaller groups together to work on a task. I usually recommend that teams are cross-functional and designed up to give attendees a chance to get to know people who they don’t normally work with. It’s a great way to foster new thinking and get a different perspective.
  • Build on the session afterwards: It’s good practice to consolidate the learning that your team has experienced. Try following up with a working session, quiz or even an additional task using the cross functional teams you used in the session.

I still believe that nothing replaces the buzz of a room full of excited and creative marketers beavering away on a task. But the world has moved on and online learning has opened our eyes to new possibilities and an exciting future for people development in the post-COVID world!

Simon Bradley is an ANA Instructor for the Marketing Training and Development Center. For more on this approach be sure to view Simon’s workshop, Marketing Planning for the Post-COVID World or Brand Activations that Drive Results.


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