How We Offer Async Training To Our Fully-Distributed Customer Advocacy Team


As part of the Buffer Advocacy team, we’ve experimented with a number of different training formats, such as live meeting workouts, zoom workouts, lightning talks, and recorded workouts. Coaching together as a team often fosters a sense of community and feels energizing! In contrast, watching a training video alone may seem isolating, and we still haven’t broken the code to follow up with other teammates or the coach. Earlier this year, we had the opportunity to explore new training ideas for our remote team.

Juliet Chen, a senior client of Buffer’s client, and I were tasked with creating a four-part training series to help the advocacy team with strategies around productivity and organization. As the team has grown, we have expanded our coverage worldwide. We now have teammates who barely overlap with each other, from all time zones in the US to Europe and Ghana, to our teammates in Dubai, Brunei, Thailand and Australia. This means that live training sessions with Zoom have become more difficult to schedule.

When planning our training sessions, we immediately recognized that four live training sessions may not be realistic and may not be inclusive for the entire team. Async training made more sense to us.

But we also knew that many teammates would have valuable contributions to share with the team and we wanted to capture that. We recognized that there are no “right” strategies for productivity and organization, so we wanted to make sure different perspectives emerged through this training series.

Also, how can we avoid the isolation that people feel when they train alone? We also wanted to give everyone the opportunity to interact with each other, feel a sense of togetherness and get excited about the training topics. I needed to find an attractive way to present the information and encourage participation.

To address all of these challenges, we did a few brainstorming sessions and came up with some formatting and participation ideas that we’d love to share with you.

The training format

Although in the past we have had one-off training sessions asynchronously, we have never before done a series of workouts with an established participation schedule. To begin the training, we published a brief Thread introduction (Threads is the main tool we use to communicate asynchronously in Buffer) to the team, which describes how it would be presented and how they could participate. We also shared all the topics that would be covered and a calendar:

January 21 – January 31: Schedule a 1: 1 productive sync with your defense manager
From January 31st to February 14th: Keep up to date with Buffer communications
February 14 – February 28: Take advantage of performance reviews as a gateway to growth
February 28 – March 14: Preparation for product launch

Throughout the quarter, we offered new training every two weeks that was part of the overall theme of productivity, communication, and organization. We hoped this would encourage the team to keep thinking about these issues and promote exchange and learning for several weeks.

Each training described the expectations of the Buffer company or the defense team and then the trainer shared strategies, techniques and tips. It was written in an article style format with no template or specific guidelines or rules, which allowed us to write with our own style of conversation. We also provided screenshots, support resources (such as blog posts, and articles from others in the industry), and even some funny gifs.

How we have encouraged participation

At the end of the training, we opened it to the presentations of any classmate who also wanted to share what worked for them.
We asked the team to track the training in two ways:

  1. Create your own presentation with tips or organizational strategies that you use successfully
  2. Comment or share feedback on training or submissions from other teammates

When we requested the presentations, we decided on the following parameters:

  • We encouraged (but did not force) all Lawyers to participate in at least two of the four formations.
  • Presentations could be presented in written or video format; we wanted to give them a chance to share them in the way they felt most comfortable with.
  • We gave a two-week deadline for submissions, as we planned to include them on our training wiki once the session was over.
  • We asked them to send it directly to the thread so that everyone could see the training and presentations in one place. We hope this will also encourage conversation and comment.

As the training sessions progressed, we saw some amazing presentations from some Lawyers who had various strategies to share with the team. Some were very detailed and described a whole process, while others were simple (but effective) methods that really added value.

Other attorneys simply added a praise or validation comment that also used the same strategies to great effect or learned something new from their teammate’s training or presentations.

These submissions were added (with credit) to the training when we moved them to our internal team wiki, and we hope that new teammates who read them will benefit from the added presentations of their teammates.

What we have learned

Our most popular training was created by Darcy Peters, a customer advocacy manager, about “leveraging performance reviews as a gateway to growth.” Listening to specific strategies and techniques from a manager’s perspective was invaluable to many advocates.

“Wow, I’m amazed at how developed your system is, Darcy! You’ve thought of everything.” “Julia Cummings.”

We are excited to see so many Lawyers read the training courses and respond positively to each training thread. We also received some great feedback on the training series in general.

“I wanted to let you know that these workouts have been personally very impactful. It seemed to me that everyone landed with me just when I needed to focus on that area, for one reason or another. – Dave Chapman

“These trainings have been incredibly valuable and insightful!” —Essence Muhammad

Formatting

In the past, we’ve identified many of our teammates learning very differently from each other. Some learn best by listening to a loudspeaker or watching a video, while others prefer to read, for example. This can be tricky when it comes to choosing the best form of training for your entire team.

Now that we’ve tried a purely written format, we’d like to experiment with more formats in future asynchronous workouts. Some ideas include offering a written post, but also including an audio or video version of the coach reading the post, or even including a simple slide show.

Another idea would be to share an overview and then add bite-sized information to the topic every day for a week (like a Twitter feed). We will continue to survey the team to find even more ideas on how to be inclusive with all learning styles while keeping training creation as light as possible for coaches.

Participation

Although we received a lot of positive feedback, the turnout was not as high as we expected. The inbox was very busy during these weeks and some people were feeling a little tired of the news with a lot of announcements and new conversations happening naturally during the first quarter.

Perhaps another reason why some lawyers did not offer a presentation was because they considered their own strategies to be the same as those we offered in training. But if they themselves didn’t have many strategies and the training was really valuable, we would have expected them to share more things about what they could try. We’ve seen a lot of positive emoji reactions, but we were still expecting more people to participate by responding directly to the thread.

With this in mind, we plan to further clarify the definition of “submission” to encourage more participation and coexistence. We especially want our classmates to continue to have the opportunity to share their thoughts and learn from each other.

For future asynchronous training, we will ask Lawyers to simply “mark” that they have read the training and then choose one of the following ways to submit it:

  • Add a new strategy or technique that works well for them
  • Or, identify a strategy that we have presented to them that they would like to adopt in their own work style and why they think it might work for them or how they will implement it.

We’ll also explore ways to keep up with the team several weeks after training to see how the strategies have helped them.

Looking ahead

We had a great opportunity offering a whole series of asynchronous workouts for a full quarter, but we learned a lot and saw great benefits for the team.

Everyone had the same time to absorb the material and participate, and classmates who wanted to share their own strategies and tips had time to articulate those thoughts. It prevented us from adding four more meetings to everyone’s calendar: the team could schedule training according to what worked best for them.

Finally, the training and valuable team contributions were easy to add to our wiki as resources for new teammates to join on board after the training session.

Overall, we are excited about the future of asynchronous training for the Advocacy team and look forward to trying out new formats and shipping ideas!

What questions does this ask you? Send us a tweet!





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