My team is dipping their toes in long-distance instructional design and we’ve been discussing how this is all going to actually work.

When we first started, we had very little contact with our audience. We weren’t able to do interviews with the potential audience, we weren’t allowed to ask questions about performance, we weren’t able to get in touch with SMEs – it was pretty rough. Our demographic is super busy, so it’s understandable that they aren’t able to visit with a couple of instructional designers trying to pry their way into an organization's performance issues.

Over the past half-year, however, new leadership has given us the opportunity to really get into the workplace and talk to people. It’s been great. We’ve been able to see firsthand all of the things that create barriers to performance. We’ve had super insightful side-conversations, eavesdropped on something really eye-opening, met people in the hall who gave supplemental feedback – all the minutiae and interpersonal details that being in the physical work environment should provide. We would have never discovered some of the most important revelations had it not been for us visiting the building in person. It wasn’t until recently that I feel as if we’re actually beginning to make an impact.

Other locations within the organization are seeking our assistance, now, too. This is good – it shows the organization is growing in their understanding of the value of solid, performance-based learning solutions. However, this is where things start to get complicated. We’re on a budget. We can’t afford to fly everywhere to visit remote locations. How do we do decent front end analysis and proper program evaluation if we can’t be there in person?

My first knee-jerk reaction is to say, “Bummer. This is out of the scope of our bandwidth (we’re a very small team). Grow our budget and we’ll be able to give you the help you need.” Unfortunately, I don’t know if that response is actually going to fly here. We’ve been contracted to do a job and now we have to follow through.

Another possibility is to blow our budget and fly out to see our remote customers four times a year. My inner Mr. Spok says there needs to be another way to communicate more regularly and with a price tag that makes much more sense.

Another possibility is to communicate like we live in the 21st century – Skype, email, Slack, telephone, GoogleDocs – all of these offer instant communication if the other side is willing to participate. As I mentioned previously, the clients are super busy and may not have enough time to dedicate to such a time-consuming commitment. However, I think this is going to be the best route. It’s affordable, but we need the clients’ buy in. The first step is that they see the value in collaborating with instructional designers and not just someone who is going to make their PowerPoints look pretty.

My question is:
How have you done long-distance instructional design? How do build rapport with the client? How do you do a thorough front-end analysis without being able to chat with new hires and struggling employees? What collaboration tools do you use to communicate back and forth to be able to get some work done?