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How to Support Career Growth for Your Remote Employees

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.

Employees have real concerns about stagnating professional development and growth opportunities in the wake of COVID-19 and a shift to remote work. 31% of employees say their growth opportunities have decreased since the start of the pandemic. Much of this is understandable as many companies braced for the economic hardship the pandemic promised (and often cases delivered). Yet, career progression for remote workers has long been a topic of discussion, particularly in hybrid situations. 

A study published in the Harvard Business Review revealed that it’s easy for remote workers to feel left out if they don’t work for a company that has taken measures to build trust and connection between their on-site and remote employeee.

It’s also common for them to feel overlooked or forgotten about when promotions or projects come up. 

 “It definitely affected my career progression,” says Remote Work Expert and Speaker Aidan Dunne, who worked with IBM in IT management for 23 years. 

“To a large degree, I knew it was. But, you know, I got to bring my kids to school three mornings a week, I got to pick them up, I got to see them growing up.”

While the trade-off was worth it for Aidan, he clarifies that this doesn’t have to be the norm moving forward. 

“I remember sitting in the office on a Tuesday, and somebody would say, ‘Okay, let’s set up a weekly project meeting for this.’ And I would be sitting there thinking, ‘please don’t make it Thursday, please don’t make a Thursday.’ And they would say, ‘Let’s set it for Thursday,'” Aidan recalls. 

He’d then have to share he worked from home on Thursdays, which would most often elicit the response — “Oh, okay. Right. Could you come in?”

This example is a common one. 

And while making group meetings virtual by default equalizes all participants in a hybrid office, no matter their location, it’s not as simple as signing everyone up for Zoom. 

When there is an underlying belief among teams that those you see in person are more valuable or hard-working, these biases will likely come out no matter your policy to override them. This belief is often unknowingly set by the manager. 

“The other example is that of a manager who has a really good role or interesting project, goes over, opens the door and looks out. ‘Ah! David’s there. David, could you come in for a minute?’ Whereas [someone else] might be working at home would really suit the role better,” Aidan says.

“I think that is the big challenge with hybrid remote work, and I think that big challenge is going to fall on leadership and leaders because they need to do it right. They need to be thinking who will be good for that task, regardless of where they are.”

So how can you support your remote team to progress in their career? Aidan has a few ideas. 

Treat virtual employees with respect

When I asked Aidan how assessing performance remotely differs from when teams are in-office, he interestingly shared that “to a large degree [it doesn’t], because it shouldn’t.”

“You still have to do all of the standard leadership and aspects of performance management, and you still have to do all your due diligence, and the way you collect information will still be relatively the same,” he says. 

To Aidan, location comes second to leadership. If anything, managing virtual teams means incorporating more intentionality, not less. 

He recalls traveling for a management conference years ago and overhearing someone delivering an annual review over the phone while walking the hotel corridors. 

“I just thought that is really not the way to do it,” he says. 

“You still need to give [reviews] a good element of respect, the same element of respect you would give if it was a face to face meeting.” 

Aidan argues that, particularly to the employee, it should feel very similar. 

“The only aspect that [should feel] different is the aspect of you are delivering this [meeting] virtually.”

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Utilize technology to fill in the gaps

“To assess somebody’s performance, you have to have good evidence,” Aidan says.

While looking over the partition and seeing someone sitting at their desk early in the morning or late at night may feel like a good measure — it’s not exactly scientific. 

“You know, the guy could be surfing YouTube,” Aidan says. “Because I can see him, doesn’t necessarily mean he’s working.”

Again, finding measurable evidence when assessing remote teams should be fairly similar to that of their in-office counterparts. It should be about progress or output rather than hours at their desk. 

For Aidan, technology like Trello not only helps as a task manager but also means he has something to refer back to during reviews. 

“I can see what’s happening. I can see who’s doing what. From the archive, I can see who’s performed well, in terms of, you know, closing out their work,” he says.

On a more day-to-day basis, he uses Slack. 

“One of the things I did when I took over the network team was that they had a daily standup, which was physical in the office. So everybody had to be there at nine o’clock in the morning. And I noticed it wasn’t particularly well attended, so I moved it to a Slack meeting,” Aidan says. 

“Every morning, the same person would pull up a message and say, ‘Can you reply to this message just to say to what you’re doing today.’ And I found that very good for assessing performance because I could see on a day to day basis what people were doing.”

The nature of using asynchronous communication means that there is a record. Not only did this switch to Slack help his team, who weren’t always able to make the daily meeting, but it also turned something they already did into a tool for assessment. 

“It also prompted interactions. You know, if somebody said in the morning, ‘I have three tickets to close today.’ I might kind of look around lunchtime and say, ‘How are they going? How are you getting on with those?'” Aidan shares. 

“So again, I go back to that leadership first, location second. There are elements that are still the same, it’s just maybe the use of technology comes in a bit more strongly when you’re working remotely.”

Create a framework of assessment

One of the major concerns around career progression for remote workers is their reduced access to managers and leadership. Without congregating in the same building, impromptu conversations are far less likely, leading to fewer casual check-ins, questions and updates. Instead, discussions are booked in ahead of time, prepared for, and likely occur less often. 

Because of this, “new hires and young people who work remotely risk remaining unknown quantities. And unknown quantities don’t become beloved colleagues, or get promoted,” shares Amanda Mull in an article for The Atlantic

By implementing an assessment framework, remote employees are more likely to understand what growth opportunities are available to them as well as the steps to get there. 

Shield’s framework is a tiered system, covering three levels per role. It outlines a mix of company-wide competencies based on our company values as well as role-specific requirements. Managers meet with their team members once a quarter to review the framework marking each competency white, yellow or green (or ‘yet to work on’, ‘working on’ and ‘mastered’ respectively). Once a team member masters most of the competencies listed, they move up a level and start working on the next round. Each level progression equates to a salary promotion. 

“Our competency model and compensation model are very closely married together,” says Stella Huang, Shield GEO’s HR Manager and BP. 

“The compensation model was developed first, and from there, we knew that from a salaries perspective, we wanted to be able to give people a clear pathway and provide them with opportunities to grow within the company.”

Developing a framework provides a pathway for growth and helps define expectations and responsibilities for roles where it may not have been overtly apparent before. 

“When you’re working remote, across timezones, you can’t always be checking in all the time. There has to be, by nature, a strong sense of autonomy,” Stella says.  

“With that autonomy comes the fact that you know, we would also like you to take control of your own experience here as well.”

This means if a manager has marked someone as white or yellow, but the employee doesn’t feel that accurately reflects where they’re at, there can be a conversation. Managers encourage employees to state their case, bring up examples of their work and talk through how they see they’ve progressed since the previous quarter. 

This system provides transparency, access to management and a clear framework to ensure each employee has the best opportunity for growth.

“What we’re trying to do is reduce those barriers,” Stella says. “And for people to see the potential of those experiences and opportunities.”

Embrace empathy 

When workers are logging in from home, it’s only natural that the line between home life and work-life begins to blur. While standards of professionalism should remain intact regarding work, they may relax around things such as dress code or interruptions in meetings.  

“I think we have to show a bit of empathy when dealing with people, particularly remotely,” Aidan says. “I think if a video call is interrupted by somebody’s child coming in to ask them about homework, you know, does it really matter in the overall scheme of things?” 

Being a parent doesn’t make a person less capable of completing their tasks and, therefore, shouldn’t affect their career progression.

This empathy and understanding should also extend to supporting your team’s progression, no matter their personal idea of success. 

“I used to always say to my team, really when it comes down to it, I work for you,” Aidan says. “You don’t work for me. It’s my job to manage you and make sure your career and your job and your performance all work in sync and works well with what we’re attempting to change here.”

Research has shown that both women and people of color are less likely to push for their own advancement as well as be promoted to management positions. By having supportive managers empathetic to the various barriers faced by specific people groups, career progressions should be well and truly achievable. 

Online training

Assessing performance is, of course, a large part of promoting career progression for your employees. However, providing training and access to development resources is also instrumental. 

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. 

Over the past two years, the lack of travel and large group gatherings has pushed many seminars, conferences, and talks into virtual spaces, making them accessible to larger groups of people. 

Providing your distributed employees with the budget and time to develop skills through online learning or purchasing resources is crucial in their long term advancement. 

As more companies embrace hybrid and distributed models, it’s clear that we must also embrace new modes of management. Supporting distributed teams come with new challenges, but ones that can be overcome, as Aidan says, with “intentionality, technology and empathy.”

 

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