Rachel Arts on remote working: How we advise TalentStorm clients to avoid career lockdown

With lockdowns and remote working in place for the foreseeable future for many, the longer-term impacts on our careers need some consideration. Last year saw a grinding halt to many face-to-face training programmes. I know because this is the industry I’m in, and many of my fellow freelance trainers had their work dry up.

Companies were focused on new priorities, supporting employees to work from home, and topics such as “resilience” and “well-being” hit the top of the list. Many experimented with online learning – webinars and bite-size learning content became the order of the day.

Key elements of face-to-face training can be replicated online, using what we in the learning industry call “content.” Online content providers such as Udemy, Coursera and LinkedIn Learning saw a steep rise in take-up last spring.

To some, the removal of commuter time has given hours of time back to pick up new skills. For others, time away from the office gave them space to reflect on whether they were happy in their careers. For others still, their jobs may have disappeared with the effects of the pandemic across many industries.

Now we’re in 2021, and whilst it could seem like Groundhog Day, the mood is different. Remote working is still in place for the foreseeable future for many, as companies will continue with this long beyond the end of any government requirement. It no longer feels like we are in the firing line of rapid changes, but rather a slow embrace of shifting work patterns, and whilst many of us have settled into our new routines, the longer-term impacts on our careers need some consideration.

A research study of more than 6,000 office workers in SMEs across Europe showed that certain groups, such as the under 30’s, are missing out on core skills needed for career progression as a result of working remotely.

Viola Kraus

Future of work organizational psychologist, Viola Kraus explains:

These young workers’ fears for career development likely stem from a lack of connection and direction from their team and senior colleagues while working remotely, so it’s important to ensure that while we continue to work virtually, employers provide guidance and a formalised platform where peer-to-peer learning is encouraged, and eventually it happens naturally.

While guidance and formalized peer-to-peer learning platforms should form part of the agenda for businesses, individuals can put themselves in the driving seat. At Talentstorm, when we work with individuals, we get them to think about their learning outputs as well as their learning inputs.

It’s not just about consuming content – which is easy to do with so many online courses, books, blogs, videos and podcasts available at our fingertips. It’s about the practical element of learning – how do we practice new skills and move out of our comfort zone into a learning ‘stretch’ zone? Also, there’s the element of “tacit learning,” things we pick up without realizing it. So much of this happens informally chatting with colleagues on a lunch break or at the water cooler.

To help you focus on managing your career and learning goals whilst working remotely, we recommend three areas of focus:

Set your direction 

It’s important at any one time to know what your personal development and learning goals are. These are personal to you and they may or may not be the same as your employer’s priorities. If your personal development and learning goals aren’t obvious to you, do a personal SWOT analysis to understand your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Use this to form a list of your priority learning goals and then think broadly about the best way to achieve those learning goals. Strengths and Opportunities often combine to form quick wins, whilst Weaknesses and Threats can highlight things that you may have otherwise ignored.

Keep up your connections

This is challenging whilst working remotely. However, once you have your direction, figuring out what connection is needed to reach your learning goals can be straightforward. This can be simply scheduling virtual informal coffee catch-ups with colleagues or others in your network. If you need to go outside your organisation, platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook are useful for knowledge exchange and networking.

I joined a Facebook group for coaches last year as a way of keeping connected to a wider group of coaches. With lots of resource and experience sharing taking place, this has been a great way to give me what I need whilst I’m not going to face-to-face events. It’s about working out what you need and what is going to work for you. If you need more than “transactional” knowledge exchange, then look to develop your own Personal Learning Network.

This peer-to-peer learning can be really effective, as you choose who is in your network. The benefits can be the same as those realized from informal mentoring relationships.

Learn out loud

A good test of your learning is to share or demonstrate what you have learned or, indeed, what you are in the process of learning. I recently wrote about my book-writing project. Announcing to others what we plan to learn or achieve can be a way of keeping our motivation up with collective accountability. Certainly, by putting something “out there,” you can invite input from others. This can be done within the workplace if there’s a platform to be used, or it could be as simple as writing a blog on a topic.

Of course, not all learning endeavours are suited to the “general” announcement, and we should all have our safe spaces where we can share, as outlined in this blog, “Working Out Loud.” The real key to working out loud is the mindset. To admit we don’t know everything on a topic or a skill requires vulnerability.

With zero face-to-face training on the horizon for the foreseeable future, we will all need to work out how we can “work out loud” and share our learning goals, thoughts and reflections with others to help us make sense of – and validate – our own learning experiences.

Want to invest in your career development? Check out our Personal Development Programme, and sign up for a free 30-minute introductory chat.

About the author:

Rachel Arts originally is from the UK but relocated to Eindhoven in 2019 with her husband. Rachel is an entrepreneur. Her business, Talentstorm, draws on her 20-plus years in corporate learning to help develop individuals and organisations.

She loves to write about all things related to personal development, self-directed learning and modern learning practices. To learn more more, check out the Talentstorm website here or follow her people-development blog here for regular tips to achieve work and career goals.

See more of Rachel’s work here on Dispatches.

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