How to manage a hybrid team’s learning and development


  • Remote and hybrid working impacts career progression

  • Some remote workers are isolated and less likely to be promoted

  • Learning and development needs to be transformed for hybrid teams, so that everyone can get an equal chance for progression and promotion

The impacts of remote and hybrid working on long-term career opportunities

The feeling of people being isolated from their team or colleagues while working remotely at some point over the last few years has no doubt increased.

Less impromptu brainstorming sessions or social gatherings means maintaining that feeling of belonging and being part of a team is 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?

Does working remotely impact career progression?

A pre-pandemic (2015) Stanford Graduate School of Business study¹ 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 for National Statistics (ONS)² echoed these findings, suggesting 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.

The workplace of 2015 or even 2017 was of course fundamentally different to today’s workplace and, you'd think that these findings are no longer relevant. Recent surveys suggest though 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 study³ 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, 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 the people who decide on whom to promote 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 week⁴– 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?

“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”

Three ways to support career development in a hybrid work environment:

1. Run regular team building sessions

Around 75% of people say they feel more socially isolated while working remotely⁵ , so 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 and maintain a positive and inclusive culture where everyone is recognised.

These sessions should be as interactive as possible to ensure that people engage with one another. Depending on the platform you use for these 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 highlight the work they are doing and how they're 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 togetherness 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 promoting people based on merit, rather than visibility.

2. Ask how people are feeling

Since the pandemic, 40% of people say their company has never asked them how they are doing or feeling⁶. 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're 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. Not doing 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.

3. 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 because of not having to drive or take public transport to work five days a week.⁷

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 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 your 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 it levelled the playing field. Most of us were mandated to work remotely, so 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.

24% Remote workers can be stigmatised

Less than a quarter of remote workers were promoted in 2021.⁸

6 hours Unpaid overtime

On average, remote workers accumulate 6 hours of unpaid overtime every week.⁹

75% People working remotely feel isolated

Not being in the office make people feel like ‘they don’t belong’.¹⁰

Vodafone Business UC with RingCentral

Unified Communications with RingCentral is a cloud-based tool that enables you to be more flexible in the way you communicate with colleagues, serve customers, manage digital transformation, and much more – all in a single, collaborative platform.

Get in touch