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SkyPrep Q and A with Ashley Verrill, Software Advice: Using Apple’s Strategies to Train Remote Employees

By Sep Barkhodaee
Published on September 25, 2013

Successful businesses train – be it using traditional means, through an online training software, or a combination of the two. Creating an effective training environment is a challenge in itself for employers training on-site employees. Luckily for businesses training staff on the same campus, the option is always there to review or touch base in person. For organizations hiring new staff based out of various home offices, there is a more distinct challenge in making sure employees are understanding material and actually completing all instruction and coursework. This scenario was outlined in a recent TechCrunch article, which described how Apple engages its remote call center employees, called Apple At-Home Advisors. To learn more about Apple’s strategies and training remote workers, we recently spoke with Software Advice Analyst Ashley Verrill, author of the TechCrunch article, who told us how other businesses might adapt to issues associated with remote employee training.


SkyPrep: The Apple At-Home Advisors are all remote, spread across multiple locations. What are the challenges of training an off-site workforce, and which specific strategies or tools overcome these?

Ashley: The biggest challenges are not being able to physically see whether trainees are completing all of the necessary training (for self-paced work) and gauging whether or not material presented in live instruction is being absorbed. Apple overcame these challenges by continuously engaging trainees throughout lectures. For example, the mentors would ask specific trainees questions throughout the program – sort of like when your teacher calls on you in class. Or, they might just send a prompt to trainees that they just have to click on to show they are at their desks. Additionally, they might ask agents to turn on their onscreen camera for a group discussion – making it obvious to see if anyone had stepped away from their computer. As far as absorbing the material, Apple trainees had to take several tests throughout the program. If they didn’t make the required score, they could retake the test, but if they failed again, they’d be kicked out of the program.

Beyond Apple’s strategies for overcoming this challenge, there are plenty of tools out there to help with managing trainees. SkyPrep’s user management feature, for example, sends emails to trainers, with information about who is logging in and completing their work. This capability would be especially effective in making sure remote trainees are on track to complete their assignments. Reporting tools that show how a user is performing, especially in comparison to the rest of the class, also helps mentors or training leads see where they might need to focus efforts.


SkyPrep: You mentioned that Apple tracks things like mouse movement to monitor engagement of employees in training. Do they also track performance to see how employees are improving and if material is being easily comprehended?

Ashley: Everyone’s tests scores were posted publicly. Also, the whole group could see if someone missed a prompt or didn’t respond to a question that was sent to them. Other than that, the advisors I spoke to didn’t talk to me at all about monitoring their self-paced work, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. It’s very plausible they were using technology to monitor which material trainees were having the most trouble with, then use these measures to tweak content or training to improve the user experience.


Employee Training

SkyPrep: Is the classroom-like practice of issuing tests and homework to remote call center employees a core part of Apple’s training strategy? If so, why is it so effective for Apple, and do you think the same practice would be effective for other organizations?

Ashley: I would definitely say it’s a core part of their strategy. I really think these efforts ensure that trainees are at full attention during the entire training program, because it accommodates varying learner types. Kinesthetic learners, for example, have to actually do something themselves to really absorb the material, whereas auditory learners pick up information simply by listening to instruction. Apple takes efforts to make the learning material fun and engaging by sometimes turning the lecture into a game–when you are having fun, it releases endorphins and makes you want to learn more. They might do a charades kind of format where they role play a certain scenario, and the group guesses the right course of action. Or, they might just ask a set of questions, with the groups competing to get the most right answers.

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