Work-from-home programs have long been popular in contact center organizations for numerous reasons (employee engagement and business continuity, to name two). As a result, Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team entered the current period of social distancing and work-from-home with previous experience in deploying our programs to WFH populations via virtual instructor-led training (VILT). Since mid-March of 2020, all of our in-person programs have been extensively adapted to successfully function in a virtual environment, with considerations from our pre-COVID virtual training experience, learning and development theory best practices, and quick, moment-in-time lessons learned as we navigated further into the new “workplace” norm.

Our team recently reflected on the past six months to review our biggest VILT lessons learned, reflecting not just on how to facilitate engaging online training sessions, but how to design and plan for them as well. This is the first in a two-part series which highlights the most important and impactful measures Challenger and our expert advisors take into consideration when preparing for and conducting each VILT session, as well as expectations (or, in reality, guesses and hopes) for the future of live and virtual training.

For this first post, we’ll tackle something that is maybe so obvious that you’ve overlooked it entirely: session or meeting length. This was one of the first items our officially unofficial “VILT taskforce” considered when adapting our programs more permanently for a virtual environment. For context, our traditional in-person sessions range from 2 hours to 2 full days, so we had some restructuring to do. At first, we made the decision to shorten sessions down to 60-90 minutes, thinking that we’d have the highest participation and concept adoption (and less fatigue and fewer scheduling headaches) by doing so.

The resulting feedback: A substantial number of participants felt an hour was rushed and barely enough time for a session to hit its stride or for discussion to be productive. Our facilitators delivered similar thoughts. Doug Ferreira, a Challenger Sale and Effortless Experience facilitator since 2014, summed it up nicely: “what I’ve found is that if you’re going to create engagement and interactivity, 60 minutes isn’t actually enough . . . it’s a track meet.”

I spent an hour chatting with Doug and two of our other facilitators, Jon Tholen and Steph Auping, about their thoughts on session time, and we ultimately landed on the idea that if you have an engaging facilitator who creates dynamic dialogue and engagement, then 90 minutes to 2 hours really is the right amount of time. To summarize some of their top comments regarding session length:

  1. Consider your audience and topic: You can stretch the time even further depending on the audience (such as when you are engaging with leadership-level stakeholders about strategic decisions). Furthermore, 60 minutes CAN be the right length if you adjust your content accordingly. The Effortless Experience team still hosts some sessions that are just 60 minutes, but we’ve reduced the amount of content we cover in those sessions to ensure we’re maximizing opportunity for discussion and audience engagement.
  2. Use breaks effectively: Admittedly, breaks in a training session are as much art as they are science. An experienced facilitator will flex the agenda to meet the mood of the room…and it’s much easier to read a room when you are in-person. However, encouraging participants to turn on video can help in this regard; not only are they more likely to engage in general, but the facilitator will be able to see when people start to get restless.
  3. Set expectations appropriately: As Steph put it during our conversation, “seeing a meeting invitation on your calendar for something over 2 hours feels daunting – regardless of how engaging, informative, or enjoyable it is.” So be sure to include an agenda (that features breaks!) to help your participants know what they are about to experience.
  4. Scheduled practice sessions for new users: Session length can only work if you aren’t spending the first 30 minutes of the meeting troubleshooting. Many learners are new to virtual training, and even if there is some familiarity, it seems the platforms are adding bells and whistles every two weeks. Therefore, it doesn’t hurt to set up an “orientation” for participants a day or two in advance of your VILT session to iron out the technical kinks.

We adapted based on this feedback and early experience, and the majority of our program session content is now delivered in 90-minute to 2-hour sessions, with audiences made up of leaders attending sessions between 3 and 4 hours. Leaders, for what it’s worth, frequently communicate that they actually could have used more time for discussion.

Stay tuned for the next blog in the Virtual Download series in which we’ll discuss establishing ground rules, because the world of virtual training definitely isn’t a free-for-all.

Thanks to our advisors Doug, Jon, and Steph for weighing in and providing their expert advice throughout the series.

Emily Campbell

Emily Campbell is an Associate Manager with Challenger’s Effortless Experience™ team. In her role, Emily helps client organizations implement Effortless Experience programs designed to help companies grow in their journeys to becoming low-effort customer service organizations.