The six critical factors for successful distance training

Distance, or ‘remote’ training by webinar is a highly efficient approach for organisations where the participants are based in different locations. With coronavirus impacting on group meetings in a growing number of countries, it is a safe solution to training needs and can provide assurance to employers that during the training sessions at least, employees are ‘working from home’ rather than ‘shirking from home’!

The advantages of distance training

We have delivered distance training all over the world for 18 years because even before the virus hit we have found it to be an effective and motivating way of training people:

  • Travel costs are eliminated, which provides a massive saving for multi-national corporations
  • New bonds are formed across the world, which is great for business.
  • Participants embed the skills more thoroughly and more quickly than they do when face-to-face in a training room. This is because the syllabus is delivered in bite-sized chunks so that people have the opportunity to practise and absorb each module before moving on to the next.
  • Participants do not have to leave their offices, can join the sessions from home at the beginning or end of the day, or from any location while travelling.
  • Participants do not have to sacrifice whole working days to attend training.

The six critical factors for successful distance training

In the current digital age, now that the working world has moved closer to becoming a virtual one, people are accustomed to conference calls and on-line meetings, and to managing their jobs away from their physical workplaces, through the internet, laptops, phones and apps. However, there always lurks the danger that on-line training sessions can carry ‘dead’ time, where people are surreptitiously reading their emails instead of focusing on the training.

We have found the following elements to be the key to delivering motivating and inspiring training, where everyone remains engaged all the time. The approach is very much a group coaching method, which engages and inspires people to think for themselves and make the learning their own:

  1. The maximum number of participants is 12. If more than 12 people attend a training webinar, not all of them will have the opportunity to contribute. That means the session will be dominated by those who like to speak up, while the quieter (or less enthusiastic) participants will find something else to do with the time – like their emails.
  2. The ideal number of sessions is 6-8. If people are working towards acquiring a skill, completion should not stretch so far into the distance that they lose sight of the end result.
  3. Sessions should last no longer than two hours. People cannot retain concentration sitting in front of a laptop for longer than this, and it would be bad for their health. We have found the ideal delivery method to be one two-hour session a fortnight for busy managers, and one a week if this gives the participants time to complete the practice sessions described below. It is also possible to complete two or three two-hour sessions throughout the same day, as long as there are breakout sessions, reasonable breaks and plenty of variety.
  4. Practice sessions between training modules. Having practice sessions between each section of training is a golden rule in our organisation. The natural way for humans to learn is through trial and error, but people cannot risk mistakes or awkwardness with their colleagues, reports or customers, so tend not to use new skills taught on training courses and quickly forget them. They need to learn how to ride the bike before taking it out on the road. So participants should be given practice assignments to undertake in pairs after each module, providing a safe place to make mistakes, stretch themselves and make the skills their own. As well as a regular course partners, we also set up pairings which change with every session, so that by the end of a course everyone has had a private conversation and practice with everyone else. This does wonders for relationships across departments, levels of seniority and countries.
  5. Techniques for creating rapport between each participant and the trainer. We notice that there is a reluctance to speak up during the first session, particularly when participants have never met. Even on a video platform, seeing a digital image is not the same as sitting with another person in the flesh, in terms of reading body language, sensing mood and making empathetic contact. During the first session the trainers must facilitate special exercises which enable people to build trust and rapport with the trainer and each other.
  6. Every session should be as interactive as possible:
    • Start the first session with an introductions module, where everyone has to present some information about themselves. Then it will feel more natural and easier to them to speak up again later in the session.
    • Each session thereafter should start with a review of the practical use of the learning from the previous session. Again, everyone speaks, setting a precedent for the rest of the session, and rapport is created as participants hear how others have experienced similar challenges and triumphs.
    • During each session, instead of talking at the participants, the trainer should demonstrate with different volunteers to present the learning. After the first or second session, when trust has been established, participants can be invited to demonstrate skills themselves. No demonstration, whether by trainer or participants, should last longer than ten minutes or concentration may waiver. By the end of an extended course, everyone must have volunteered.
    • End each session with a round-up to which everyone contributes.

In spite of the lock-down which is happening all over the world as coronavirus spreads, with effective distance training in place there is never any need for Learning & Development activities to suffer.


At Culture at Work we provide global coach training and leadership development programmes, remotely and face-to-face, at all levels, including C-Suite, for organisations in 33 countries and in all main business languages. We can provide in-house courses, open coach training courses, ILM Endorsed, Level 5, Level 7 and Diploma coach training qualifications, manager-as-coach courses, and general leadership development and team building programmes.

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