Woman working remotely sitting in a library with bookshelves and a computer.
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How to take ownership of your professional development working remotely

18 May 2022

Remote working can mean less face time with your colleagues, so it’s important to be proactive about your own professional goals. Here’s how to get started.

Earlier this month, we heard from three learning and development experts about how employers can help employees to upskill while working remotely.

They explained that remote working should not be a barrier to an employer who wants their staff to learn new skills.

They acknowledged that a remote-first approach sometimes means that more planning has to go into learning and development policies. However, workplaces can and should still train and upskill workers when they are remote.

Some tips included using ‘bite-size’ learning to avoid Zoom fatigue and balancing in-person training with online training on a case-by-case basis.

But workers can also take charge of their own learning and development while working remotely. It’s unwise to rely on your employer to take care of everything.

So we asked the same leaders for some insights on how employees can develop professionally when working outside of the office.

Prioritise time to have conversations with your manager

Torunn Dahl, head of talent, learning and inclusion at Deloitte, said that there is “a stronger onus on the individual to prioritise time for developmental conversations” in the world of remote work.

“These are less likely to happen across the desk or walking between meetings, so they have to be scheduled and time needs to be dedicated to it.”

Dahl added that while being remote “doesn’t necessarily change the approach to development”, it will still require “a blend of formal learning programmes, feedback from leaders and clients and learning on the job”.

“There is also a risk with working remotely that people focus too much on efficiency and doing. Sometimes it is less efficient to arrange an in-person meeting but the long-term outcome may be much more effective, as a result of the relationships that get built and the creativity that is sparked from being in person.”

Stuart Curtis, senior director of global talent development at Workhuman, agreed that employees should be having “regular and structured conversations” with their managers regarding their career path.

“Employees who are working remotely should consider the same areas all employees have in terms of their professional development. In Workhuman we consider it to be a right for all employees to have access to development, irrespective of their work location,” he added.

And according to Ruth Thomas, head of learning and development at HR software company Personio, blocking off some reflection time each week is also useful. This time can be used to get more out of your meetings with your manager, so they can provide “honest and regular feedback” in addition to the formal annual or biannual review processes.

What you need depends on the stage of your career

Thomas singled out younger employees as needing a little bit more attention from superiors in terms of learning and development. When working remotely, especially since the pandemic, young people can feel like they are stagnating in their careers. Employers need to keep an eye on this, but workers should be proactive themselves too.

Continuing on from his advice about regular meetings with managers, Workhuman’s Curtis said that the sessions should focus not only on the state of your current career, but on your future ambitions and your “career trajectory”.

“From these conversations there should be a clear development pathway agreed – recognising that coaching, mentorship and peer-to-peer learning are as important as formal programmatic training in their development.”

Deloitte’s Dahl believes that for those starting out in their jobs, building professional competence through technical or functional skills is key. “Most of this is learnt on the job through doing and feedback.” If working remotely, that’s where the regular feedback meetings with your boss come in.

Dahl advised those at the early stages of their careers to reach out to their managers and signal their interest in key projects, as this is sometimes harder to do when remote. She also advised that they “dedicate time to read internal newsletters and/or attend update meetings where they will hear of upcoming wins or projects that they can signal an interest in”.

Stay connected to your co-workers and learn from them

Workhuman’s Curtis said that remote-first workers can sometimes miss out on peer-to-peer learning and may need to find new ways to connect with colleagues.

“This peer-to-peer sharing or on-the-job learning was a great accelerator for professional development, which organisations now have to make possible in different ways – using new technologies and methods of connecting employees to enable them to share challenges and solutions with each other in a safe way.

“I would encourage all employees who are now working remotely to engage actively in any effort to connect with their peers, including any technologies that allow you to ‘meet’ with your peers and have a coffee and chat about your work. The benefits to your professional development will be incredible.”

Thomas of Personio agreed. “Employees should place a conscious effort on building a strong network, staying connected with colleagues and identifying shadowing opportunities where they can learn from others,” she said.

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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