Ready for a truth bomb? We don’t spend enough time talking about employee development.

According to a Gallup report, 87% of millennials see professional development and career growth opportunities as “very important” to them in a job. Yet more than three quarters of employees feel as though they are on their own when it comes to career development. 

And remote work isn’t helping.

A discouraging 31% of employees say their opportunities for growth have decreased since the start of the pandemic. Other research seems to indicate that distributed employees are less likely to be promoted or see their salaries increase, in large part due to misconceptions about how hard they work. 

With many businesses shifting to permanent hybrid or remote models, employees are understandably worried about how remote work is going to impact their career development. 

Here are five ways to prioritize distributed employee growth.  

Set Growth Plans Proactively

Does every member of your team know how to get to the next level in their career? Is their path to growth crystal clear? And do they know what opportunities await them if they succeed?

Employee growth plans are a concrete way of capturing that information. While the exact format can vary, these plans document:

  • Where a team member is today
  • Where they need to get to
  • What it will take for them to get there 

Why is a growth plan so important? Up to one-third of employees who look for a new job do so because they’re bored and want a new challenge. Having a plan in place means they’ll always be striving for something.  

That something shouldn’t always be a promotion. It can be building a specific set of skills, improving in an area of weakness, or being more efficient in their existing role. The important thing is that every member of the team has a goal to work towards, so they don’t feel as though they’re running in place.

Highlighting internal opportunities is also an important element of supporting employee development. Less than 30% of employees are very satisfied with their internal opportunities for career development. This seems to be on a downward trend among remote workers. You should be encouraging your teams to apply for open internal positions that map to their career goals. Or if you think someone could eventually be a fit for a different position internally, be proactive in helping them find courses or certifications to develop the skills needed for that job. 

And don’t leave it to your team members to approach you about growth plans or new opportunities. Doing so can disadvantage introverts, minority groups, and people who may have experienced negative growth conversations in the past. Research has shown that both women and people of color are less likely to push for their own advancement and are less likely to be promoted to management positions. And working remotely often strips many opportunities for management interactions, making initiating these conversations even harder.

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If you want your team to continue developing within the company—rather than outside of it—be the one to start the growth conversation. Give your distributed team members goals to match their ambition and watch them thrive. 

Offer More Access To Managers

One of the reasons it’s hard for employees to take the lead on growth conversations is because managers are frequently hard to reach. Looking at an executive’s calendar feels like losing a game of Tetris—there’s no more room for blocks! 

Remote work has made already-full calendars impregnable. Every small conversation, meeting, or update is now a call, typically booked into a 30-minute slot. This can be really intimidating for team members who recognize that management’s time is valuable and in high demand. 

With that in mind, you should be building access into your schedule. This can take the form of open office hours, daily or weekly team check-ins, and, most importantly, 1:1s.

The 1:1 meeting is an indispensable tool for employee development. It gives every employee a chance to connect with managers on any topic, including growth—but again, managers should be the ones starting those conversations. It’s an opportunity to highlight wins and progress made, and dive into opportunities for improvement. You can use these meetings to assess skills, build a work portrait, and build out a growth plan.

Ultimately, managers are your company’s best mentors and coaches. Every member of the team can learn from you if given the chance. Increasing your availability and sharing your valuable time gives distributed team members is a small change that will drastically improve their development.

Work In Public Whenever Possible 

Transparency is one of the undeniable keys to succeeding as a remote team. It allows you to break down silos, ensure alignment, identify blockers, and move on opportunities. This has a huge impact on employee development. People are like seeds: they need to see the light in order to grow! 

Doing work out in the open gives team members the opportunity to jump in on tasks or projects that interest them but sit outside of their typical day-to-day. It allows them to give and get feedback from their managers and their peers. They can learn from other people’s mistakes and are less likely to make some of their own, because everyone can follow their work. 

In an office, this can happen quite naturally. You can jump in on an overheard conversation, watch what someone is doing on their screen, or spontaneously invite people into a meeting to get their input. In a remote context, this is far more of a challenge. Close to 60% of remote workers say they miss important information because it’s being communicated from person to person instead of in public channels. You really need to be intentional about being professionally visible.

Trello is probably the easiest way to make that happen. Every member of your team should be capturing their work on cards within your team’s board. This allows their colleagues and managers to follow their progress, provide input, and generally help them improve each step of the way. 

You can even organize your lists in a way that supports or encourages employee development. Create a feedback list, where all team members are encouraged to place cards and get input from their colleagues. Maybe you could build a list for weekly challenges to encourage people to try new things or build new skills. A list of different training opportunities is another easy way to encourage development. 

And all of this can easily be scaled organization-wide. With Unito, you can sync entire boards or connect Trello to different specialized tools. Doing so can help expose your team to additional mentors or growth opportunities across the company. Or, maybe you can build 1:1 boards for each member of the team and sync the outcomes as cards on the team board. 

Other steps for improving transparency to support remote employee development can include:

  • Organizing video lunch and learns so people can flex their learning muscles
  • Weekly all-hands meetings where you highlight work being done in each department
  • Involving employees in testing sessions for new features, services, or workflows

Remote work might have made it harder to work out in the open, but with the right tools and a commitment to transparency, there will always be opportunities to grow.

Take Advantage Of Online Learning

Training is a pillar of employee development. According to Gartner, 70% of employees don’t believe they’ve mastered the skills they need for their current jobs, let alone those they need to level up. 

On-the-job learning is undeniably key. But to build or strengthen skill sets, shift roles, or take on new responsibilities, we sometimes need to seek out other sources of education.

Traditionally, in-person conferences and courses were two of the most common channels for learning and development. But distributed employees often won’t have access to either of these options. Thankfully, virtual learning is booming.

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There are a ton of platforms that provide courses in a variety of fields, like Udemy and Masterclass. Many SaaS tools, like Moz and Salesforce, offer training courses as well. And virtual conferences have quickly become the new norm. Your teams can now listen to expert speakers from the comfort of their homes, often at a cheaper rate.

Speaking of, it’s essential that you provide your distributed employees with a budget for online learning. Give them the freedom to pursue these learning opportunities without a second thought.

It’s also worth mentioning that mentorship is another form of online learning. Internal and external mentors can help your team grow and learn from their experiences. An internal mentorship program might consist of shadowing (via Zoom), recurring 1:1s with more senior colleagues, or Q&A sessions. And as a leader, you might also be able to set up employees with external mentors from your network that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. 

Whether it comes from mentors or professional educators, create a culture of learning to support your distributed team.

Create Opportunities For Social Interaction

The most progressive organizations recognize that employee development isn’t just a matter of hard skills. Personal growth leads to professional growth. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 75% of employees say they feel more socially isolated. This is negatively impacting their well-being and their engagement at work. Business leaders really need to emphasize mental health and inclusivity, and one of the best ways to do this is by creating opportunities for social interaction. 

Happy hour hangouts and open lunch rooms are common ways businesses have adapted traditional social events to remote work. But here are three new ideas for fostering social interaction while also helping employees develop.

  1. Host A Remote “Hackathon”

Bring together members of many different teams to collaborate on a hackathon project. A hackathon is a collaborative project (or series of projects) with a very quick turnaround time. The goal is to tackle something in a day that might normally have taken weeks or longer. While they traditionally took place within development teams, hackathons have evolved to be very cross-functional, involving multiple teams and topics (Atlassian hosts hackathon-style events called ShipIt). 

Not only do participants interact and bond with people they may not normally see while remote, they’re also working on something that will benefit the business. Hackathons tend to challenge people to learn on the fly and take on tasks they wouldn’t normally do. And they’re incredibly fun.

  1. Try Donut Calls

While we do love tasty treats, Donut is actually a Slack extension that randomly pairs two people in your company together for a coffee chat. When working remotely you’ll only see the people on your team or frequent collaborators. The random Donut interactions with people you don’t normally speak with can help build team bonds and expose you to new mentors, projects, or even friends.

  1. Assign Work Buddies To New Hires

Starting a new job can be stressful. Doing so while remote only adds stress, since you don’t have the opportunity to meet people face-to-face or build a circle of supporters right out of the gate. By pairing each new hire with a work buddy, you’re assigning them a resource who can teach them about the company, answer their questions, and more. 

It’s Time For A Growth Spurt

Fostering employee growth while working remotely must be intentional. It requires time and effort from team members and their managers. It’s not something that happens by accident; it comes from giving people the attention, tools, and opportunities they need to excel.

And that’s time well spent. This commitment leads to more skilled and engaged employees, of course, but also helps with retention, performance, and happiness. You can’t put a price on that. 

Working remote, growing together: how to ensure distributed employee development