Global HR 10 min

Cross-training employees: Top benefits and best practices to follow

Written by Barbara Matthews
June 21, 2024
Barbara Matthews


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The skills that employers value most in their employees constantly change. To build a skillful workforce, you'll want to offer your team members opportunities for ongoing growth.

One way to safeguard your company's bottom line is to cross-train employees to increase their skills and adaptability.

In this article, we discuss the benefits of cross-training employees and some best practices for doing so effectively.

What is cross-training?

Cross-training means teaching employees how to complete tasks or perform in roles that aren't part of their primary job duties. It can involve learning useful skills in other parts of the company.

Only 31% of employees think their current skill set will be useful in five years. Cross-training helps your team members learn new skills that increase their professional value. Cross-training may even open up new career opportunities for your employees, motivating them to stay with your company longer.

Employees who receive cross-training often have a better understanding of the various roles within the organization. It also improves their ability to collaborate with their colleagues.

15 benefits of cross-training employees

Cross-training makes your workplace more flexible. Here are 15 benefits you can expect from cross-training.

Top benefits of cross-training employees

1. Reduces recruitment costs

You can reduce staffing costs by encouraging current team members to develop new skills through cross-training.

Small businesses in the US spent an average of over 1,100 USD on training new team members. Cross-training existing employees means you avoid the costs of recruiting, onboarding, and training new people.

2. Inspires a versatile workforce

Cross-training allows employees to expand their skill sets and gain diverse work experience. Those who participate in cross-training are also more likely to take on new tasks and responsibilities. Cross-trained workers are also better able to adjust to changing business needs.

3. Increases employee productivity

Employees with diverse skills can step in and fill different roles. Not only that, cross-trained employees can step in for their absent coworkers when needed.

As a result, a company does not need to fill gaps with temporary or contract workers. With cross-training, you're able to build a more productive company with a versatile workforce.

4. Reduces employee turnover

In the US, 12% of new hires say they want more appreciation for their contributions. Lack of acknowledgement can even lead to employee turnover.

Cross-training challenges your staff to build new skills and advance in their current positions. When you compensate your employees who take on additional responsibilities, they are more likely to focus on professional development and grow with your company. Overall, you can expect improved job satisfaction and better retention from cross-training.

5. Increases operational efficiency

To keep up with the business's ever-changing demands, it's important to have employees who can switch gears quickly and adapt to changes in workflows or project steps.

When cross-trained, employees can step in for coworkers when they’re unavailable, cutting downtime and increasing operational efficiency.

Let's say that a large retail store trains its salespeople in both customer service and cashier work. As customer traffic changes, that store can quickly adjust its staffing levels, reducing checkout wait times and improving customer satisfaction.

6. Promotes an agile business environment

Cross-trained employees can quickly take on new challenges and adapt to changes in their roles and responsibilities. They are better equipped to make swift decisions due to their deep understanding of organizational processes. 

Employees who cross-train can easily tackle future challenges and fill skill gaps. The also help build a more agile company.

7. Fosters employee engagement

Offering cross-training opportunities demonstrates to employees that your organization values their personal and professional growth. 

Employees who develop new skills feel a sense of professional and personal growth, which improves their engagement with the company.

8. Improves workforce sustainability

When employees have diversified skill sets, the company is less dependent on those with highly specialized skills. This makes it easier to continue operations during a key employee's departure or a shift in the workforce.

When companies invest in cross-training, they better equip their personnel to handle unexpected changes in the market and other disruptions.

Workforce upskilling trend

9. Boosts collaboration

A great way to advance teamwork and communication in your company is to allow your employees to shadow others as they perform their job duties. This gives them a better understanding of how other areas of the company operate. Cross-training is an opportunity for people from different teams to interact and learn from each other.

10. Increases return on investment

Cross-training reduces the need to hire new workers, thus saving your company money on training and onboarding. Also, keeping knowledgeable staff on hand boosts customer satisfaction and repeat business, leading to a greater return on investment (ROI).

11. Increases employee motivation and job satisfaction

People who are cross-trained become more valuable and versatile, and have better job security. Employees are more likely to be satisfied and motivated when they feel valued and secure in their roles.

12. Helps ‌preserve institutional knowledge

Small businesses in the US invest around 59 hours of training time per employee. Since your employees are already familiar with your internal procedures, they are quick to adapt while preserving internal company information.

Not only that, cross-training helps employees learn key processes and procedures in case a key individual leaves permanently or becomes unavailable temporarily. They can help create a repository of institutional knowledge for current and future team members at the company.

13. Creates internal mobility

Companies that help their employees advance in their careers are more likely to retain those employees. Cross-training employees increases internal mobility by providing career advancement and development opportunities.

Additionally, cross-training helps create a pool of qualified candidates for key positions within the company, making succession planning easier.

14. Promotes scheduling flexibility

Filling in roles at the last minute can be a headache. When there's a shortage of personnel, cross-trained employees can take on different responsibilities. This gives managers more leeway in allocating projects.

15. Increases innovation

Cross-trained employees can approach problems from different perspectives and develop innovative solutions. Exposure to new challenges and situations in different departments helps employees solve problems creatively.

Best practices for cross-training employees

Here are a few tips you can follow to help make sure you cross-train your employees successfully.

Best practices for cross-training employees

Establish specific goals and objectives

Your employees are more likely to remain productive throughout their cross-training when they have clear targets. Set specific goals, and offer opportunities for your employees to reach them. For instance, if your company aims to cut customer wait times by 12%, you could offer bonuses to team members who are training to handle customer support inquiries.

Identify cross-training opportunities

Review the various job roles within your organization and note any skill gaps that need to be filled. This will help you identify cross-training opportunities to help fill those roles.

You can also review your employees’ individual performances to identify their professional ambitions and goals. A performance review can give you insights into their interest in advancing to different roles within the company.

Lighten employees’ current workloads

When offering cross-training to an employee, consider reducing their workload so they have more time to focus on the program. For instance, you can consider determining which tasks are urgent and re-assigning the more minor ones to team members who aren’t being cross-trained at the moment. You can also give your employees extra support and tools to help them better manage their workloads while training.

Choose who to cross-train

Assess your current employees’ skills and competencies to identify cross-training gaps. Identify employees who are open to gaining new knowledge and learning new skills — and have the potential to excel in different roles.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they open to taking on another responsibility?

  • Are they already driven and high-performing?

  • Do they already have basic knowledge of the task or skill?

How to choose who to cross-train

Don't be afraid to use technology to choose who to cross-train. 56% of HR professionals already use AI o find talent gaps and offer individualized opportunities for upskilling. You can use technology to match employees with different roles based on their skill levels.

Use a learning platform

Find the best way to cross-train your employees by trying out different platforms. For instance, there are workshops, online courses, and on-the-job training. If you have a remote or distributed team, consider using a training platform to offer consistent training across roles and tasks.

Offer perks

It's important to recognize and reward employees who have developed new skills and taken on additional responsibilities. Offering perks to employees also shows that you care about their growth and appreciate their hard work.

Staff members who are offered incentives like bonuses, extra pay, or recognition for their efforts may be more likely to participate in cross-training programs for their own professional development.

Loop in your staff

Before launching a cross-training program, your internal team members need to be in agreement of the program and its benefits. For instance, your HR team could explain to employees that cross-training could improve their job security since they can quickly fill different roles and even get promotions. Employees will be more willing to complete a cross-training program when they are aware of the benefits.

You can also gather feedback through surveys to identify any possible fears or questions employees may have. Alleviate concerns and adjust your training material before starting your program.

Collect employee feedback for future improvements

Collecting regular feedback from employees who receive cross-training is a great way to keep your program relevant and useful. Employee feedback can help identify possible gaps in the cross-training program, such as the need for better training resources. It highlights what is and isn't working.

Manage and cross-train your employees with a holistic HR platform

With cross-training, team members become more versatile when handling changes in assignments, staffing, and workflow. To make cross-training work, you need to create a structured program that considers your employees’ workloads.

Consider an HR platform that provides you with a single view of all your team data to track employee information, schedules, and job roles so that you can identify cross-training opportunities. You can do all of that and more with Remote HR Management.

Chat with us today to see how Remote can help you manage your distributed team.

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