While maintaining a remote workforce can certainly have its advantages, one key question is how to keep remote employees engaged in their own professional development. After all, only the agile businesses survive, and that agility depends largely on your employees’ willingness to grow, adapt, and develop.
It’s often difficult to remain invested in your employees when you don’t see them in person every day. It’s also difficult to develop relationships with them in order to establish where they’d like to grow professionally. Here are some ways people managers, People Ops, and HR departments can provide professional development and career opportunities for remote employees.
Why does career development matter?
It may seem strange to some for HR departments and leadership to care about the career trajectory of their employees. After all, if you’ve hired a great graphic designer, wouldn’t you want to keep your graphic designer in the same role? Not necessarily.
Most people want to be challenged, encouraged, and mentored. Stagnation leads to discontent and discontent leads to turnover. And that’s expensive.
It’s also important for businesses to invest in their employees to grow business value. That same graphic designer could take a UX certification class and suddenly be able to offer valuable opinions about web layouts that are likely to increase customer engagement. Helping your team evolve is a smart strategy.
In addition to adding great skills, professional development helps retain culture, prevent burnout, and maintain productivity. It makes sense: No one wants to do the same thing every day. By helping your employees with their career, you’ll also be assisting with their overall wellbeing. That can, in turn, improve the entire culture of your business.
How HR can help employees grow their careers while working from home
If you’re struggling to encourage remote professional development, it’s also likely that your team doesn’t know how to advance as remote employees. This is fairly new territory for everyone, so everything should be approached with curiosity and sensitivity. Here are some great places to start:
Map out the path of development
It’s difficult for your remote employees to feel motivated if they don’t have a destination to inform which path they take. By chatting with your remote employees and gaining an understanding of where they want their career to go, you can help them map out a path to get there that includes necessary certifications, training courses, etc. It may be useful to keep these paths on file so you can periodically check in on your employee’s progress.
Give real-time feedback
Encourage a culture of instant, relevant feedback. Feedback that happens in real time is much more valuable than feedback that happens two weeks after an assignment. Real-time feedback can be provided within the task management platform your team currently uses, or it can be provided during one-on-one meetings or remote shadowing sessions. It’s also a great idea to pair up a more junior remote employee with a more senior one for more immediate feedback and learning.
Reinforce a culture of learning
Walk the walk. If you really value your employees’ development, prove it by setting aside time for them to learn on the job and by providing opportunities to learn that are baked into company culture. These opportunities could include gathering resources for learning in a single place for employees to access and inviting employees to share their development wins with the rest of the team.
Your culture of learning should emphasize employee autonomy in finding learning opportunities and should be reinforced by encouragement. In other words, if an employee comes to you wanting to take a course or pursue an opportunity, they should immediately feel encouraged to do so.
Start a mentoring program
Leadership doesn’t come naturally for most people. And while there are many management classes available online that you can and should encourage your employees to pursue, one of the best ways to learn how to manage is through a mentoring program.
Survey your employees to find out who would like to be mentored. Next, collect the names of senior-level employees who would like to volunteer as mentors. Link up people from these two groups and encourage them to meet regularly over a set number of months. Provide this program along with formalized feedback, and your remote employees will elevate their coaching skills in no time.
Support networking opportunities
Conferences are a great way for your remote employees to gain a lot of knowledge in a short amount of time. Paying for your employees to attend relevant conferences also shows that you’re invested in their future and that, in turn, increases loyalty. These conferences are great for meeting others within the industry and for instilling a new sense of motivation in remote employees who might be feeling stagnant.
Reinforce a remote company culture
If you’re only currently thinking about professional development in terms of on-site learning, you’re undermining your business’s commitment to agility and remote culture. In other words, professional development opportunities shouldn’t be dependent on whether or not they can happen in person. Become comfortable with teleconferencing, using video chats, and using technology to encourage development.
Offer online learning opportunities
If you’re thinking of those terrible PowerPoint trainings from the early 2000s, don’t worry: Online learning has gotten much better. In fact, in cases like Masterclass, Instructure, and Pluralsight, online learning has seriously leveled up. Online learning platforms will often offer individualized learning plans that gamify and incentivize the learning process.
When it comes to internal training, get creative. Think lunch and learns, Bridge courses, and cross-departmental training sessions. These resources provide training and a dose of inspiration. Beyond that, these learning opportunities can develop into fantastic networking opportunities for your team members. Lunch and learns and other training led in real time also allow your remote employees to ask questions and engage directly with the source.
Bring employees into the office
When it is practical and safe to do so, bringing employees into the office can help you get a better feel for their personality and an understanding of what they could be doing later in their career. Bringing employees into the office also gives them a chance for hands-on learning and growth.
Get feedback from employees
The opportunities for online learning are developing so rapidly that it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Lean on your employees for help. Gather feedback to determine what’s working and what can be improved and routinely ask your employees how they want to learn and what they want to learn.
Find ways to improve
Like most things in life, your first foray into encouraging remote professional development may not be a total success. You’ll need to continue reiterating, gathering feedback, and improving. In fact, building a remote employee development program may be your own form of personal development, so take the time to pursue opportunities and to find creative solutions. Once you gather feedback from your employees, you’ll know where your company can improve.
A smart, engaged, evolving company is the kind of business that can weather any storm. When employees are working toward their professional goals, they’re happier and more innovative. That means a healthier, happier business and an enviably happy culture.
Create a performance development plan with your employees to help them grow and develop their careers.