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9 tips for cross-training employees on remote teams

9 tips for cross-training employees on remote teams

Alyssa Towns
March 14, 2022
Updated on:

9 tips for cross-training employees on remote teams
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There’s no denying that remote work is here to stay. Ladders has predicted that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022. While remote work offers many benefits, it certainly isn’t without its challenges, including cross-training employees.

For years, employers have used cross-training to groom star performers for management positions and promotions. Today, organizations use cross-training to strengthen teams, develop employees, and designate coverage for out-of-office instances. In this guide, we’ll show you how to cross-train your hybrid and remote teams successfully.

You’ll also learn:

  • The benefits of cross-training employees and potential pitfalls to keep in mind 
  • How to develop a remote cross-training program, step-by-step 
  • Recommended strategies to make your program effective (and fun!) 

First, let’s talk more about cross-training and what a cross-training program is. 

What is a cross-training program?

Cross-training employees is the process of training employees to fulfill the responsibilities of different roles or complete tasks that lie outside of their department or typical job duties. Employers can use cross-training in any industry and for nearly any position.

Employers can approach cross-training in various ways depending on the business’ core needs. For example, an employer can design a program to cross-train employees within the same team. Employees who work in Human Resources (HR) and perform employee onboarding could cross-train with their teammates responsible for managing company policies and vice versa. 

Cross-team training is valuable for small businesses with small teams. For instance, a legal team can cross-train with HR on compliance-related tasks since compliance is central to both departments. That way, if a team member from either team were ever out of the office, the other team could continue operations until that individual returns. 

5 benefits of cross-training your team

Cross-training benefits employers and employees in many ways, including saving companies money, boosting retention, and aiding in professional development. Below are five benefits of cross-training employees in the workplace: 

1. Bridges gaps and saves money

Most companies have been here — a rockstar employee gets sick and is out for a few days or goes on PTO for a much-needed vacation, and no one else knows how to get their job done. Worse yet, that rockstar employee resigns out of the blue. Your team members left behind scramble to try to learn that person’s tasks in two weeks or faster. You want to avoid putting your team in a bind.

Cross-training prevents crisis moments by bridging gaps in role coverage. It saves employers money by making resignations less costly. Gallup has estimated that it can cost between one-half to two times an employee’s salary to replace them.

2. Grows your team’s skills and advances their knowledge 

Cross-training employees offers an opportunity for each team member to develop new skills and advance their knowledge in areas they’re less familiar with. It allows teams to gain diversified skill sets while supporting the needs of the business. There isn’t only one way for employees to grow their skills either. Upskilling, or focusing on adding to an existing skill set, is one way for employees to advance their knowledge in their current role. Reskilling, or the process of learning new skills for a different position, is another way employees can grow their skills.

3. Increases flexibility around scheduling 

For companies with four-day workweeks or flexible work arrangements, strict role responsibilities without a backup can be an unavoidable bottleneck. Let’s say a company offers four-day workweeks, and each team member can choose which day they take off. Now suppose there’s only one person on the legal team who can sign client contracts, and they take off every Wednesday. Without a cross-trained backup, the organization can’t sign client contracts one day per week. 

That’s where cross-training can help. Cross-training employees and designating them as backups for specific tasks and roles enables operations to continue. Even for companies without four-day workweeks or flexible work, having a level of shared knowledge promotes more flexibility when emergencies arise. 

4. Improves retention and promotes internal hiring 

When considering employee engagement strategies, cross-training may not always come to mind. But the reality is that cross-training employees can boost retention and support succession planning. Think about it this way — if an employee participates in a cross-training program and receives a promotion, there’s a good chance they may stay with the organization longer than they would have without the promotion. 

Outside of helping employees climb the ranks, cross-training programs provide a unique opportunity for businesses to hire internally for both upward and lateral moves. Companies may retain employees who aren’t satisfied in their roles by cross-training them for lateral movement within the organization. It’s a win-win for all parties involved.

5. Improves teamwork and strengthens coworker relationships

Nothing improves collaboration more than offering opportunities for team members to cross-pollinate and build relationships with one another. Cross-training enables employees to connect with team members they might otherwise not have a lot of contact or time with. Understanding the bigger picture and each team member’s responsibilities can lead to a deeper appreciation for one another. 

Cross-training considerations

There are at least two things you’ll want to plan for when developing your cross-training program to prevent adverse outcomes. First, if you don’t define specific objectives for your program cross-training can produce too many generalists. While it’s helpful to have employees with broad skill sets, it’s crucial to encourage specialization in some roles to avoid having employees who can do a lot of tasks but do none of them well. Second, some employees might view cross-training opportunities as added responsibility without extra pay. Avoid delegating too many responsibilities onto employees’ plates as this will lead to burnout and frustration. Creating balanced workloads should always be top of mind. 

6 steps to building a remote team cross-training program

Ready to start building a cross-training program for your remote team but aren’t sure where to begin? We’ve got you covered. To develop a successful and effective cross-training program, follow these six steps: 

1. Identify the goals of your cross-training program 

As previously mentioned, companies can create cross-training programs that serve different purposes. When developing a cross-training program for your remote team, the first step is to outline your goals for the program and the objectives you want to achieve. Determining your expected outcomes in advance will help you tailor your program. Additionally, communicating the program’s specific goals to employees who participate will help set them up for success and allow them to keep track of their progress. 

Some high-level goals of a cross-training program might include:

  • Assigning one backup for each role within a team to accommodate out-of-office time 
  • Preparing for a team restructure and job role adjustments
  • Completing # of hours of professional development per week 

2. Establish a communication plan

Before you implement a cross-training program with your team, it’s essential to let your team know what the program is and why you’re doing it. Since your team is remote or hybrid, consider leveraging an asynchronous communication plan to get your message out to your team members. Remember that you’ll want to communicate with your team throughout the entire training process, so build in methods to use down the road.

3. Engage key stakeholders

There are a few stakeholder groups involved in a cross-training program. First, identify the employees who will help teach others. Cross-training is most effective when seasoned employees with expertise participate and help train others. Try to find employees who not only know how to execute specific tasks but are also familiar with company policies and processes to ensure trainees receive the best knowledge.

You’ll also need to determine which employees or teams will receive the training. Cross-training can be reciprocal, so maybe employees are trainers and trainees. Determine what works best for your organization and program. And don’t forget to include managers of employees participating in the program to ensure they are in the loop and can help support their team members.  

4. Provide access to necessary platforms and materials

In an office environment, cross-training might occur in a meeting room with both trainers and trainees in one room for a couple of hours. Training remote employees adds a layer of complexity, but online training platforms and streaming methods will bring your program to life. Consider using training-based video recordings, training software platforms, project management tools, and asynchronous communication to conduct training. Provide trainees with access to all necessary media and materials they will need for the duration of the training program. Double-check that there are enough licenses for software platforms as needed. 

5. Ask for feedback and check-in

It’s training time! After your employees start participating in the cross-training program, set up a time to ask for feedback and check in on their progress. You can set up one-on-one meetings or host small group sessions to gather feedback. Use their input to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and identify areas for improvement. Also, consider asking for ideas for future cross-training opportunities your employees would try. 

6. Celebrate your team’s wins 

Once cross-training is complete, pause and celebrate your employees' efforts and hard work! It takes dedication and time to commit to learning, and it shouldn’t go without reward and recognition. 

3 strategies for effective remote cross-training

To make the most of your remote cross-training program, consider these three strategies for success:

1. Make it accessible and bite-sized

The best way to promote ongoing learning and cross-training for your remote team is to make your content accessible and bite-sized. Employees might not be able to work a full 60-minute learning hour into their day, but they may be able to set aside 10-minutes during their Focus Time for a brief lesson. Clockwise creates Focus Time and blocks periods for uninterruped work which can help employees prioritize training lessons.

Bite-sized content is far less burdensome than hours-long, synchronous sessions, particularly if your remote team works across different time zones. Training platforms like Lessonly and Bridge are helpful tools for distributing training lessons.  

2. Keep it interactive and engaging 

Remote work leads to increased screen time, leaving employees feeling exhausted and unmotivated. Since cross-training will likely require additional screen time, making the most of that time is essential. Find ways to incorporate interactive elements into the training, such as real-time quiz games and other contests. Keep training engaging by making it fun and providing breaks if you’re hosting a more extended session. 

3. Train across different topics 

Not all employees will have the same interests, and that’s okay. Build out a training program that spans multiple interest areas and skill sets. For example, you can build in specific business tasks and incorporate training sessions devoted to soft skills such as critical thinking. Solicit input from your teams to understand what topics are interesting to them and build their suggestions into your long-term plan where possible. 

Going forward 

Cross-training remote employees benefits companies and employees. Some of the benefits of remote cross-training programs include reduced costs for businesses, employee growth opportunities, and higher retention rates. When planning your cross-training program, it’s essential to ensure you don’t produce too many generalists or burn out your team. The first step in creating a remote cross-training program is to determine your goals and objectives before diving into the logistical aspects. Successful remote programs are accessible, interactive, and cover various topics to appeal to different interests.

About the author

Alyssa Towns

Alyssa Towns has written productivity and time management content for Clockwise for several years. Early in her career, she dove into time management strategies to effectively manage her workday calendar and 10+ C-Suite officers' calendars across various organizations. She uses her training in change management to write time management, the future of work, and career content that helps people change their behaviors and habits. In addition, she writes about artificial intelligence (AI) and other technology for G2's Learn Hub. When she isn't writing, Alyssa enjoys trying new restaurants with her husband, playing with her Bengal cats, adventuring outdoors, or reading a book from her TBR list.

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