Can Instructional Designers Effectively Work Remotely, and Should They?

Every day, there seems to be news about the merit of remote work, and at the same time, leaders from the tech industry want employees not to work remotely. And the kicker of it all is that those same company leaders want to work remotely themselves. The hypocrisy is palpable.

And, of course, there’s one study that tells us almost nothing about the drawbacks of remote work, yet pro-RTOs (Return To Office) cite articles that cite the study to no end, saying it means remote work isn’t as effective, period.

The study isn’t conclusive; it is one study against hundreds of studies that show remote work is beneficial, and now I’ve gone off on a tangent. Or have I?

While some studies show remote work can be more productive than being in the office, that’s not conclusive either. The fact is that different roles, people, departments, and companies will work well remotely, while some will not.

While we may never reach the level of remote work that happened during the pandemic, overall, it’s still much more prevalent than pre-2020. My firm opinion (backed by science as much as the study saying remote work isn’t as productive as in-office) is that remote work should be the standard if it can be.

If a job can be done remotely then it should.

This post is about instructional designers and whether they can effectively work remotely. Or is it more beneficial for instructional designers to stick to the conventional in-person approach?

The role of instructional designers is critical in shaping effective learning experiences. But can that be done effectively remotely?

I’ve worked remotely as an instructional designer since 2013, and many have done it well before that. Traditionally, these professionals collaborate closely with subject matter experts and stakeholders to craft impactful educational content.

Is that more effective in a physical space where you can walk down the hall and ask the subject matter expert a question? Or maybe you’re recording audio in a sound booth with a professional audio team (been there).

With some being firm believers in the office and others being pro-remote work, the question remains: Can instructional designers be as effective outside the office as inside?

Or does their craft demand face-to-face collaboration and constant in-person interaction?

This post explores the pros and cons of an instructional designer working remotely and whether the role is more effective in the office than remotely.

The Benefits of Remote Work for Instructional Designers

Any job that can be remote should be remote. It’s better in almost every way as long as the employee desires to work that way. The fact is that no leader should dictate how their employees work. If they do, they cannot call themselves a leader at all.

Remote work offers numerous benefits for instructional designers. Here are some advantages of working remotely as an instructional designer:

Increased productivity

Remote work eliminates the distractions and interruptions commonly found in the office. There are no constant distractions from employees tapping you on the shoulder or running into them in the hallway for a 30-minute talk.

Those chance run-ins that some leaders swear by? Creative ideas rarely happen from them. They’re simply a distraction full of productivityless small talk.

More productive time

This one isn’t just about increased productivity; it’s about more productive time, given there’s less commute time. This often translates into employees spending a bit more time on actual work than other things.

Enhanced work-life balance

Remote work allows instructional designers to manage their schedules and allocate time for personal commitments. This flexibility allows for a healthier work-life balance, increasing job satisfaction and overall well-being.

Because it’s a job that doesn’t typically dictate a specific schedule, there should be a lot of freedom built into it. That means work can happen when it’s best achieved. Of course, there needs to be some flexibility because meetings must happen, and collaboration happens, too.

It just happens remotely!

Access to a global talent pool

By embracing remote work, instructional designers can collaborate with professionals worldwide. This opens opportunities to learn from diverse perspectives, share best practices, and create innovative learning experiences that span cultures and ideals.

Not only does the company have access to the best talent around the world, instructional designers have access to positions across the globe.

Cost savings

Working remotely eliminates commuting costs like gas, parking, public transportation fees, etc. Additionally, remote instructional designers save the company money on office-related costs like rent, utilities, and other office expenses.

There are many aspects of remote work in general that are more effective for employees as well as employers. Less work attire is required, and less real estate, too.

Reduced environmental impact

While I’m not sure of the exact breakdown, remote work likely reduces carbon emissions in several ways, for some more than others. There’s less commuting, but each employee is now heating/cooling their house instead of a larger office doing so more efficiently.

But overall, I’m sure the breakdown is more in favor of remote work being less impactful since commuting is one of the biggest polluters on earth. That is unless those people are in New York and using mass transit anyway.

Challenges of Remote Instructional Design

While remote work for instructional designers is beneficial, there are unique challenges to ensuring effectiveness while remote. Not everyone prefers to work remotely, and not everyone can do so.

While I’m entirely pro remote work, I’m also realistic in that not everyone can do it, and not everyone wants to. While leaders shouldn’t dictate how employees work, that goes both ways.

Here are some common challenges faced by remote instructional designers:

  • Communication: It’s easy to feel left out and under-communicate while remote. Regular touch points must be established with business partners and subject matter experts (SMEs) to ensure collaboration and communication actually happens.
  • Building rapport: Some might struggle to build strong relationships with team members and stakeholders.
  • Time zone differences: Working remotely often means collaborating with individuals across different time zones. Instructional designers must be mindful of these differences and how they affect meetings and other collaborations.
  • Technical difficulties: Remote work relies heavily on technology, making technical issues a potential roadblock. If you’re not at least somewhat technical, there’s a good chance remote work will be difficult with no IT help readily available.
  • Maintaining motivation: Working remotely requires self-discipline and motivation. Instructional designers must find ways to stay motivated, set goals, and establish a routine that promotes productivity.

All of these challenges are definitely challenges that must be overcome. The good news is that they can be overcome by most. While some people don’t have the skills necessary to work remotely, that’s something that a little self-awareness can help with.

If you think you can stay motivated but can’t, that’s on you and isn’t an issue with remote work. When I worked in the office, there was less work getting done than happened remotely.

Just because you can see someone doesn’t mean they’re working. It’s easy to fake it, and many employees rely on how easy that is, and because leaders can see them, they are fooled into acquiescence. This is a leadership and employee issue, not a remote issue.

Ways For Instructional Designers To Work Effectively Remotely

With some basic tools and strategies, instructional designers can work remotely effectively. This section will help you, as an instructional designer, learn to work more effectively remotely. With a few simple tools and strategies, it’s not that hard if you have the underlying motivation and drive.

I’ve been working remotely for over a decade and feel more motivated and effective than ever in the office. There are numerous strategies to work remotely effectively.

Let’s take a look!

Leverage Technology for Remote Collaboration

These are some key technologies that can enhance remote collaboration:

  • Conferencing tools: Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet facilitate face-to-face communication, allowing instructional designers to connect with stakeholders in real time. Video or not, these tools make it easy to meet on a regular cadence.
  • Project management software: Tools like Trello or Asana help instructional designers organize tasks, track progress, and collaborate seamlessly with team members regardless of their physical location.
  • Cloud storage solutions: Services like Google Drive or Dropbox enable instructional designers to store and share files securely, ensuring easy access for all collaborators. Heck, if you have a Microsoft 365 subscription then you have OneDrive already, take advantage of it.
  • Virtual brainstorming tools: Platforms such as Miro or Mural allow you to brainstorm, collaborate, and visualize ideas together. You can share ideas better with stakeholders and SMEs with these tools. And yes, Microsoft 365 does have tools for this; they’re just not always the best.
  • Learning management systems (LMS): While a company can get away with not having an LMS, they simplify delivering digital training solutions to employees remotely.

These are the beginner packages of technology, and most of them are generally good for remote work for any role. There will also be role-specific tools such as Articulate Storyline, Snag-it, Camtasia, and more.

The more familiar you are with the tools, the better you can put instructional design theory into practice. It’s easy to overcome the challenges of distance and working together with all your business partners with the right tools.

Maintaining Communication and Collaboration

Effective communication and collaboration are essential for remote instructional designers to succeed. You’ll likely drift away and feel cut off if you’re not talking to someone regularly.

Not a day goes by when I’m not on an impromptu call or have a scheduled touch-base with a client. Here are some strategies to maintain strong connections while being remote.

  • Regular check-ins: Schedule regular meetings or check-ins with stakeholders to discuss project progress, address concerns, and ensure alignment. This could be multiple times a week, weekly, every fortnight (dusting off my British English), or it could change depending on the project’s demands.
  • Clear communication channels: Establish clear communication channels, such as email, instant messaging platforms, or project management tools. Ensure everyone is on the same page about using them and knows how to use them. Nothing is less collaborative than talking into the ether.
  • Document sharing: Use cloud storage solutions to share project-related documents securely. This allows everyone to access the latest file versions and provide real-time feedback. Don’t fall into the way of emailing copies of the same file back and forth, that won’t help you be collaborate with anyone.
  • Collaborative feedback sessions: Organize virtual feedback sessions where stakeholders can review instructional materials and provide input. This promotes a collaborative environment and ensures that all perspectives are considered.
  • Active listening: Listen to stakeholder feedback and incorporate their suggestions into the design process. This demonstrates a commitment to meeting their needs and fosters a sense of ownership in the final product.

Whether you’re working remotely or in an office, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be meeting with others regularly. It doesn’t matter whether you’re remote or not.

Sometimes, it’s easier to meet remotely than in the office. No dealing with finding a conference room, scheduling, waiting for the group before you to leave, or any of that garbage. Remote work is so much easier to get the right stuff done.

Adapt Instructional Design Processes for Remote Work

There’s not a massive shift in the process from working in an office to working remotely. While you can’t sit in a conference room with a colleague drawing pictures and bouncing ideas off each other, you can get close with the right technology and strategy.

I don’t have a list for this one. It’s the same process whether you’re remote or in the office. Be sure you have a good process and stick to it. We use the ADDIE model in our special way, and we have other processes to help us create amazing technical training for the workplace.

Create Remotely For Remote

You may also be designing for remote workers because you’re an instructional designer learning about effectively working remotely. Be sure you’re creating the best solution for the goal of your project.

The right solution doesn’t mean it should be digital training because you’re remote. Your audience will dictate your design, requiring a thorough needs analysis and a good understanding of your audience.

Know your audience and the project needs and create specifically for the needed outcome.

You can consider more traditional ways of training employees or go the modern route. Whatever solutions you design, there are many options, and every project will dictate what you choose from video, gamification, social learning on the enterprise social network, eLearning, or whatever.

You should design for remote employees if everyone at your company is remote. If they’re not, then take that into account also. Your audience comes first, and sometimes, you need to be their voice when working with stakeholders and SMEs.

Be Flexible and Accountable

A key challenge of remote instructional design is finding the right balance between flexibility and accountability. Here are some strategies for achieving this balance:

  • Clear expectations: Clearly communicate project expectations, deadlines, and deliverables to everyone involved. This ensures that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities.
  • Regular check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins to track progress, address challenges, and provide support when needed.
  • Goal setting: Set clear goals and milestones for individual projects or tasks. This helps you stay focused and motivated while ensuring accountability.
  • Continuous feedback: Provide ongoing feedback to everyone on the project and ensure a clear route to provide feedback easily. Sometimes, it’s nice to send a little pat on the back to a colleague, too. Small things do help.
Praise being sent to a teammate with Microsoft Viva Engage.

Ensuring you’re accountable for communicating and getting work done helps make remote work more seamless. It shouldn’t be much more complicated than working in the office.

The Future of Remote Work for Instructional Designers

The instructional design field is perfectly positioned for remote work. While some companies try to call employees back to the office, employees aren’t always going for it. Not only that, but those companies are limiting their talent pool drastically.

In the long run, the future of remote work for instructional designers looks bright. While some may return to the office, many more remain remote. It will be challenging but rewarding for those willing to stick it out and work towards being remote.

The benefits of remote work, such as increased productivity, cost savings, and access to a global talent pool, make it an attractive option for instructional designers and organizations seeking their expertise.

Wrap Up

When a position can be remote, it should be remote. Instructional design is one of those remote-friendly positions that can be exclusively conducted remotely. With the right people and strategy, remote work will be more successful than in the office.

There are numerous benefits to working remotely and, of course, a few challenges too. But overall, there are many ways for instructional designers to work remotely effectively. That includes having the right technology, communicating well, finding the right process, knowing your audience, and being flexible and accountable.

The office won’t fix poor company culture based on command and control rather than freedom and respect.

The future of working remotely for instructional designers is bright. We’re an entirely remote company and successfully consult with other companies remotely. Instructional design and training design are well fit for effective remote work.

Working remotely with a quality instructional design consultant can be done as effectively as in person. Working in an office is a crutch that those with unsuccessful processes fall back on. The problem is that it won’t improve work, collaboration, or culture in any meaningful way. Unless that is a poor company culture of command and control rather than freedom and respect.

Schedule a free consultation to learn more about our remote training solutions and how they can help your company’s next tech project.

Posted in

Tagged in

Leave a Comment