How We Offer Async Training To Our Fully-Distributed Customer Advocacy Team
At the beginning of this year, we had a chance to explore new asynchronous training ideas for our remote team. Here's how we formatted it and encouraged participation.
How We Offer Async Training To Our Fully-Distributed Customer Advocacy Team
Within the Buffer Advocacy team, we’ve experimented with a few different training formats including live training at meet-ups, training over zoom, lightning talks, and recorded trainings. Training together as a team often fosters a sense of community and feels energizing! In contrast, watching a training video alone can feel isolating, and we hadn’t quite cracked the code on following up with other teammates or the trainer. At the beginning of this year, we had a chance to explore new training ideas for our remote team.
Juliet Chen, a Senior Customer Advocate at Buffer, 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’ve widened our coverage across the globe. We now have teammates who have almost no overlap with each other, spanning from every timezone in the US, to Europe and Ghana, to our teammates in Dubai, Brunei, Thailand and Australia. This means that live training sessions over Zoom have become more challenging to schedule.
When planning the training sessions, we immediately recognized that four live training sessions might not be realistic and it would not be inclusive for the entire team. Asynchronous (async) training made the most sense for us.
But we also knew that many teammates would have valuable input to share with the team and we wanted to capture that. We recognized that there are no “correct” strategies for productivity and organization, so we wanted to be sure to surface different perspectives through this training series.
Also, how could we prevent the isolation people feel when training alone? We also wanted to give everyone an opportunity to interact with each other, feel a sense of togetherness and get excited about the training topics. We needed to find an engaging way to present the information and encourage participation.
To address all of these challenges, we had a few brainstorming sessions and came up with some formatting and participation ideas that we’d love to share with you.
The training format
While we have had one-off training sessions asynchronously in the past, we had never done a series of trainings with a set schedule of participation before. To kick off the training, we posted a short introduction Thread (Threads is the primary tool we use to communicate asynchronously at Buffer) to the team, outlining how it would be presented and how they could participate. We also shared all of the topics that would be covered and a schedule:
Jan 21 - Jan 31: Planning for a productive 1:1 sync with your Advocacy lead
Jan 31 - Feb 14: Keeping up with Buffer communications
Feb 14 - Feb 28: Leveraging performance reviews as your gateway to growth
Feb 28 - Mar 14: Preparing for product launches
Throughout the quarter, we offered a new training every two weeks that was part of the overarching theme of productivity, communication and organization. We hoped this would encourage the team to continue thinking through these topics and promote sharing and learning for several weeks.
Each training outlined any Buffer company or Advocacy team expectations and then the trainer shared strategies, techniques and tips. It was written out in an article-style format without a template or any specific guidelines or rules, which let each of us write in our own conversational style. We also offered screenshots, supporting resources (such as blog posts and articles from others in the industry) and even some fun gifs.
How we encouraged participation
At the end of the training, we opened it up for submissions from any teammate who also wished to share what has worked for them.
We asked the team to follow up on the training in two ways:
- Create their own submission with organization tips or strategies they use successfully
- Comment or share feedback on the training or on other teammate’s submissions
When we asked for submissions, we decided on the following parameters:
- We encouraged (but did not mandate) that all Advocates participate in at least two of the four trainings.
- The submissions could be submitted in written or video format - we wanted to give them the opportunity to share in whatever way felt most comfortable.
- We gave a two week deadline for submissions as we planned to include them in our wiki with the training once the session was complete.
- We asked them to submit right in the Thread so that everyone could see the training and submissions in a single place. We hoped this would also encourage conversation and feedback.
As the training sessions progressed, we saw some incredible submissions from some Advocates who had several strategies to share with the team. Some were very detailed, outlining an entire process, while others were simple (but effective) methods that really added value.
Other Advocates simply added a comment of praise or validation that they also used the same strategies to great effect or learned something new from the training or their teammate’s submissions.
These submissions were added (with credit) to the training when we moved them over to our internal team Wiki and it’s our hope that any new teammates who read these will benefit from the added submissions from their peers.
What we learned
Our most popular training was created by Darcy Peters, a Customer Advocacy Manager, on “leveraging performance reviews as your gateway to growth”. Hearing specific strategies and techniques from a manager’s perspective was invaluable for many advocates.
“Wow, I'm amazed by how thoroughly developed your system is, Darcy! You have thought of everything.” — Julia Cummings
We were excited to see so many Advocates read through the trainings and responded positively throughout each training Thread. We also received great feedback about the training series overall.
“I wanted to let you know that these trainings have personally been soooo impactful. It felt like each one 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
In the past, we’ve identified that many of our teammates learn very differently from one another. Some learn best by listening to a speaker or watching a video, while others prefer to read, for example. This can be tricky when choosing how to best format training for the entire team.
Now that we’ve tried a purely written format, we’d love to experiment with more formats in future async trainings. Some ideas include offering a written post, but also including an audio or video version of the trainer reading the post, or perhaps even including a simple slideshow.
Another idea would be to share an overview, then add bite-size info to the topic each day for a week (like a Twitter thread). We’ll continue to survey the team to find even more ideas on how to be inclusive with all learning styles while also keeping the training creation as lightweight as possible for trainers.
While we did receive a lot of positive feedback, the submission participation wasn’t as high as we had hoped it would be. The inbox was very busy during these weeks and some people were feeling a bit of information fatigue with many new announcements and conversations that naturally happen in the first quarter.
Perhaps another reason some Advocates didn’t offer a submission was that they felt the their own strategies were equal to what we offered in the training. But if they didn’t have many strategies themselves and the training was indeed valuable, we had hoped they would share more about what they might try. We saw a lot of positive emoji reactions, but we still hoped more people would participate by directly replying to the Thread.
With this in mind, we plan to further clarify the “submission” definition to encourage more participation and togetherness. We especially want our teammates to continue to get a chance to share their thoughts and to learn from one another.
For future async trainings, we’ll ask Advocates to to simply “check off” that they’ve read the training, and then also choose one of the following ways to submit:
- Add a new strategy or technique that works well for them
- Or, identify a strategy we’ve presented that they’d like to adopt into their own workstyle and why they think it might work for them or how they will implement it.
We’re also going to explore ways to follow up with the team several weeks after the training to see how the strategies have helped them.
We took a big chance by offering an entire series of async training for a full quarter, but we learned a lot and we saw some great benefits for the team.
Everyone had equal time to absorb the material and to participate, and teammates who wished 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 the training according to what worked best for them.
Lastly, the training and the valuable team submissions were easy to add to our wiki as resources for any new teammates coming onboard after the training session was over.
Overall, we’re excited about the future of async training for the Advocacy team and look forward to trying new formats and submission ideas!
What questions does this spark for you? Send us a tweet!