Career Development in the Remote or Hybrid Workplace
The transition to virtual work has impacted all aspects of the organization, from operations to sales, to management and career development strategies. As an increasing number of companies choose to adopt a fully remote or hybrid workforce, there's been great focus on the technology and processes that enable the transition, but less talk about what career development looks like in this new workplace.
Employee experience has become a central piece of the HR and leadership agenda, particularly in the current labor market, where finding skilled talent is a challenge. Providing workers with the flexibility they seek and the potential to grow are two key aspects of positive employee experience — and a great strategy to win the war for talent.
Here's what some organizations are doing to support positive employee experience and fair growth opportunities across the workforce.
The Numbers Behind the Great Resignation
A report on career progression by HR software firm BambooHR revealed that in order to get promoted during the pandemic, 56 percent of employees worked extra hours, 50 percent volunteered for extra projects and responsibilities, 40 percent took on the responsibilities of an employee who was laid off or had hours cut, and 38 percent worked on their days off. As a result, 29 percent of those employees experienced burnout.
Then it should perhaps not be surprising that, according to the Microsoft Work Trend Index, 40 percent of employees wanted to change jobs in 2021. Another survey, conducted in March 2021 by Morning Consult on behalf of Prudential, indicated that 26 percent of employees were planning on leaving their current employer within the next few months. And it seems that many employees did just that. In November 2021, a record 4.5 million employees quit their jobs.
Among the reasons behind the dissatisfaction, 78 percent of remote workers surveyed by BambooHR said they felt their career development had been negatively affected over the past year, and 30 percent expected promotions that had been delayed or denied. The average American remote worker estimated having lost out on $9,823 in promotions in the previous year.
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Remote Employees Fear Missing Out
The data clearly demonstrates the importance of career development strategies in driving positive employee experience. Companies that want to retain their best talent should focus on providing employees with avenues for growth — and ensuring those are provided fairly across all workers. Traci Palmer, vice president of people and organization capability at Citrix, said the fear of a "digital divide" is real for many remote employees.
She pointed to Citrix research showing that 47 percent of employees think they will be less likely to be considered for promotion/advancement opportunities when working remotely, and an additional 38 percent believe remote employees will be at a disadvantage for not working out of a central office location. Unfortunately, such fears are not unfounded.
“The fully remote work model forced by the pandemic has in many ways leveled the playing field. In a remote work world, everyone appears in equal boxes on the screen and has the same access to information and opportunities to contribute to a project," said Palmer, who notes that companies implementing hybrid models would be well served to maintain the inclusive experience to avoid putting a disadvantage on remote employees.
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It's Time to Rethink Online Learning Initiatives
Career development is not immune to digital transformation. To drive engagement within the remote workplace, it is no longer enough to simply replicate the traditional, on-premises learning process. Rather, companies should seek to make the remote learning experience unique in a way that supports the success of the digital workplace.
The use of virtual and digital whiteboards, for instance, has expanded the options that were once limited to communication and collaboration platforms. These whiteboards enable remote employees to interact with one another in much the same way that on-location employees experience.
Palmer said organizations must rethink development and career opportunities for the workplace of the future. This could mean placing greater emphasis on developing virtual learning programs, virtual networking and mentoring opportunities, and more frequent conversations around talent capabilities, potential and opportunity.
Quite often, organizations don’t fully understand which skills will be necessary for the future, said Julia Lamm, workforce transformation partner at PwC. According to PwC's Future of Work and Skills survey, just over a quarter (26%) of respondents strongly agreed that they can identify the skills the organization will need in the future due to technological change.
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"Identifying the skills needed in the future was the second biggest challenge recorded, so there is an opportunity for more to be done here,” she said.
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Continuous Learning Across Generations
A 2020 survey by publishing company getAbstract showed the need for education in the workplace echoes across generations. According to the data:
- More than half of Millennials (58 percent) and Gen Z (52 percent) said that success in their careers depends on frequently updating their workplace skills and knowledge.
- Over a third of Gen X (35 percent) and Baby Boomers (34 percent) said career success depended on continuous learning.
- Employees of all generations who frequently engaged in learning said they felt more fulfilled, accomplished and motivated.
- An overwhelming majority (93 percent) said it was at least somewhat important that their employers provided resources for ongoing learning, while younger generations were more likely to indicate that it was extremely or very important.
All of these findings demonstrate opportunities for employers to not only adapt their career development programs to the remote workforce but also ensure it meets the needs of their employee base — or the one they seek to attract.
Career Development in 2022
Doug Stephen, president of the learning division at CGS, said when it comes to professional development, he believes technology will save the day.
“Technology will enable employers to bridge the gap in employee engagement that was once driven by face-to-face interaction," he said. "Immersive technologies, including mixed reality, for employee training and collaboration, will be rolled out from the top down."
In his view, these newer technologies have the power to be transformative for company cultures. Yet, he warns that employees may not be quick to adopt the technologies they don't know unless business leaders use them as well. He recommended organizations secure manager buy-in and, of course, engaging content to foster a fear of missing out that can get even the most tech-apprehensive employees on board.
With a growing number of remote and hybrid workplaces, the path to career development will continue to evolve. But creating a culture of continuous learning, providing online learning, using the latest technology, and offering upskilling and reskilling opportunities to all employees, can help drive employee engagement, loyalty and a positive experience.
"Creating work-from-anywhere experiences that give employees the space and tools they need to be productive will continue to be part of rethinking the workplace in 2022," Palmer said. "As a bonus, this will also help retain talent by building an inclusive environment in which every individual can succeed, regardless of location or work preferences."