Supporting Remote Employees

by | Mar 31, 2021 | Instructional Design, Online Training

Every year I create a photo book for my family. I find digital photos stay digital, and we never see them, so a photobook gives us a way to remember the year. It is great fun pulling out the books from when the kids were babies! I finished the 2020 photobook on the weekend, which made me pause and reflect on the year we’ve had. I was sad creating it. I looked at the photos of us in January and February doing what now feels like simple things – going out for breakfast or having Grandma over for dinner. As I organized pictures for the rest of the year, I recalled how the pandemic unfolded. I remembered times when we washed all our groceries as we unpacked them, and I remembered visits without masks. I happily remembered the summer when we could bubble with another family. Creating the 2020 photobook highlighted all of the things I’ve missed this past year – connecting with family, meeting colleagues for coffee, working with clients in-person and facilitating sessions face-to-face.

In learning and development, curriculum design is the process of creating a framework for a series of related learning and development experiences. When explaining this to a client, he responded that it’s like putting puzzle pieces together. He was absolutely right.

I know I’m not alone, feeling disconnected and longing for pre-pandemic days. Newspapers, social media and conversations all tell me how people are struggling. A coaching colleague recently shared this quote with me:

“It’s not remote work. It’s work at home.”

There are so many approaches to supporting remote employees. Let me focus on engagement and building relationships as one approach to consider.

This continuum helps me think about how to engage employees in different online contexts. Engaging participants occurs throughout the continuum but happens differently. Be attentive to communication and the need to build relationships as you determine how to engage participants.


Presentations involve many people and communication is mostly one-way. Think of a webinar with cameras turned off while everyone looks at slides and listens to the presenter. These can be very engaging! I attended a fantastic webinar on Google Analytics a few months ago, and the presenter was excellent. But, there isn’t a need to build relationships with this type of online gathering.

Keep presentations engaging by having great slides, opportunities to interact with polls, Q&A and chat, and having a dynamic presenter.


Training includes developing knowledge and skills in employees to address a performance gap. An example might be DiSC training, where there is a lot of content to learn. Interaction and engagement are important in support learning. And, while participants learn together, they don’t need to develop strong relationships with each other. Communication is two-way with participants interacting with the trainer or instructor.  

Keep training engaging through great design that includes a variety of functionality – chat, polls, breakout rooms, and whiteboard or annotate. Create space in the design for participants to reflect and apply what they learn.


Facilitation is less about presenting content and more about drawing out the expertise and perspectives from the group. A strategic planning session or a focus group are examples. Communication and interaction with the facilitator and other participants is critical. Being attentive to the relationships is also important – either because participants know each other and bring that ‘history’ with them; or because they just met and need support to build the relationship in the moment.

Create a safe place for participants to open up and express viewpoints. Use breakout rooms, whiteboards, virtual collaboration tools to engage and encourage discussion and nurture relationships. Maximize unmute and minimize screen sharing.

Team Meeting

Team meetings can be with in-tact teams, project teams or ad hoc teams. Encourage multi-way communication between all team members. Be attentive to the relationship, recognizing they have a past, present and future.

Keep employees engaged by balancing tasks and processes. Staying on task maintains focus so employees stay engaged and their attention doesn’t wander. Use the same facilitation approaches identified earlier to create a safe place for participants to engage with each other and discuss ideas.

When you think about the type of gathering you are having, consider the relationship-building you want to nurture. Be attentive to creating space for engagement and communication to happen.

In case you missed it

I’ve shared some additional posts online. Here they are in case you missed them.

  • Change on the Run by Phil Buckley – Book review (link)
  • Fun online Hat Introductions – Inspired from Jay Reid at the Making Box (link)
  • Using Participant Workbook vs a Quick Reference – When to use which (link)
  • Increasing participant comfort with technology – Tips for making new technology successful (link)
  • Insights from trying Wonder – A Zoom alternative (link)
  • Breakout room sizes – Tips for how many people to include (link)

Curious to learn more?

I offer programs that help you create quality online programs that engage remote workers.

  1. Redesign for Online: Getting Started – Free webinar (April 14, 9:00 am EDT)
  2. Online Learning Activities – 90-minute session to get ‘unstuck’ and insert creativity into your online design (April 22, 9:00 am EDT)
  3. Design for online – 6-modules program over six weeks to quickly create engaging online programs that support remote employees