What is Upskilling and Why Does it Matter for Distributed Teams?

Man sitting desk looking at laptop

Managing remote teams presents challenges, least of them being time zone conflicts and decreased camaraderie between members.

So, when it comes to keeping your remote team on top of industry trends and knowledge, you’ll want the solution with the least friction and best results: upskilling.

Learn all you need to know about upskilling and why it matters for distributed teams here. From why it’s better than firing and hiring to how to set up systems and tips for success, we cover it all.

What is upskilling?

At a high level, upskilling is the process of learning new skills or teaching workers new skills.

Because it’s advantageous that employees lessen skill gaps (more on this later), companies invest in training programs.

The need for upskilling is seen as a necessity for every employee today to close the digital talent gap in the post-COVID-19 workplace.

Why upskilling is an important aspect of management

Simply put, upskilling has turned from a “perk” to a necessity for management to instill in recent years. Here are a couple reasons why:

Employee expectations are changing

Borders aren’t a barrier to find and retain high-quality employees, and these high-quality employees expect more from upper management and employers.

Studies show that younger professionals want jobs to be development opportunities. So, attracting the right candidates to your company starts with training opportunities.

It’s better for the company in the long run

For reasons we describe below, upskilling boosts employee morale, motivation, and loyalty in the company.

Not only will distributed team members feel more valued, but they’ll be ready to advance in their career. That next step is often within the same company, as long as there’s room for promotion.

In other words, the upskilled employee receives a salary raise and desired promotion, and your company saves time finding, hiring, and onboarding new remote talent.

It’s a win-win.

Why upskilling is better than firing and hiring

In all honesty, it can be easier and better to upskill rather than find new talent or let go of existing. Here are some core reasons why:

1. Attract more talent

Times are changing. Current and potential employees expect more than just a paycheck from their companies.

Here’s another statistic for you, 1 in 5 job seekers want more professional development opportunities in a new role.

2. Improve employee retention

Likewise, over a third of current employees would leave their current employer if not offered training to learn new skills. So, upskilling improves employee engagement and retention.

3. Save resources

Searching for and hiring new distributed talent can drain company resources. Companies save time and money upskilling current employees compared to hiring new ones at a higher salary.

4. Save time onboarding

In the same manner, onboarding new employees takes time. Upskilling current talent allows companies to invest this time elsewhere.

5. Build team culture

Training and upskilling can increase collaboration among distributed team members. This will not only build team culture, but also unify employees across distances.

6. Allow team members to keep up with the industry

Low-skilled workers may lose their jobs in the wake of automation and digitalization in the workplace.

Therefore, upskilling workers grants competitiveness as they’ll keep up with the industry. This ultimately benefits current and any future employers.

How to set up systems for upskilling

The systems instilled for upskilling need to span time zones, cultures and roles so there’s a sense of cohesion instead of further separation.

Here are some key steps to follow:

Create a process map

First things first, develop your process map.

This planning and development tool visually describes the flow of work, allowing everyone to better understand what’s needed to complete a goal. (In this blog, that goal is upskilling.)

Process mapping is a powerful technique because it easily identifies strengths and weaknesses in the existing process – if there was one.

It also allows you to look at the big picture, from macro to micro goals.

Choose a model

While online meetings are arguably the most popular form of remote training, they’re not the only model.

Upskilling can also take the form of synchronous or asynchronous learning activities, of which asynchronous is better for distributed team members so participants learn on their own time.

The asynchronous model requires training results be met before a certain deadline. Results can be in the form of a course completion score, assessment, or certificate.

Depending on the complexity of the training, a hybrid model may also be used, where virtual classes are scheduled alongside asynchronous material.

Pick the right tools

Having the right tools in place increases employee training completion and improves the overall learning experience.

To make wide-scale virtual training possible, use conferencing and webinar platforms that allow screen sharing, remote access, live chat, file sharing, etc. Zoom, Google Meets, Zoho, GoToMeeting, and Join.me are commonly used.

Likewise, you’ll also need a dedicated virtual training platform with more advanced features for running training, like breakout rooms and virtual assessments. Options include Larksuite, BigBlueButton, and GoToTraining.

Lastly, use a learning management system to manage attendance, assign learning materials, and track training efforts. Some of the top LMSs include Google Classroom, Canvas, Schoology, Blackboard, and Edmodo.

Prepare learning materials

When you know how you’re going to upskill (synchronous or asynchronous) and where (on which platforms), you can gather training materials.

Depending on your model, materials could include the following: presentations with accompanying reference materials; videos; forums; polls; surveys; assessments; etc.

Deliver training

When the heavy lifting is done, your LMS of choice will help deliver the training to your distributed team members. After uploading the course materials, you’ll be directed to set deadlines and invite employees.

Track results

When all is finished, it’s time to measure outcomes.

Depending on company goals, this can include certificate completions, assessment scores, time spent completing training, and other metrics.

You can also track if participants are actively engaged or opening up other applications during synchronous sessions (if you have the right tools).

How to improve upskilling in distributed teams

Understanding the importance of upskilling and how to set up systems is half the struggle for leaders. If you want more effective remote employee training, follow these tips:

Have a schedule

When there’s a consistent and transparent schedule for training, employees will prioritize it, and you’ll get higher attendance.

For distributed team members, remember to set reasonable deadlines and learning objective goals. (This can tie back to your process map, where you see the flow of information from start to finish.)

Start with orientation

Establish ground rules for your remote learners so they know what’s expected of them.

Some issues to address could include what to do during connectivity issues; how to interact in synchronous sessions (when to mute oneself, raise hand, ask questions, etc.); how to create a distraction-free learning environment (mute cell phones, close other windows, etc.); and more.

Make training accessible

All training materials should be created with the 21st Century professional in mind: on-the-go and consumable at any time.

Having desktop- and mobile-friendly training not only allows for effortless switching between devices, but also works easier with employees’ schedules.

Ensure upskilling is interactive

Emails, Slack notifications, client calls, WhatsApp, social media.

With so many distractions, if you want your training to be effective, it needs to capture and keep your team members’ attention.

A great way to do so is to pair self-study with group training. It brings the entire team together and boosts morale.

Provide pre- to post-training support

Don’t be so focused on the training programs that prep work and follow-up are an afterthought.

Pre-training, do your homework. Study other companies’ training programs to see which methods you like best and want to use with your own team. Also, make sure everyone has the right tools installed on their work computers.

Post-training, if your team is now using new tools, double check their licensing to prevent any hiccups in the workflow.

Offer regular check-ins or “office hours”

Some team members may have questions throughout the training.

As the leader of the team, make yourself available at various times throughout the week (accommodating all time zones) should anyone wish to connect.

Make material digestible

Studies show that employees only have about 1% of their time to dedicate to training and development.

To remedy this, keep things brief and to the point. No matter the training, each module or lesson should target a specific employee need with tactical tips.

If you can’t condense everything into bite-sized material, dedicate a whole day or afternoon seminar to the topic, time zone-permitting.

Encourage personal development days

If training isn’t in-house, give a personal development stipend to distributed team members, and make it mandatory for them to take off days to upskill.

Be communicative in letting them know that the budget allotted and days off should be respected.

Upskilling matters

If we are to continue embracing the benefits of remote work, leaders need to adapt to training their distributed teams to lessen skill gaps and strengthen the company as a whole.

They need to take care of their employees and ensure that they’re ready for a new age of work post-pandemic.

About Oyster

Oyster is a distributed HR platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve. Without the usual headaches or the expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world. With reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.