Investing in professional development for a virtual workforce

Tamara Schroer details a few tools and techniques for keeping the virtual workforce engaged.

Running a successful virtual workforce business requires a lot of time and money finding, training and retaining workers. Depending on the business model, it could be up to 25% of overheads or more. Such a big outlay begs the question: Is your workforce an expense—or are they an investment?

With recurring costs, what processes and professionals do you have in place to: 1) motivate people; 2) reduce attrition; and 3) sustain a quality workforce?

What’s required is an integrated workforce strategy. It should be built into the business for recruiting the best applicants, immersing them in the business and planning for their ongoing development. This is critical for remote businesses with on-demand workers, often independent contractors, who operate virtually.

Success with a virtual workforce requires focus in several areas, such as:

  • Fostering a caring culture, which creates the right environment to attract and onboard great people
  • Using degreed educators, with the know-how to educate and engage workers, not just train them
  • Investing for the long term, creating an online community for workers to share experiences and advice with each other, as well as company information sharing and encouragement 

Fostering a caring culture

Smart job applicants do their due diligence before applying for work. Cultures vary by companies. As does the value placed on – and the investment made in – workers.

Job-review sites, such as Glassdoor, reveal the good and the bad about a place, with candid reviews by employees and contractors. Their comments sway not only applicants, but also influence business decisions when selecting service providers. And emotional intelligence is a factor.

It can differentiate an in-touch company from an out-of-touch workplace, be it in-office or remote. Numbers do tell and people gravitate to where they’ll feel appreciated, whether part-time or full-time. As a result, the calibre of applicants rises.   

A caring culture promotes open communications and stimulates learning. Developing a transparent, sharing community can help workers feel valued and important. This can be even more important in a virtual business. A virtual online portal for transparent, two-way and group sharing can help everyone feel part of a community and perform better with shared experiences.

Using degreed educators

Having a great corporate culture to attract talent is key to any workforce strategy. Also integral is in-depth education about their business and their client’s brand and business.

Often, this task falls to trainers, usually knowledge experts. Their teaching methods might be limited to traditional lectures delivered in a classroom or via WebEx. Lessons also are taught online through self-study courses. By-rote schooling can shortchange worker engagement.

This is where degreed educators benefit the virtual workforce. First, lessons are all educator-led, and instead of a four-hour lecture, workers switch from self-study to role-playing in small groups to gamification exercises. 

Second, educators skilled in the virtual classroom know how to break down curriculum into bite-size chunks for easier comprehension. For example, they do micro-learning with tools such as PowToon to animate presentations or Biteable, engaging workers with infographics and interactive tutorials.

To ensure 100% participation in the virtual classroom, they could energize participants with Umu for interactive experiences or Kahoot for game-based learning. Gamification provides stimulated customer-service scenarios in fun ways, using tools such as educaplay multimedia and C3 Softworks quizzes.

Fact is, educator-led instruction recreates real-world interactions. It better prepares participants to address different situations and ever-escalating consumer expectations.

Investing for the long term

No matter how thorough the instruction, workers won’t know everything the first day on the job.

This means circling back to reinforce key lessons, listening to customer interactions and providing workers with continuous feedback. Badge recognition, such as Badgr for instance, rewards and encourages ongoing performance after initial onboarding.

An educator also might create a 30-, 60- or 90-day development plan to keep sharpening workers’ skills, done through an LMS. The system can underpin all participant development, inside the virtual classroom and outside with ongoing education.

The shared community website complements all of this, promoting a sense of belonging. There, workers review their performance, receive business updates and learn about new opportunities, as well as interact with peers. 

A long-term commitment to a virtual workforce pays dividends—every day and throughout the years. Well-educated workers identify with the customers they serve and tend to stay. In our experience, an average of several years is not uncommon. Some remain longer, reaching five-, 10- and even 15-year anniversaries.


About the author

Tamara Schroer is Vice President of Education and Development at Working Solutions


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