Training a remote workforce

Ashmita Das explains how the move towards remote working has changed company culture and approaches to training for the long term.

During research on optimising return-to-work strategies, management school MIT Sloan found that job feedback and career advice are among the top interactions that are most effective when carried out in-person compared with online.

As the British workforce continues to embrace hybrid and remote working models, effectively training employees, especially new team members, is a key talking point. 

During the pandemic, remote working stopped being a privilege and became a necessity. Though it was introduced as a short-term fix to comply with government legislation and keep employees safe, it is starting to look like a much more long-term trend.

Many businesses are predicting that the future of working isn’t purely office based and are making long-term adjustments to hybrid or remote setups. One example is Dropbox, who announced remote working is now the day-to-day default for its employees, with in-office working only occurring on rare occasions.

Microsoft announced a hybrid model, where its employees can work from home for less than 50% of their work week. Alongside this, Microsoft is putting processes in place to allow managers to approve permanent remote working where needed.  

As remote working becomes more permanent, companies are realising the benefits of working with freelancers and are increasingly outsourcing some of their activities to the growing pool of on-demand experts.

Moving forwards with virtual working

The implementation of virtual platforms during the pandemic permanently removed many remote working barriers and has given businesses an opportunity to experiment with new methods of managing and training their workforce.

Workplaces are now more connected than ever, lifting the geographical restrictions of in-person working. In science and engineering disciplines, this could help bridge the skills gap by providing easier access to world-leading academics and scientists in different counties and even countries.

The age-old ‘we need someone in the office’ mindset is starting to shift, which may mean remote businesses involve more contracted consultants or freelance workers. As remote working becomes more permanent, companies are realising the benefits of working with freelancers and are increasingly outsourcing some of their activities to the growing pool of on-demand experts.

The lifting of technological and cultural barriers means our approach to hiring is changing too. Companies have made changes to payroll processes, recruitment strategies and HR policies to accommodate remote workers, which makes introducing more contract workers a much smaller step.

Managing the workforce of the future

Despite many of the benefits, there are challenges to managing a remote workforce. The lack of face-to-face supervision and access to managerial support can make it more difficult for managers to stay in touch with the team’s needs. Time differences from employees working in different countries can complicate collaborative projects and slow down creativity.


The lack of water cooler moments can also reduce the opportunity to create meaningful relationships with people in the company. To overcome this, businesses will need to set aside time to communicate and collaborate during each workday. 

As well as relationship building, one key concern about long-term remote working is the on-boarding and training of new remote employees. Naturally, a remote workforce requires different training methods, such as online live sessions, elearning and pre-recorded training.

There are some benefits — choosing remote training provides access to a wider pool of trainers, so businesses can shop around to find the right trainer for their business, rather than being limited by geographical location.

But not all employees learn in the same way, so how can businesses make sure online training is as engaging and adds as much value as in-person sessions?

Implementing virtual training

Virtually training freelancers or remote employees works best on a case-by-case basis. An expert freelance scientist, who is not familiar with your business, will have very different training requirements to a full-time junior employee.

Creating dedicated managerial time for each worker to discuss learning methods and training programmes will help understand how employees are finding virtual training. However, keeping all training remote can be a positive step for some businesses — it would mean, for example, that Microsoft’s remote employees could learn as much as its hybrid team.

Remote training has allowed businesses to access a new avenue of trainers — the same can be said for employees. Businesses are closing the skills gap by benefiting from a bigger choice of training opportunities and a larger pool of long and short-term employees. 


About the author

Ashmita Das is CEO of the freelance platform for scientists Kolabtree.



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