The Need for Structured Virtual Managers Training Is Now

ATD research highlights the need for organizations to better develop their virtual managers

With remote work looking like a more permanent trend, organizations must ensure that their managers are prepared to manage a virtual workforce, according to the Association for Talent Development’s new research report Developing Virtual Managers: Driving Excellence From Afar, which is sponsored by Allego.

At the average organization, 77 percent of managers were virtual by the end of 2020, compared to 21 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizations that provided a fully structured training program for virtual managers were significantly more likely to be high performers than those that only provided some individual courses or assets or did not provide any training at all.

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In an interview for the report, Mies de Koning, director of organization development and learning at The Rockefeller Foundation, said structuring these programs to become “inductive and reflective” is key to their effectiveness. “There should be a continuing cycle of sharing information and knowledge, applying that knowledge in practice, and asking questions and reflecting about the experience,” he explained.

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Key takeaways from the report include:

  • Participants considered team building the most challenging general management capability for their organizations’ virtual managers (63 percent rated it as highly challenging), followed by coaching (56 percent) and performance management (55 percent).
  • Fifty-six percent of organizations offered training and development programs specific to virtual managers. Another 27 percent of organizations had plans to begin offering such a program.
  • Among organizations that offered this training, 75 percent trained their virtual managers on how to conduct effective virtual meetings, 70 percent trained them on using specific virtual communication and work technologies, and 46 percent covered monitoring information security in a virtual environment.
  • Forty-eight percent of organizations that offered virtual management training did not evaluate its effectiveness. Among those that did, the most frequently used evaluation metrics were overall team performance on key performance indicators (25 percent), self-assessment by managers (23 percent), and team employee engagement or job satisfaction.
  • Twenty-seven percent of organizations overall provided ongoing learning on virtual management skills throughout the first year as a virtual manager, and 22 percent of organizations provided ongoing learning on virtual management skills beyond the first year as a virtual manager.

Organizations that provided ongoing learning on virtual management skills during their virtual managers’ first year managing in a virtual environment were also significantly more likely to be high performers. According to Mechelle Roberthon, vice president and director of talent development at Home Bank, this ongoing learning is key because “extended efforts nurture the confidence to lead well, virtually.” The goal, she said, is to send the message that “the organization is invested in their effectiveness and their leadership development.”

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