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The Benefits of In-Person Leadership Development for a Remote Workforce

According to a recent study by Gallup, only 23% of remote-capable employees will work in the office full time in 2022 and beyond, leaving a whopping 77% of employees working in hybrid or fully remote settings[i]. This statistic may leave HR directors and training professionals alike wondering if there is still a reason to conduct in-person leadership development training. In fact, initial data suggests in-person training is more critical than ever. There are five major benefits:

1. To fulfill the craving for connection

For more than two years, many individuals have worked with their leaders, peers, and direct reports via Zoom or other video conferencing platforms. Many more have transitioned roles or companies and have undergone the onboarding process virtually. Though there are many benefits to working virtually, there is simply no substitute for meeting a colleague in person, connecting with them on a personal level, and creating a genuine human connection.

Insight Experience recently hosted the first in-person leadership training program in more than two years for a technology company, and we were astounded by what we saw. Not only was everyone on time — they were early! These leaders wanted to meet people and connect. We saw hugs and handshakes and elbow bumps and comments such as: “It’s so nice to meet you in person!” or “You’re so much taller than I imagined.” Bringing people together and intentionally making the space for relationship-building can pay dividends for an organization, while simultaneously feeding the human desire for connection. This is true for front-line workers who may never have worked remotely. These workers value the acknowledgement from their peers and are looking for connections beyond their workspace. Everyone benefits from the intentional space for growth. Leadership development training provides the perfect opportunity to bring people together to connect in person and fulfill that need.

2. To promote cross-organizational networking

Not only does in-person training facilitate the interconnection of team members, but it also facilitates relationship-building across the organization. Many cross-functional relationships and conversations in a virtual environment are based on problems: You may reach out to your peer in a different part of the business only when there is an issue that needs to be solved. There is less opportunity in a virtual environment for more informal relationship-building, which is a powerful lever for building cross-organizational trust and alignment.

Recently we heard a story about a pair of individuals who (by nature of their roles) only connected when there was an issue with a product. As you can imagine, this relationship was somewhat tense and left everyone feeling frustrated. However, once these people came together for an in-person session, they were able to bond, get to know each other on a human level, and truly understand that each of them juggles busy (and sometimes even chaotic) personal lives while raising their young families. This in-person session created the space to improve empathy and relationship-building across the organization.

3. To integrate and onboard new managers into the company

Many of the leadership development programs we facilitate and deliver are designed to reinforce company culture (to highlight values and business practices, launch new company-wide initiatives, and/or communicate leadership expectations). Leadership development programs bring people together to have genuine conversations about how the company culture or leadership expectations can and should show up. These ideas become part of the daily conversation and vernacular of the organization.

Beyond launching new initiatives, these trainings may be the perfect opportunity to introduce new employees to the physical office. No matter how robust onboarding is, there is likely some anxiety from most new employees about the logistics and navigation of the physical office space if they have never seen it. Hosting a mixed group of newly hired and tenured managers also facilitates peer learning and guidance.

4. To boost energy in the organization

Now that we are two years into remote working, the term “Zoom fatigue” has become part of everyday vocabulary. Even a small change to this routine in the virtual workspace can be energizing. What is even more energizing is meeting and working with peers to solve problems, discuss challenges, and crowdsource advice and best practices. Creating the space to share stories makes the training practical and accommodates the transfer of these best practices across the organization.

Learning new leadership frameworks is also invigorating. When participants complete a leadership development training program, they walk away with a new network of peers, new frameworks, and practical approaches to apply back on the job.

5. To have fun

There is something magical about a room full of people laughing together. Often, when someone shares a joke or quick-witted comment in virtual trainings, people are muted. If not, enthusiastic responses can create an uncomfortable audio gap. In person, however, these moments acts as a catalyst for bonding and an energy boost.

At a recent in-person training session, the room was a buzz the entire two days. When we asked participants to name their simulation teams, we did not get the usual litany of titles like “All Stars” or “Best Team.” Instead, teams developed detailed acronyms and backstories. They genuinely enjoyed collaborating in person, even on this simple task. At each moment in the schedule that we devoted time for this group to chat, we had to insist they stop to take even a short break, because they were so engrossed in conversation.

If you are contemplating the value of in-person training as you look to the future, do not underestimate the power of physically bringing people together (when it’s safe to do so). These opportunities have the power to boost relationships — and energy — for your leaders across the organization. To learn more about how Insight Experience can help design your next leadership development training, click the button below.

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Krista Campbell
Krista Campbell
Krista Campbell is a Senior Associate Consultant at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.