Fostering Training and Development in a Remote Work Environment, with Adam McDaniel

Gabriela Molina

Adam McDaniel is the owner of the Apex Performance Group and the host of the Learning Evolution podcast, a podcast devoted to helping you get better results with more engaging and effective training.

Adam McDaniel

Read the transcript

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. I am your host Luis in this podcast that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Adam McDaniel. Adam is the owner of the Apex Performance Group and the host of the Learning Evolution podcast, a podcast devoted to helping you get better results with more engaging and effective training. Adam, welcome to the show.

Adam:

Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Luis:

It’s my pleasure to have you. So did I miss anything in my intro? Would you like to add anything, please?

Adam:

No, I think that’s a good summary.

Luis:

Okay. So let’s begin as I am want to do by asking about remote work. Specifically your experience with remote work. How did you first collide with the reality of remote work and how did it shape your career?

Adam:

That’s a great question. And I had worked for a very large Fortune 20 in the US for about 15 years, starting in the mid 2000s. And when I started, everything was very brick and mortar based, working in large offices and working with the people in the area that you worked in. And then starting around 2008 or ’09, at that time I was in the training space and I was a trainer of frontline employees and leadership and most of the people at that point I had trained were in the building that I worked in. And then I started training remotely and it was largely for large company impacting projects and to do this thing … Anyone in the training space knows these things called T3s or train the trainer sessions. So I would support people across the organization outside of just the building I worked in.

And at that point, I believe we were probably using an early version of WebEx to just do virtual instruction. And that evolved over time to where starting probably about 10 years ago, I started really supporting offices outside of just the one I was in. And then in about 2015 or ’16, I started supporting global offices and there was a mix between traveling to those offices all over the world in Asia and Europe and so on, but also supporting them remotely because I couldn’t be gone all the time. And that remote mix started really shifting over time just because it allowed more always availability. It also allowed for cost savings and it allowed us to deliver solutions faster to the sites rather than having to be there in person. And then obviously I think we all experienced the changes starting in 2020 when the pandemic hit, but fortunately I had those years of experience that allowed me to be a expert in that area for the company I worked for at that time to help them pivot from full in-person support to full remote support in about two months once the pandemic hit.

Luis:

All right. I actually have a dark secret to admit. I need to admit that even though I have a podcast that’s all about remote work and also obviously I advocate for remote work, I am terrible at learning through the internet. I am the person who will buy expensive courses and then not do it. I will sign up for webinars and then not attend. And I used to be just a stellar student. When I had to go to the terrible inconvenience of going to a building and sitting my backside on a chair and look at the whiteboard for one hour, 90 minutes, two hours, whatever, entire afternoon, I would actually leave with a block full of notes. I would learn stuff, I would try. And now I don’t. Actually, online learning has been a massive, massive fail for me as a student. So what’s wrong with me?

Adam:

I would say nothing is wrong with you and there are probably more people that are like that than we would like to admit. I’ve worked in variety of training roles for over 15 years and I absolutely despise most if not all e-learnings and virtual learnings. And I think the reason why a lot of us don’t learn well in that way is because first off, it’s not engaging, second off, it tends to be very passive. And what I mean by that is we’re sitting there listening to someone either talk or demonstrate something and we’re not really getting a lot of hands on practice in a lot of those trainings. And then third, there’s similar problems that exist between virtual learning and in person learning. And one of the reasons why my podcast and my business is called Learning Evolution, I’m trying to have us evolve past these old ways of learning.

The modern world, not only do we have technologies that help us to learn and reduce the need to learn a lot of things, but also there’s just too much information and things change too fast these days that I don’t think we can learn and become experts in everything the way that our parents or our grandparents could have 50 or 100 years ago. So I think learning has to evolve and a lot of that just comes to, we can’t just lecture and expect people to learn in those old ways. And virtual just highlights that even more than the in person did that we were doing prior to the virtual shift over the last 10 to 20 years.

Luis:

Yeah. So you did name your podcast Learning Evolution. So what do you envision as this evolution? What do you think is missing on the current online learning? Maybe not platforms, right? Because platforms is very strict, but just in the way that teachers are teaching online right now, what is missing?

Adam:

I like that you said teachers because a lot of us associate adult learning with child learning and it’s all really built on what schools do and what universities do. I don’t want to get too much into the history, but for anyone who’s interested in looking up, this has been going for almost 200 years now. Our modern education system was built in Prussia, which was a region of Germany back in the mid 1800s. And they built this education system that essentially was not focused on educating people, it was focused on creating good obedient citizens that were going to be good factory workers. And that worked fairly well for a lot of countries up until the mid 1900s. Like I said, our grandparents generation, when they had very simple jobs, they got to go to high school, get a job and work that same job for most of their lives. It was fine to have this very simplistic education system where you were obedient and listening to the teacher, but it started breaking down in the mid 1900s and it’s only gotten worse over the years.

Luis:

I’m not going to get on my soapbox because this will bring the podcast way off topic, but I definitely hear you. I am on record as saying that I think that the main reason the educational system exists today as it is, is just because we can’t afford to have millions of teachers unemployed because they are unnecessary. So that’s my main unpopular opinion. That meme with the guy with all the swords pointing at that, that’s what lands me on this spot.

Adam:

I think some of it is the way we’ve always done things and there are entrenched, I like to call them gatekeepers. But whether they be things like teachers unions or large industry organizations or whoever they may be, they have a benefit of keeping things going the way that they’ve been going. And I think we need to evolve. And I’ve very consciously used the term evolution because if you think about the process of evolution, you keep what works and you get rid of what doesn’t and you change in order to become better than you were before. So going back to your question, what do we need? Well, first off, I think we need less formal learning. Having worked in corporate spaces at both Fortune 20 and at startups and really everything in between as well as consulting a lot of businesses, I’ve seen that a lot of people think that the solution to a problem is more education.

And that means a course, that means a class, that means a certification or maybe a degree. And those things have their place. I certainly want a surgeon or a pilot to have received a lot of formal instruction. But if we think about a lot of knowledge workers today, people who work in offices and really what a bulk of white color workers do, you do not have to know everything about a certain subject in order to perform well in your job. A lot of times you just need access to the resources that can help you to answer your questions and then a support mechanism for when those things don’t answer the question.

Luis:

So can you go a bit deeper on that? So as someone promoting education, promoting online education, what do you see as your job to provide in a more structured manner?

Adam:

And I don’t like to say that I provide education. In adults, a lot of times it’s called training, but even I consider what I offer called performance and development. And I say performance meaning let’s help people to do their jobs better. And then development is a long term thing that a lot of times gets reserved for management type roles. But I think people in the training space can help with that too. So it does come down to making sure people have those resources, those support channels, those mentorship or collaboration type relationships. And then also when you offer training, make sure it helps people to do the specific things they need to do. You said that trainings before that you have hard times focusing on them, but a lot of times that might be because it’s not relevant or it’s not delivered in an engaging way for you.

Luis:

Yeah. I’ve had very different situations. I’ve had courses where I … Well let’s say a book. I want to learn a subject, I pick up a book. I find the book really enjoying, inspiring, even it gets me thinking about the topic, about the subject matter. But I finish the book and I’m like, “Huh. Yeah. So now what? Where do I start?” And then I find that a lot of courses are the opposite of that book where they tell you how to turn the knobs, they tell you go this, you click this box, you use this brush, you use this tool, et cetera, but it doesn’t really give you a way to think about what you’re doing. So that’s something that I’ve personally felt challenged in the past. But this is not about me of course. This is about helping your teams, your online teams, your remote teams develop. And you used a great word, self development. Helping your teams develop in an online scenario. So for people that are leading remote teams or distributed teams, however you’d care to call it, how do you think leaders should go about promoting the development of the people working for them? What are some key things that they can do and ways in which it’s productive to do them?

Adam:

Absolutely. And I think you gave a good highlight there when you talked about the book scenario. Books generally take a long time to read and you end up with all these pieces of information, but maybe not as much of an ability to act upon that information. So when supporting people, and this is true for both in person and remote, but probably even more so for remote, provide information in shorter bursts. So you don’t have to give that 60 or 90 minute … I mean I’ve been to four hour, eight hour trainings. You don’t have to give this longer session that gives everything about a subject. You can give things that just are on one topic. Maybe you’re teaching people how to use Excel or Outlook or Slack. You give them things in smaller, more digestible bites so that they can go implement those. That’s thing one is give people things in smaller pieces. Thing two is bring the learning closer to the job. Most people don’t want to step away from their work to go do learning or development. And so if they have access to things that are closer to their work, so things that they can … Especially if it’s something that’s technology based or process based, if they can access that information right on the job, that’s great.

Let me go get the barking dog because I don’t want her to keep going the whole time.

Luis:

That’s fine. This is a animal friendly podcast.

Adam:

I have a golden retriever who gets separation anxiety sometimes.

Luis:

I have a cat here as well. So this is a very pet friendly podcast. Do go on.

Adam:

Cats tend to not be quite as noisy as dogs. But I think I was talking about bringing things closer to the job. And so technology really helps with that. Whether it be a virtual platform like Zoom. I’m a really big advocate of using chat based platforms like Slack and teams because you can have support channels, you can have Q&A type channels, you can send files, videos, walkthroughs, things like that through that model. And then the last thing is, when it comes to development, I’m a really big advocate of buddies and mentors. Leaders definitely need to develop their people, but in addition to the direct leader, the manager of the employee, having someone who’s either a more tenured peer or someone who is in the business that might have done that job previously who can be a mentor and setting up something from the day of hire where that person can help walk them through and give them advice and help them to overcome their challenges. I think a buddy or mentor program within a company or a cohort program where you have multiple people in a group, those things … People tend to learn a little bit better from peers or people they see as similar to themselves versus a manager or someone who is above them that they may not be able to relate to quite as well.

Luis:

Yeah, I can definitely understand that. So if you’re going to, let’s say, advise a company on how to build such a mentor program, where would you start? What are the ground rules for that game?

Adam:

Yeah. That’s a good question. Because a lot of times these types of programs have challenges if you don’t have willing and consistent participants. And so I think that’s the first thing to do is to create the culture of learning and the culture of help within a business. And in order to do that, really you have to get, I like to think of the mid-level leaders on board. So C-suite and above, great. They definitely need to be involved. But it’s the mid-level leaders and it’s the employees that need to see value from this. And that comes down to … Really each company’s going to do it differently. But it comes down to getting consistent, having that conversation early and making sure there’s buy-in to where people see the value in using up their time. Because that mentor also has to take a little time out of their week.

So getting the buy-in from the mentors is first. Second off, I think it’s important to do it from even before hire. I’m a big advocate of when you hire people, to do something along the lines of what’s called pre-boarding, where you’re getting that employee into the culture of the business before day one. And it’s not a lot of work. It’s sending them little videos or sending them information on the business. Letting them just getting involved in the culture and having people say hello to them, introduce them, let them know who these people are as humans. One thing that gets challenged with remote work especially is that old office culture where we would talk in the break room around coffees. And some companies really struggle with that. So getting it involved early is very, very key.

And then there needs to be somebody, whoever that person is, I’ve done this at different roles, but somebody has to be the scheduler or the person ensuring that it’s consistent. Because if you expect each mentor and employee to do this on their own, it’s going to break down really quick. So having some kind of centralized and organized way to schedule it. And it could be biweekly or once a month. It doesn’t have to be too incredibly time consuming. There’s even tools. There’s one that’s in Slack, I believe it’s called Donut, that actually sets up coffee meetings with people. And there are tools that you can use to help with that.

Luis:

Yeah. I’m wondering about how do you integrate that or if you think it’s even a good idea to integrate that with something like company KPIs or stuff like that. Because I know that this is remote work. In remote work we usually say that you need to track it. You need to track everything, otherwise you lose it. If you don’t track it, you lose it. So a lot of remote companies are a bit KPI obsessed. Not really my case. I’m quite flexible in KPIs, but I know that they’re a big deal for a lot of remote companies. And there’s always the fear that, oh, we’re starting a mentorship program, now every new hire is paired with a more veteran mentor. Well, that’s going to wreck havoc into our KPIs. So how do you … Convince is a strong word, but how do you help people understand that this actually doesn’t … It might impact their perceived productivity in the moment, but it’s actually something that they are doing that is part of the work they are doing for the company and that is long term going to benefit the teams and the project?

Adam:

That’s a great question. And earlier I called what I do performance and development versus the more traditional learning and development, what a lot of companies call it. And I think the reason why is because a lot of training and learning and HR teams, they might have KPIs but they’re not necessarily always tied to the KPIs that the senior leaders of the business necessarily care about. And so these should be KPIs but they should be KPIs for the training team, the HR team, one of those. And we can tie it to an existing KPI that I think a lot of companies care about, which is employee churn we’ve seen over these last few years there’s all these new terms talking about the great resignation and quiet quitting. And I just heard the other day quick quitting. There are so many things out … Yeah. Showing that employees sometimes will get a job and then leave very shortly afterwards.

And so churn is bad for every business. Not only is there the extra cost of the hiring and onboarding of new employees, but there’s also the concern with knowledge loss and the waste of time of just continually on ramping new people. Many years ago I worked in the call center space and that’s a space that’s notorious for high turnover and I worked in training and it just felt like we were just constantly bringing new people in because people would leave. Call centers are one thing because of the low cost of employment, but if you’re in a knowledge industry, if you have a tech company or something along those lines, you don’t want to be losing people all the time. You don’t want to have to be onboarding new people all the time. And so we tie these metrics, whether it be a buddy system metric or quality training metric, we tie those for the people who are responsible for them like the training team, the HR team, whatnot.

We tie those to existing metrics that we know the leaders are caring about employee churn and we lower employee churn. Or if the company is doing something like an NPS survey or some kind of employee sentiment survey, we tie those things to make the training or HR or whatever team that is in your organization, we tie that to that and make that team responsible for that metric. And guess what, if you make someone responsible for a metric, they’re going to work a lot harder to improve that metric and we can result in lower churn, less employees leaving, more satisfied employees. And then the downstream effects of that is other KPIs are benefited because you have happier people staying longer and working harder.

Luis:

That’s a good way to look at it. Let’s analyze a bit the problem that … I know that you talked about it before, but I want to take a more broad view of it. We’ve just finished talking about mentoring and about the importance of mentors, but what about larger scale learning opportunities? Let’s say a company wide webinar or series of webinars. I find that there’s a big problem with engagement there along the lines of what I reported at the beginning of the conversation. If you were organizing a large scale company webinar or series of webinars for the employees, what would be the top three things you’d do to ensure that people are engaged and actually learn something instead of feeling that it’s just a distraction from their usual work? Which many times it is. I’ve been to many. Fortunately not my current company, but at past companies I’ve been many times at trainings that were just completely useless to me. Sadly.

Adam:

Absolutely. And it’s a big problem. I’m going to assume that we’ve already taken care of the things we’ve already talked about. So like I said, we don’t want to be doing trainings just to do education. We want to make sure they’re relevant to the employee base. So I’m going to assume we’ve already taken care of all that and the training we’re delivering is something the employees truly need. Maybe it’s a new product, maybe it’s a new process or systems updates, whatnot. Something that has to be delivered. So first off, I think the most important thing is to make a training as short as it can be while still being effective. Too many trainings add too many things into them and then they end up being very long. A few months ago I was coordinating a very technical training for an engineering group and it was something they had to have because it was a system they were going to use to support an upcoming product launch.

So they were very interested in learning about this system because they knew they’d be using it. Well, the person who trained it ended up very disengaging and lecture and we’ll get more to more of those pieces in a moment. But it was also four hours long. And I don’t think it needed to be four hours long. It could have been maybe 90 minutes or 60 minutes. So I advocate shortening things as much as you can while not losing things. Don’t let what’s called content creep, meaning everybody wants more content in there. This stakeholder says this thing has to be in there, this business leader wants that. Be very careful of focusing on just what those employees have to do to be able to perform in the job. So shorten it. And then also within how short it can be, generally our short term memories can only focus for about 20 to 30 minutes.

So if you’re running a session that’s more than 30 minutes, which a lot of sessions can be, try to find ways to build in short breaks within that time. And there’s this concept called processing time where let’s say we’re training something and it’s 30 minutes have passed, usually what I will do if I’m leading a session is to provide a short break, let people reflect, think of questions, take notes if they need to stand up and stretch because we know we’re sitting in these chairs a lot when we’re doing remote work. But build that in every 30 minutes of some kind of break. And not only will it help people to process things, but also if they do happen to stand up, it’ll get blood flowing, help learning out. So it’s shortening and giving little blocks of maybe 30 minutes or so. That’s one.

Thing two, engagement. We could probably talk all day about engagement, but the short thing is get people more involved. Nobody wants to listen to a lecture. Nobody wants to sit there passively while even if it’s someone who tells good stories and they’re an expert, we don’t want to just sit there. So get people involved and if you can’t give them hands on or some kind of application of what they’re doing, at least engage them in the chat box or get them involved in screens, do whiteboarding. There’s a ton of technologies out there to get people involved and if they’re clicking or typing or talking, getting involved, they’re going to be more engaged versus if they’re sitting there while someone’s just talking or demonstrating something. They’re going to go do other work, they’re going to multitask and they’re not going to pay attention. So that’s thing two is to get people involved.

And then thing three is to make the learning more than just the session. And what I mean by that is you can send some of the basic stuff ahead of time. So I’m a big fan of what’s called pre-learning. So before a session, if there’s basic introductory stuff, maybe it’s something you can read or a video you can watch, put it in the invite and not everyone’s going to watch it, let’s be real, but some people will. And that means you can cut out some of that fluff or the background information and then also provide some follow up afterwards so that you can take stuff that’s maybe outside of just that session and either give it as pre-learning ahead of time or follow up afterwards. And that allows you to shorten a session, make it more applicable, give calls to action. Just like we see in the sales and marketing world, training needs calls to action too, where people know what to do afterwards with the information. And so I think taking things out of the session and making it either an activity or learning beforehand or an activity or learning afterwards, those things make the session much more valuable and not just a one off that people probably are not going to remember very much from.

Luis:

Yeah, I find that the best learnings are the ones that are immediately applicable in the work week after the trainings. That is probably one of the best things.

Adam:

Absolutely. People remember what’s relevant to them and they tend to not remember what’s not relevant. We’re barraged these days with messages. You go on TV or the internet or social media and you’re getting messages and marketing and calls to action all the time. And so I think we’ve built these defenses where we tune stuff out if it doesn’t seem relevant and so it’s really hard to break through that and make sure that people want to focus on something and want to act on something.

Luis:

Right. I want to put you a bit on the spot if you don’t mind. And if you have no good answer, just feel free to say, “Luis, I’ve never talked about it so maybe let’s keep that for a round two for another podcast.” But one thing that I’ve been burned many times before with online education is just that the quality, like you said, ends up not being very good. But in our world of internet marketing, everything looks like it’s awesome and incredible, right? It’s very easy to say this person was the best selling other, this person was a successful businessman, et cetera. It’s very easy to throw all those superlatives out there in front of a course and it actually tends to be hard to verify a lot of those things. So if you’re out on the market today looking for a learning experience, shopping for a learning experience, how would you go about doing your due diligence?

Adam:

Man, that’s a good question because like you said, there’s not only a lot of gurus who are offering online teaching nowadays, but there’s also a lot of vendors in this space that claim that their solution or their technology solution is the answer. And so there’s not really a magic bullet that is the answer, but there’s a couple of things that I always look at, I think in order to evaluate if a solution or a person is going to provide value. And one is, are they doing the appropriate analysis to make sure something is customized to my company’s and my employees’ needs? And what I mean by that is you can look at even big vendors, and I’m not calling just these people out, but like LinkedIn Learning for example. And there’s a ton of them. Udemy, Coursera. There’s all these big content catalogs and they have lots of information, but that information may not be customized to my employees.

And so a lot of times they’re just these generic courses that may not answer my problems that my business has. And so if a person or a vendor is coming to me, I want to make sure that they’re able to do analysis to find out what my employees’ needs are and customize the solution in some way, shape or form to the people that I have. And that’s thing one. And thing two, it has to be more than just a course. It can’t just be an online e-learning or it can’t just be a video of someone speaking to a screen. There has to be either some kind of takeaway, some kind of references, some kind of activities, practice, cohort sessions where people can actually ask Q&As and get hands on. There has to be more than just a course because a course is really never going to be enough. You mentioned it earlier. How many courses have you enrolled in that you don’t complete? And we’ve all done that. It comes down to the ones that are more valuable are generally short and digestible and actionable to where you can go do the thing and apply the thing. And so those are the things I’m really looking at. Is it customized to my company’s needs? And is it something more than a course, meaning some kind of application practice hands on that I know will lead to better performance afterwards?

Luis:

Yeah, definitely sounds like something that would be useful because I’ve been to courses like you describe where sure, there’s a Q&A, there are webinars, live webinars even, et cetera, but in all those cases, it was always very targeted to a very generalized audience or to the specific business examples of the person giving the course. I usually joke that there are a ton of people saying you can make money on the internet and the way they teach you to make money on the internet is by teaching other people to make money on the internet. So there’s the internet educational program pyramid scheme I call it.

Adam:

Oh yeah. I love the gurus on LinkedIn that’ll teach you how to have a big LinkedIn profile. But their LinkedIn profile is only big because they’re teaching other people to have a big LinkedIn profile. The online gurus that are selling you on online success, they’re a dime a dozen. And really in the training space, it’s not really much different. I’ve trained trainers, I’ve certified trainers and so on, but I don’t like the idea of just selling that concept. I think it’s easier to focus or it’s ideal to focus instead on how to achieve results, how to drive business performance. And really I think it boils down to how to make people’s jobs easier, how to get them better at the things they do. And it varies by industry and by job, but really everybody wants their job to be a little bit easier and they want to do it a little bit better and then, depending on the person, they may want to learn some new skills to go do something else down the road. Some people may want that, some people not.

Luis:

One thing that I think is magical, really magical, is … But again, you have no idea of knowing if this happens until you actually get on a learning experience and by then it’s already too late. But the thing that I think is the most magical is if you go to day two, you go to day two of the learning experience, and you already had success with something you learned on day one. That quick win I find is magical. If I’m learning to record a podcast. I know nothing about podcasting. And between learning experience day one and day two, I’ve actually made my first 15 minute, 30 minute recording with, I don’t know, my mom’s dog. Something like that. Even that small win. To me at least, that’s massively motivating to continue to learn.

Adam:

And I don’t think that’s just you. I think quick wins are important, especially when learning something big. You’re coming into a new job or a new industry. In the past, I’ve done jobs where there was this very long and in depth onboarding program that might have taken weeks to go through and the newly hired employee had to complete this three or five week long onboarding program before they ever started doing the job for real. That’s a problem. Because by the time you get to day one on the job, you feel overwhelmed and you feel like you have all these things you have to perform. Instead, and what I started doing to modify that over time, is have people learn specific things within the job and then execute on those things. And depending on what kind of work you do, maybe you can give that newly hired employee that smaller deliverable where they can do something by the end of week one, but it’s not really their full job, but it’s something that gives them that quick win to where not only they can feel that sense of accomplishment, but they can apply some things that they learned.

And so I’m a big advocate of splitting your training for people up over time versus doing it all at once. Because I think it does allow for not only the application of what you’re learning, but also allows for those quick wins. And that’s very motivating to people.

Luis:

Yeah, absolutely. Right. So speaking of larger, this podcast is starting to become a bit long, so I want to move on to some rapid fire questions. The questions are rapid fire, but the answers don’t need to be. So please feel free to expand as much as you’d like. So I guess number one, what does your virtual office space look like? What are the apps, tools, browser tabs that you start your day with?

Adam:

That’s a good question. And because I’m working with multiple companies, I have to be flexible on different things. So my office that I have here, I have two different PCs. Or I’m sorry, I have a PC and a Mac and I have different technology set up. But if I give you my ideal, I think Slack is my favorite virtual collaboration tool. I think it just has so many great integrations and the technology is far ahead. I know Teams is used more, but I think that’s just because Microsoft has that suite of services they offer to a lot of businesses. So Slack for communication.

Luis:

Have you tried Discord by the way?

Adam:

Yeah, Discord’s great too. The companies that I work with are not as mobile forward, but I do think in the future having mobile apps like Discord are going to be important, especially as Gen Z gets much more into the workforce. Of the apps, like the phone based apps, I do think Discord’s my favorite over Signal and WhatsApp and Telegram and some of the others. I’m a big fan of G-Suite. I know that there’s a variety of technologies out there, but I just think G-Suite has so much flexibility. For note taking and collaboration, I really like Notion. Notion’s a great note taking app and it’s free for the basic version. There’s another great collaboration virtual tool called Miro, which the simple version is it’s a virtual whiteboarding tool, but it also allows virtual sticky notes. You can actually set up some really great virtual presentations using Miro.

And then for anyone who might do more formal virtual training, and this is probably more for larger organizations, I think the most powerful tool … Zoom is great, but the most powerful tool out there is called Adobe Connect. And just all Adobe products, it’s got a high learning curve and it’s a little bit more expensive, but it’s the most feature robust virtual training tool where you can have really detailed layouts, you can have files built in. I can have background music in my room. I mean, I could go all day on what that tool can offer. So if you’re a larger organization that does a lot of virtual training, the investment in that tool will probably be worth using over a Zoom or a WebEx or a Google Meets or one of the more basic and less expensive tools. So those are probably my big ones. But also I think having a very solid internet connection I think is very important because you’ve got to have consistent connection and low latency when you’re connecting. And then a quality webcam and front lights. You don’t want to look like you’re in a witness protection video with poor lighting in your room. So I think all of those things are really the baseline of what I would say are important for virtual support.

Luis:

I actually, as someone who has looked like someone in witness protection plan in the past, I actually have a good tip for people here, which is specifically if you use two screens, which you should, if you’re working from home, you normally should use two screens, use the smaller screen for the call. And because you shouldn’t be multitasking during a call, you should have no use for the second screen. So open a white shiny browser tab on it so it will blast light into your face.

Adam:

Oh yeah, that’s a good one. You can even use that screen. I like dark mode, but you definitely want to be on the light mode to be able to have that screen as the back light as well.

Luis:

Exactly. Tell me a bit, your remote work routine. What’s a typical day in your work life like? Or if you don’t have a typical day then a typical week?

Adam:

Yeah, I don’t have a typical day. So right now my main project I’m working on, I’m actually doing a little bit of a hybrid environment. So when I do go into the office, which is very close to my house, I don’t commute very long, those are the days that I try to schedule some of my meetings. And I won’t spend too much time on that because this is focused on remote work. So on my remote work days, I do my best to get my real creative work done early in the morning. I wake up early and I like to get things done. I work out and take care of my dogs and so on early in the morning. But then I like to, before there’s too many people that are occupying my time and attention, I like to either work on projects or something I’m creating, something I’m developing earlier in the day because I think that’s very important.

I also make sure I have a sit stand desk and I always try to stand up about every 30 minutes for that same reason I mentioned earlier. Get blood flow going. It helps my brain. So I think that’s definitely a part of my routine. I try to work, if I can, if I don’t have too many meetings, in 25 minute chunks, if I can. Do a 25 minute of focus work and then take a real brief five minute break to step away. And the reason I do that is I found it’s more effective for focus. If I go too long, too hard, I just start daydreaming or losing focus or losing efficiency. So I try to split up 25 minutes of hard work, five minutes of break, and then about every 90 minutes or two hours, I’ll go and step away from my computer and either I do something around the house or I’ll go in my backyard, maybe I take the dogs for a real quick walk around the block.

But I really try to consciously build those breaks in so I don’t get burned out or become less efficient in the afternoon. And then the other thing that I think is really important, and this is for me, I know it’s not for everyone, I try to have more of my meetings in the afternoons, typically. I know we’re doing this in the morning my time, but I like to have my meetings in the afternoon versus the morning time because my brain tends to be more creative in the morning. So working meetings around what my natural efficiency timeframe is, I think is really important for me as well.

Luis:

Yeah, I agree with that. I mean, I have a severe case of Zoom fatigue, so I schedule all my recordings and meetings. I stack them at the end of my day because I know that after I’m done with calls, I probably won’t be good for much else. So I definitely agree to that. I also like your Pomodoro technique. I don’t know if the Pomodoro is 25 minutes or not. Technically I used to do it. I find that it works for me very well for management. Management tasks. For creative tasks, specifically for writing. I feel I’m more productive if I have a good 90 minutes at it and then take a longer break.

Adam:

Yeah, I do use the Pomodoro. There’s a free Pomodoro timer that’s just web based that I use that keeps me on that. And yeah, I think the 90 minute can work depending on if I’m doing a larger project, maybe the 25 minutes isn’t enough, so I’ll do the 90 minute chunks. But I do consciously try to take a step away from my computer break every 90 minutes if I can. I know some people are burn the candle at both ends, let’s go hard all day long. I don’t feel like that’s a very sustainable way to work.

Luis:

I feel that for creative specifically because I’m a marketer and a lot of what I do is content marketing and writing content specifically, that’s a very creative task. I find that it takes me 20 minutes just to get in the groove. So if I stop after five minutes, that’s not going to result in great content, in great writing. But yeah, I can definitely agree that for 90% of my tasks, that’s definitely the way to go. The short focused chunk with a small break in between. So I want to ask you, I guess apart from your standing desk, which you already talked about, what was the purchase that you made in the last six months to a year that had the most impact in your work life quality?

Adam:

Oh wow. I’m going to slightly cheat and go a little bit past the year so this was about 18 months ago. When Covid first hit, and here in Colorado where I live, everything shut down. I’m someone who values a lot, staying active and working out, and the gym’s closed. And so I purchased equipment for a home gym that I have in my garage. That has been such a benefit to my life in so many ways. Not only do I not have to pay for a gym membership anymore, so the money I spent on the home gym is … Maybe it’s about paid off. I don’t know if it is yet, but it will be soon. But then also it’s more convenient. I don’t have to commute to the gym. I don’t have to wait for people. Working at home, I can go do it throughout the day.

So instead of feeling like I have to do a workout at one time, I can go do 15 minutes in the morning. Like this morning I did about 20 minutes before our interview. And then the rest of my workout I’ll do later in the day when I have time. And it just makes it so much more convenient. And sometimes if I’m having a really bad day for whatever reason, and I’m either stuck on projects or just stuff’s not going well, and I’m potentially going to go in a bad mood, I can go out and I can do a little bit of a workout and five or 10 minutes later I feel better. So it’s also a good therapy option for me.

Luis:

Absolutely. I 100% agree with that. I think that the home gym is very underestimated as a remote work tool because it’s exactly as you say, it shifts your mood. It is definitely a powerful tool.

All right. So before we wrap up, I wanted to ask you about what books do you gift out the most? I’m sure that in your trainings you recommend books that sometimes I’m sure you’ve gifted some books to trainees that you engaged particularly with. What were those books?

Adam:

That’s a good question. And you could see, I know we’re on video right now, but I have a lot of books here at my office. I’m a big reader and I think the ones that I value the most, it obviously depends on who the audience is. So for someone who works more in employee development and not necessarily just training, if you’re in management as well, there is something we didn’t really talk about on here, but there’s the concept of gamification, which I think is poorly used far more than it’s used well. A lot of times it’s like video games and leaderboards, but the gold standard of gamification in my personal opinion, is the author, his name is Yu-kai Chou, last name C-H-O-U, and it’s called Octalysis Gamification. And what he does is it’s based on core drives, meaning the things that drive people to go to gaming, like community or a narrative and things like that.

It’s not just the cheap gamification elements. It actually drives the things that get people to play Minecraft for eight hours or World to Warcraft for 12 hours or whatnot. And I found a lot of success from the methodology integrating it in both training and workplaces. And so that’s definitely one of them. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Yu-kai on my podcast and he’s great. So that’s one. The second one that I’ve gifted the most is called Atomic Habits. I know it’s popular in the business world. I believe James Clear is the author of that one. And that one is really good at helping you to integrate good habits into your life and to get rid of bad habits in your life. And it’s very actionable. I found a ton of value from that one. And then I’m just going to double check. The last one is the book called Influence by Robert Cialdini.

It’s an older book. I think it was from the ’70s or so. But it goes over six techniques to help influence people. And for someone who’s in a role … Maybe you’re not in senior leadership at your business, you’re someone who’s like me where you have to create influence, but you don’t have the title or the senior leader position in order to do that, it’s how to get people to do things you want them to do without you having direct authority over them. And it’s things that I think we’ve all heard in the marketing or sales world. Things like social proof. If you help one leader out, well then the other leader who’s competitive with them might want to do what that one leader did. Or it’s things like just being friendly. And I think a lot of people in the business world just focus so much on the business and not around the relationships and the friendly aspect. So Robert Cialdini’s Influence is also another one that is one of my favorites that I’ve given out plenty.

Luis:

Awesome. Okay. Thank you for the recommendations. I own Influence and I definitely have loved Atomic Items, but the first one I’m definitely going to check out. And of course we’re going to have all of these in the show notes so that the listeners can check them out as well. So before we finish, Adam, I would like you to tell people where can they continue the conversation with you? Where they can reach out? Where can they find more about you and your business and what you do?

Adam:

Absolutely. Well, the social platform that I’m most active on is LinkedIn. And I don’t know if there’s multiple people with my name, but I am Adam-McDaniel, and I think I was able early enough to grab that one. And so I’m very active on there. I engage with business leaders and learning professionals, and I post a lot. And also that has a link to all my other stuff as well. And then my podcast is called Learning Evolution. We just rebranded recently. But essentially we have guests on, and then we have shorter, more actionable episodes where I talk through very specific things that people either in the learning or management realm can do to help develop their employees better. We usually post two episodes a week on Learning Evolution. And then my website, if you want to contact me directly, is bettertraining.biz. And that has a little bit more information about what my business does and what I can offer to other companies.

Luis:

Got it. So yeah, that’s a wrap. Thank you so much, Daniel. Thank you so much for being a guest. It was a lovely conversation. I’m grateful you could come.

Adam:

Yeah, it was great speaking with you Luis, and I appreciate you having me on. Thanks.

Luis:

Yeah, same here. And I also appreciate you listeners for sticking around for almost 200 episodes of the DistantJob podcast. It’s a pleasure having you in this podcast about building and leaving, also learning today, remote teams. See you next week.

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners and the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convince to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that, again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

Online education has significantly increased after the pandemic. Companies started offering remote training sessions, webinars, and conferences instead of returning to the traditional onsite models. However, while remote learning has many advantages, it continues to become a challenge.

During this episode, Adam McDaniel shares why the current education system and the way courses are dictated should change. He also gives strategies to make trainings effective in remote work environments, steps to make engaging webinars,s and why mentor programs can highly benefit remote teams.

Highlights:

  • Insights about online learning
  • Why the education system needs to change
  • Performance and development as a new way of education
  • Strategies to make trainings in the workplace more effective
  • Why mentors bring a lot of value to the workplace
  • How to build a mentor program
  • Tips to make engaging webinar

Book Recommendations:

 

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up every Friday!

 

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