About two months ago, the work world suddenly shifted and many of us who once bathed under the florescent lights of an office found ourselves setting up shop at our kitchen tables. We started cranking out work remotely, chatting like pros over Teams and Skype, and attending virtual meetings where there was an almost cheerleader-like air of “We’ve got this” with virtual high fives all-around.
In short, we have been in survival mode.
And when in survival mode, career advancement is temporarily put aside to allow for adaptation to a new environment. But now that we have (at least somewhat) adapted and it’s looking as if a large portion of the workforce will remain virtual for the foreseeable future, it’s time to re-focus on longer-term career goals.
Today’s Focus: Career Growth in a Virtual Office
Employees are a company’s biggest asset and if you want that asset to increase in value, you need to invest it. How do you facilitate career growth in a virtual office? We’ve got some ideas:
Establish a Corporate Culture of Continued Growth
If you don’t already have one, work to establish a continuing education program (“CPE”) within your company. Just because you are working remotely now doesn’t mean your employees should stop working to improve themselves. Let your team know that education is important, that you value skill development and that you want them to succeed.
Make a Plan
Once you have developed a CPE, work with each member of your team to establish individual goals and career tracks. Your company may have certain requirements, but within those requirements, work one-on-one to with each team member to develop a plan that is unique to that person.
Allow for Different Types of Opportunities
Traditionally, continuing education brings to mind conferences filled with informational sessions, trade shows, networking events, and a take-away binder filled with notes you’ll be lucky to have time to ever read. Some people love this format, some don’t. Keep an open mind for different types of educational opportunities. Perhaps Jim would benefit from that traditional conference while Harvey would be better served by having that same time to dedicate to deep-diving into his design program. Melissa might best hone her talents in a lab setting, while Judy will sharpen her skills as a manager by reading and discussing a book on leadership. Have requirements, certainly, but also have flexibility. And remember, in today’s world, many opportunities will be found online.
Challenge Personal Growth
Not all continuing education needs to be career-specific for it to have a positive impact on work. Sure, providing Fred with a day to take a photography class could end up benefiting the company as he learns to look at things from a different angle. But even if it doesn’t directly impact his daily tasks, knowing that you care about his personal growth will likely make Fred a happier employee.
Simplify Internal Processes
Since in a virtual office, Melissa can’t just walk into HR and hand over her certificate of completion, you’ll need to make sure you have other protocols in place. Will your team email proof of their CPE credits? Will they upload certifications to a network location? Is there a form found on your SharePoint site that they should complete? The simpler the process, the easier to maintain with a virtual team.
Virtual CPE Check-Ins
Set up a regular schedule with team members to talk about career growth and their progress towards CPE goals. Ask attendees to come prepared to discuss what they’ve done and what other opportunities might intrigue them.
Share the Knowledge
If what Jim learned at his conference could benefit others who weren’t able to attend, as part of Jim’s CPE plan, have a goal that he’s going to share his knowledge with those people. He’ll earn credit and they will learn without you having to send a whole group to an expensive conference. It’s a win-win.
Don’t Forget You
That whole adage of “lead by example” is true. If your team sees you investing in your own CPE, they’ll see that the company really does value growth and work to invest in their own.
Take Advantage of Unexpected Opportunities
Sometimes growth opportunities present themselves when you least expect them. This pandemic, while full of stress and questions, also brought out some good in human nature and companies, which has led to unexpected growth opportunities.
Since large gatherings are off the table right now, conferences and trainings have shifted to being online. Many of these opportunities are being offered at highly reduced rates or, in many cases, free. Have your team take a few minutes to search what’s out there right now that would help them advance in their career. Without travel costs, it might be that things like industry conferences that were not in the plan before are now manageable. If you need to, adjust CPE plans to incorporate these unexpected opportunities.
No owner likes to see work slow, but if that’s your reality, use the downtime to invest in your people. If Sally has 10 extra hours each week because her project load is down, have her dedicate that time to CPE and career development.
Discover Hidden Talents
Many companies are looking for ways to bond during this work-from-home time. Why not ask your team what talents they have that they’d be willing to share? Donald has a knack for crocheting? Host a virtual Happy Hour with Hooks. Is Shelia’s secret love creating complex spreadsheets? Enlist her help teaching the team that there’s more to Excel than =SUM.
Grow Your People
It is entirely too easy when your team is no longer in a central location to focus solely on what needs to get done and forget about what makes your team special: your people. Make the investment, in time and resources, in those people. Now is the perfect moment.