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3 Steps to Promote Professional Growth in Virtual Offices

Prompted by necessity, many companies have revolutionized their recruitment, hiring, and onboarding efforts.

Much of the HR process can be automated, and 2020 pushed companies to react quickly and find new ways of filling talent gaps. However, hiring managers now need to integrate HCM tech and digital team management processes into their day-to-day.

Since more and more companies are adopting a remote-first approach, putting professional growth initiatives on hold until physical office spaces rebound isn’t the best way forward.

Ongoing employee management and professional growth are business necessities, but few companies delved into remote team management technology or stipulated professional growth as essential while we all settled into our living-room-come-office-space. Now it’s time for that to change.

Step 1 Get buy-in for remote growth and training tools

How can HR professionals get the right leaders to back remote growth initiatives? Start by explaining to execs that, because of technology advancements and new ways of global expansion that are continuing to evolve, there are different opportunities in innovation, not fewer.

  • Detail the investment needed from key players in leadership, especially the breakdown of hours per week you’ll need them to set aside for the task. Being up front about your expectations will ensure that commitments made are more likely to be kept.
  • Implement a global learning system that enables relationship building as much as skill learning. Digital activities, such as one-off tasks that require professionals to get on a 10-minute call with someone more senior or junior than them, can foster greater connection. This will also spark different collaborations down the line as teams feel more in sync.

Step 2. Enable leaders to better support their teams

Remote schooling and a greater need for caregiving relatives impacted family obligations in 2020. Simultaneously, many professionals are in long-term isolation without their usual social or support network. Is there a way to step in and support, without creating extra jobs for the already busy HR team?

  • The first step that leaders can take is to communicate flexibility on schedules and provide easy-to-use project management tools so that teams can collaborate, delegate tasks, and hand in deliverables at any time of day.
  • Encourage team leads to set up “drop-in” sessions at different times of day that employees can attend or not. These should not substitute periodic one-on-ones between employees and their immediate superior, but rather should formalize the promised flexible working hours for employees.
  • Leaders are wondering to what extent they should proactively tackle mental health issues, and the answer is: as much as employees wish. This is easy to gauge — let employees drive initiatives by setting up an anonymous vote asking them to indicate types of support they’d like to receive. Make sure leadership follows through.

Step 3. Design digital programs that work for everyone

Part of digital collaboration is videocalls, but these should not become a crutch or your sole route to communication. Moreover, we need to consider the future possibility of hybrid workplaces where employees might be fully or only partially remote. What are the alternatives or add-ons for effective remote team management?

  • Videoconference fatigue is real, so consider which virtual meetings are beneficial and level the playing field for regional teams. Then, identify which virtual meetings tend to drain the workforce and turn them into emails. An interactive alternative to hour-long 100-person videocalls is to ask a different person each time to record a 1-min video summarizing the meeting.
  • Shadowing opportunities rarely occur organically in remote teams, but leaders can still invite employees to sit in on interesting meetings. Difficult conversation to have with a client? Let junior members sit in. Negotiating a contract with a new provider? Simply communicate when they are being invited as a learning opportunity and when they are expected to participate beforehand, as you would on the way to the meeting during in-person work.
  • HR teams might want to champion hybrid workplaces — spearheaded by digital companies like Microsoft, these facilitate flexible remote work schedules and even relocation if employees wish to move within the country. If your teams want to return to their home countries, you’ll need to consider time zones, local laws, and regulations on remuneration. When in doubt, lean on experts in global employment situations.
  • If a company transitions to a partially remote workforce, managers will still have opportunities to identify areas of professional growth via the passive employee monitoring that happens naturally in offices. But how can leaders detect areas of opportunity in those who rarely commute? To some extent, this falls on the remote employee. Both managers and employees need to work together actively and periodically to decide what actions and remote learning tools would help them grow.

It is possible to continue training and collaborating closely, regardless of where employees are based. While all the above points will help kickstart positive remote management, long-term improvements come from trial and error. So, keep the communication channels open and don’t be afraid to rework professional growth plans mid-year. After all, we’re all experiencing this for the first time, so there’s no shame in recognizing where improvements can be made.

People teams know that ongoing professional growth is important for companies’ long-term growth. Once leadership is on board with the idea that this is a necessity, a productive partnership between remote teams and their HR counterparts can begin.