Overcome the Challenges of Remote Teams with Agile Learning

Most of the people I connect with are very skeptical about agile learning, and I can’t say I really blame them; it does look and sound like a buzzword. But the way I see it, agile learning is the natural evolution of learning in the fast-paced world of technology.

For me, agile learning was a solution to a problem I think many of us have today: the need to continuously improve and innovate. Time is a precious resource that many of us struggle to extend in a way or another. I needed flexibility and structure in my learning process in order to gain the information and skills I wanted in the little time that I had. Agile learning was the answer I was looking for.

I believe agile learning is a must for remote teams in particular. If you think of some of the main issues of geographically distributed teams, you’ll see that they center on communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing. It’s so easy for things to get lost on the way, for information to be missing, or for tasks to get passed around when you’re not in the same office to ask or double check. For managers it’s especially hard to not be able to connect face-to-face and discuss unplanned issues or challenges that arise during a week. In this context, being agile—for me, at least—means having a measurable plan that can remain flexible enough to accommodate everyone. And this extends to learning.

Agile learning is based on the Scrum project management methodology and essentially provides an iterative process for managing learning and professional development. It allows for more structure in defining performance metrics and employee involvement while offering the required flexibility to prioritize learning based on employee needs and company requirements.

In an agile learning environment, team leaders can ensure that every team member goes through a structured onboarding program, that they have access to company information, and that they create a learning plan with clear goals that can be tracked and measured. No more missing information, long and confusing onboarding, or lack of development initiatives. Workers retain the flexibility to learn at their own pace while collaborating to achieve their learning goals. Management, on the other hand, has a clear strategy for employee development and an overview of performance metrics.

Here’s what I believe are the key elements of agile learning in a nutshell:

  • Setting learning goals
  • Creating bite-sized content
  • Offering learning flexibility
  • Encouraging collaboration
  • Connecting learning to business outcomes

Now let’s see how you can use agile learning to stay at the top of your game and retain those talented employees.

Implementing Agile Learning in Your Team

Make learning a priority.

You can’t really create an agile learning environment if you don’t have a culture of learning. But creating any culture is not an easy process. It is more than just writing a policy or implementing a training program. It takes analysis, planning, and enactment at all levels of the organization.

At Teamfluent, learning is one of our company values that we try to enact in everything we do. To determine where you currently are from a scale of We don’t do learning to Learning is our mantra, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have I created an environment that is supportive of learning?
  • Have I created clear learning practices?
  • Do I or the company’s leaders support a culture of learning?

Distill these answers into actionable items that can help incorporate learning in the way you work and deliver business results. It will be worth it; according to Bersin & Associates, organizations with cultures of active learning are 26% better at delivering quality products and their employees are 37% more productive.

Set learning goals for your team.

Start by defining your company’s specific needs. What are some weak areas? What kinds of soft and hard skills do your employees need?

Move on to each employee and their individual needs in terms of learning and development. Give them some time to think of answers for the following questions:

  • How do you envision your career progressing?
  • What kinds of career goals would you like to accomplish within the next three years?
  • How can you make sure that you are progressing?
  • What resources can the company provide to help employees accomplish your goals?
  • Are there goals that will help improve your performance in your current job?
  • What support can the organization provide to accomplish these goals?

Use this needs assessment to set targeted, measurable learning goals together with your team. Such a learning goal will be defined by what the learners will do or know after they consume the content it entails.

Prioritize learning.

A key agile principle, prioritization helps to manage key resources such as time, attention and effort. For remote teams in particular, these are key indicators of performance; they often seem out of the control of many team leaders and managers.

Work with your team to prioritize learning goals. Depending on the skills you want to develop, you can plan for different types of learning experiences for each learning goal. Budget these experiences in the time you have. It helps to break content into blocks. This is known as microlearning, which is a way of teaching and delivering content to learners in small, specific bursts. It ensures learners are in control of what and when they’re learning. The strengthening of employees’ control over their educational processes leads to better productivity and higher engagement. It helps employees perceive the learning activity with more personal meaning.

Incorporate flexibility and collaboration.

Rigid trainings done once or twice a year are no longer effective. In agile learning, learning happens all the time, in different environments. It involves social components, which has proven to be extremely important to learning progress. Fortunately, we now have access to many technological solutions that help facilitate on-demand learning: personalized learning, continuous learning, informal learning, peer learning, mobile learning, microlearning, and team learning.

Social learning is an especially important aspect of an agile learning environment because it supports something natural to humans—collaboration and sociability. This type of learning relies on help from peers. This means that anyone who needs to learn something new or needs help with a task can ask another colleague. Did you know that fifty-five percent of Google’s L&D is administered through an ecosystem of over 2000 peer learners? The program Googler 2 Googler effectively puts employees into HR’s role of planning and training peers on a variety of different skills.

Tie learning to performance.

As Giselle Kovary, co-founder of Toronto-based n-gen People Performance, points out: “Some leaders worry about being effective in a virtual environment, because if they can’t physically oversee what is happening, how will they know that work is being done?” This goes back to the goals you’ve set. They are the light beacon of your performance management.

Your performance management processes should have SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, Timely) and clearly defined competencies that make it possible for you to accurately assess the performance of your team members, regardless of where they’re based.

Managing a team remotely can seem drastically different from managing a team in an office. But in the end, all employees need the same things. One of these needs is learning. Equip employees with the necessary resources by creating an agile learning environment. This helps improve communication, collaboration, and overall quality of products and services delivered. That’s what’s going to help you be better and do better.

Photo By Dominic Trewin [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Ilie Ghiciuc

CEO at Teamfluent
I’ve been an entrepreneur for the past 10+ years, building great software companies together with fantastic teams. I believe that a culture of learning can make organizations thrive and become more competitive; that’s why I founded Teamfluent.

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