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How to manage a hybrid team’s learning and development


You’d be hard pressed to find someone who, at some point over the last few years, didn’t feel somewhat isolated from their team or colleagues while working remotely.

Without any impromptu brainstorming sessions or gossip-filled social gatherings at the local pub on ‘thirsty Thursdays’, maintaining that feeling of belonging and being part of a team was challenging at times.

As we transition towards a seemingly permanent state of remote or hybrid working, will where we work affect our long-term career opportunities?

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Does working remotely impact career progression?

A pre-pandemic (2015) Stanford Graduate School of Business study of a 16,000-employee, NASDAQ-listed Chinese travel agency revealed that despite being more productive than their in-office colleagues (13%), those working from home or remotely noticed that ‘their promotion rate conditional on performance fell’. According to the study’s lead author, Nicholas Bloom, “it was roughly half the promotion rate, compared to those in the office.” A similar study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) echoed these findings, establishing that employees who mainly worked from home during 2012 and 2017 were less than half as likely to be promoted than all other employees, and 38% less likely to have received any bonuses.

You would be right in thinking that the workplace of 2015 or even 2017 was fundamentally different to today’s workplace and that the above findings are no longer relevant. Sadly, recent surveys suggest that even in today's flexible and mobile workplace, where you work does still somewhat impact your career progression. This is highlighted in a 2021 study conducted during the height of remote working in the UK. The study found that less than a quarter (24%) of those surveyed were promoted at work, compared to 72% the year before (2020). While this can be attributed to several reasons - flat organisational structures, fewer professional/workplace relationships making it harder to recognise an employee's work, or the financial impact of the pandemic resulting in many companies freezing promotions - the reality is that not being in the office could be impacting career progression.

What caused lower promotion rates among remote workers in the past?

There are perhaps two major reasons contributing to these lower promotion rates. First, people who aren’t in the office don’t have the chance to foster strong relationships with those around them. By not being in the office they don’t have the opportunity to prove that they’re perfect candidates for more senior roles. Second, when those tasked with giving out the promotions have little involvement with remote workers, they are ‘basically forgotten about’ and, therefore, not considered for promotions. As a result, remote workers tend to work harder - on average up to 6 hours of unpaid overtime per week - to make up for the time they didn’t see their manager face-to-face.

With remote and hybrid working likely here to stay, how can you ensure all workers get an equal shot at promotions and the same career development opportunities?

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Three ways to support career development in a hybrid work environment

Run regular team building sessions

With around 75% of people saying they feel more socially isolated while working remotely, to maintain a positive and inclusive culture where everyone is recognised, it’s essential that you carry out regular virtual, in-person or hybrid team building events. Events such as virtual happy hours, lunch and learns or regular team catch-ups can all help teams overcome the formation of ‘insider’ or ‘outsider’ groups. This also enables individual employees to feel like they are part of a team, which can improve mental health.

These sessions should be as interactive as possible to ensure that people engage with one another. Depending on the platform you use for these hybrid team bonding sessions, you could use things like breakout rooms so that team members can enter smaller, more randomised groups, to work on specific tasks or get to know each other in a more intimate setting.

By hosting these regular sessions, remote workers can also take the opportunity to highlight the work they are doing and how they are contributing to the wider team. Given how most projects can’t succeed in isolation, with everyone showcasing what they are working on, it’s easier to build workplace cohesion and provide opportunities for people to contribute to other projects based on their strengths. This also gives managers a holistic view of the work their teams are doing, making them better suited to promote based on merit, rather than visibility.

Keep a pulse on how people are feeling

Since the pandemic, 40% of people say their company has never asked them how they are doing or feeling. This could be because some people find those kinds of questions uncomfortable to ask. But the reality is that three out of five people are comfortable with managers asking about their mental health.

Managers catching up with their team to see how they are is just one part of the picture. It’s equally important for a boss to have frequent one-to-ones to better understand what their employees’ long term career objectives are.

While the frequency of those catch ups will vary, it’s not so much how often these meetings occur, rather that they recur and aren’t just one-offs.

For example, when setting up regular virtual one-to-ones with remote workers, don’t make the calendar invite a once-off. Set up an invite as a repeat event taking place at a regular cadence. This tells your team two things:

  • You are committed to their career development
  • You want them to seek out opportunities to learn and pursue their ambitions

As a people manager, whether your direct reports are working remotely or in the office, it’s worth setting up regular career development conversations with them. Taking the time to develop individual employee development plans and working with them on achieving those goals can help you better structure their roles and responsibilities. Failing to do so will hinder their ability to live up to their full potential and could encourage them to leave your organisation for lack of appreciation or loyalty.

Invest in virtual learning

One of the main benefits virtual workers have over in-office workers is that they save a couple of hours each day on commuting. In fact, according to a recent survey, remote workers stated that they had an extra 17 days’ worth of free time as a result of not having to drive or take public transport to work five days a week. Imagine what they could do with that time!

People can choose to fill that spare time with learning. In the words of Henry Ford, ‘the only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay’. As part of a development plan and regular one-to-ones, managers could identify any online courses to help staff learn a completely new skill, or improve an existing one.

What are the benefits of online learning?

Managers that use these ideas are taking key first steps to ensure all team members get an equal learning and development experience. Here are some of the potential benefits of putting these ideas into practice:

Better results for the organisation

Placing an emphasis on continuous learning will have a positive impact on abilities, outputs, and overall productivity levels.

Increased loyalty and talent retention

By investing in your people and supporting them as they achieve their career goals through learning new skills, they will feel more valued, appreciated and loyal to your organisation. People will become stronger advocates for your company, which usually boosts a company’s reputation as an employer and enables you to attract and retain the best talent.

Highly skilled employees

In a world that’s always changing, it’s important to keep up with customers and the competition. The way to do this is by investing in skills.

Before the pandemic remote workers may have found it harder to advance their careers compared to those in the office. But the pandemic levelled the playing field. With most of us mandated to work remotely, there was no distinction between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ – everyone had an equal opportunity to develop.

As we transition towards hybrid working, it’s important to be considerate towards those who may not be ready for this workplace transformation. Take on some of the tips listed to ensure people working remotely have the same chance at career progression as ‘in-office’ workers.

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