Woman working remotely in a modern office with red brick walls. She is attending a webinar on her computer as there are faces visible on her monitor and she has a notebook and pen on her desk as if she is taking notes.
Image: © Andrey Popov/Stock.adobe.com

How should employers provide upskilling and training to remote workers?

29 Jun 2023

Remote working has changed how workers and employers approach learning, development and career progression. But this is not a bad thing, just something to adapt to.

It’s no secret that employers who emphasise upskilling and reskilling for their staff tend to be better, more attractive companies to work for. But what happens when some of these staff are working remotely? In recent times, remote working has arguably become as big a draw for workers as career progression opportunities. Companies offering neither or only one are potentially losing out on ambitious people who will go elsewhere.

But the logistical questions around facilitating learning and development schemes for remote workers remain – or do they? SiliconRepublic.com asked some of the larger employers in Ireland about how they have been dealing with providing career development opportunities for their remote employees. While some of the companies we spoke to admitted that it took a little bit of trial and error to keep everyone happy, it is possible to cater to remote workers and ensure they can progress in their careers.

Experimentation for best implementation

“The transition from remote to hybrid working has involved a certain amount of experimentation to determine what delivers the best impact,” said Torunn Dahl, Deloitte’s head of talent, learning and inclusion. “From a formal learning perspective, we are very deliberate in selecting whether a programme should be delivered in person or remotely. We tend to avoid hybrid as it has proven to be an inferior experience for everyone involved.”

Instead, Deloitte typically delivers a lot of its remote learning programmes via its new Career and Growth online platform. “Our people can identify learning opportunities that match their career aspirations. They can also find out more about how to recognise the experiences and build relationships that will support them in progressing their career,” said Dahl of the service.

“However, most learning and upskilling happens in our day-to-day roles and interactions with colleagues and clients, rather than through formal programmes,” she said. To ensure the company’s remote and hybrid staff can benefit, Deloitte has invested more in “bringing people and teams together to support them in building the connections that will help them learn”.

“We have also invested significantly in our built environment to create spaces that are attractive and conducive to in-person collaboration,” Dahl added.

Soft skills for building ‘resilience’

Since remote working took off there seems to be more of a focus on soft skills as a means of developing resilience, which is something that pretty much all of the employers we spoke with alluded to. According to Workhuman’s global talent development manager, Donna Louise Fitzpatrick, remote and hybrid workers actually require a slightly different skillset from their in-house counterparts. “Remote work demands skills beyond technical expertise – emotional intelligence, empathy and psychological safety are essential for productivity and wellbeing.”

But this doesn’t mean things need to get difficult or that remote employees should be stigmatised. They can offer employers valuable learning opportunities, too. “Embracing the changing landscape of remote and hybrid working is a valuable opportunity for growth,” said Fitzpatrick.

“Upskilling is no longer just about technical competencies; it encompasses developing a growth mindset and a sense of purpose. Recognising the significance of recognition and appreciation, we integrate these elements, including self-paced learning, into our training programmes,” she explained, adding that this helps to create a culture of “resilience”.

Ruth Thomas, head of people and organisational development at Personio, believes it is important for workers and employers alike to be “proactive” in accessing and providing upskilling opportunities.

However, resources must be “accessible, timely, highly relevant and digestible, in order to fit into the ever-changing and flexible ways of working,” she acknowledged.

Lattice growth or ladder growth?

“Creating a culture where employees are able to own their own development is key,” explains Thomas. “Mass personalisation is a sweet spot many companies are chasing – and they can make a start on this by curating ‘learning clusters’ whereby employees can self-select a preferred medium and level of time investment unique to their learning needs.”

Of course, “mass personalisation” of career development and upskilling programmes is tough to implement, and employers are relying on tech tools and online platforms to help cater to everyone. Lots of other companies have introduced something similar to Deloitte’s online careers portal. For Nitro, online learning is facilitating what employee experience business partner and L&D programmes lead Alice Brady calls “career lattice growth”.

The company offers a number of different “remote-accessible” programmes for upskilling. According to Brady, this meant Nitro had to “introduce more technology and new tools to facilitate remote work – and that required employee training on how to use those tools effectively to manage their workloads and teams from a distance.”

“Nitro’s learning and development programme emphasises career lattice growth instead of career ladder growth,” she added, before explaining: “A lattice program is more flexible and allows employees to use their skills and experience in various ways. Part of our career lattice approach is the development of soft skills. During the shift to remote work, we prioritised courses that develop those skills, such as communication, coaching, conflict resolution and others.”

Frequent touchpoints and common sense

The focus on soft skills and personalisation benefits remote workers on those occasions when they need to collaborate in person with their colleagues. Viatris’s head of HR in Ireland, Aishling Goulden, thinks that while every effort should be made to ensure training is accessible for remote workers, in-person meetings should not be completely discarded.

“We don’t underestimate the value of having regular in-person connections by meeting at the office or even off-site somewhere. The key is making sure time is made for frequent touchpoints.”

But these connections can be quite easily incorporated into regular day-to-day meetings too, so that remote workers don’t feel alienated.

“Spending regular quality time on manager-employee communication and connection is essential along with ensuring your team is effectively engaged. This can be [done] by keeping their cameras on when in virtual meetings, especially when having meaningful performance management and career development conversations,” Goulden said.

Really, to access and benefit from upskilling courses, whether remote, hybrid or flexible, it’s all about common sense and open communication with colleagues.

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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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