Alice had a nice little career track going. When she worked in the office with everyone else, she took part in a lot of training, got promoted regularly, and managed to find lateral promotions that offered new challenges and opportunities to feel challenged. That began changing two years ago when she started working from home, and has only gotten more noticeable since COVID hit. While she likes working from home, she feels like her career trajectory has flattened, and she feels a little resentful towards her employer as a result.
With all due respect to Alice and the millions of people like her, her company may bear some responsibility for the lack of career development, but a lot of it is on her and the rest of us who now work away from the rest of our teammates.
Remote work changes more than just your location
This is a change many people haven’t come to grips with yet. But they will have to because more than ever we are responsible for our professional development, with or without the assistance of the organization.
Most organizations have some kind of development in mind for their employees. After all, people who don’t know how to do their job, or don’t learn what it takes to take the next career step will either burn out or leave, which is bad business. The problem for many companies is that the way they planned for this training, development and succession planning is based on the assumption that everyone, or at least most people, work together.
Obviously, formal in-person training hasn’t been a priority for a lot of companies of late. Many are just waiting until things return to something like normal, and offering development in other ways—online virtual classes, e-learning and the like. They are posting the opportunities on their Learning Management Systems (LMS) and their internal websites, and people can find out what’s available and sign up. What they are reporting is that people aren’t taking advantage of even distance learning the way they did when everyone was in the office.
Why aren’t people learning?
Here are some of the reasons for this:
- Many organizations are focused on getting through this rough period. With revenues down, training budgets are often the first things cut.
- Managers are more focused on production and “putting out fires” than strategically thinking about development.
- Virtual coaching sessions have devolved into a list of items to be checked off, and long-term goals and personal development often don’t make that list.
- When it comes time to offer development opportunities, busy leaders often turn to the people they think of first—often those they communicate with more often and usually those they actually see. Remote employees might literally not be on their radar screens.
So far, it sounds like the problem lies with the people in headquarters. And most of this is not a question of bad intent, or anything against you personally. In most cases it’s a matter of you literally out of sight and out of mind. But wait.
With great freedom comes great responsibility
As individual workers, we often do things that inhibit our development. Some of those things include:
- Deleting, skimming, or ignoring emails from the organization that might include training. In meetings we often tune out anything that doesn’t directly impact us at that moment. After all, one of the joys of working from home is we don’t have to deal with all that stuff.
- Becoming so focused on the tasks in front of us that we don’t think about our long-term development. If someone doesn’t bring it to our attention, we don’t think about it.
- Creating task lists that don’t leave time for reading, learning, and networking. We are too busy being busy.
- Failing to raise our hands or volunteer. In the office, we could catch the boss’s eye or overhear a conversation that triggers action.
When we work remotely, we own our time management and scheduling, to a large degree. That’s part of the beauty of work-from-home. But there’s a downside. Many organizations assume if you choose to work from home you’ve chosen lifestyle over career. This is changing a lot since the pandemic shutdown but this idea is still out there. They make training, development and job postings available online, but if we ignore them, they might as well not exist. And our managers have so many people they need to have conversations with, and so much to do, that your personal goals often get overlooked.
Unless you make them a priority. When was the last time you looked back on your personal development plan? Do you regularly look at what’s being offered for development. If your manager doesn’t raise the issue of your career goals, do you?
And what can you do that’s entirely in your control? If you have the freedom to choose your schedule, tasks and place of work, then you own your development as well.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.