Remote work: 4 ways leaders can foster continuous learning

Want to nurture your team's strength and ensure professional development while people are working remotely? Consider these tips to grow a culture of learning
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COVID-19 has changed the business landscape – perhaps irrevocably. Many businesses are continuing variations of the work-from-home model even as some social distancing restrictions lift. While many companies are discovering the benefits of a flexible workplace, new challenges are taking shape – specifically, fostering employee development and company culture without a shared physical office.

I know how bumpy this transition can be. My company experienced it in 2007 when we traded our office building for a distributed work model. The most important lesson I learned on our journey: You can’t be an innovative, values-driven, competitive company without continuous learning.

Top employees crave growth. The lack of growth potential is cited as one of the main reasons good employees quit their jobs. In fact, Gallup studies show that millennials, who make up the largest percentage of the workforce, value career development over just about any other factor when it comes to job satisfaction.

[ Read also: IT Leadership: How to build a learning culture. ]

Development and learning opportunities are even more essential in a distributed workplace, where making employees feel like valued team members depends less on office posters and snack bar perks and more on meaningful action.

Here are four ways to foster continuous learning in your remote workplace:

1. Make continuous learning your mission

The first step is creating a growth mindset within your distributed workplace. Communicate to your employees that learning is a key company value and encourage them to explore their interests. One of the most impactful ways to do this is to create spaces in which employees can discuss and share what they’ve learned. Enthusiasm is contagious.

Set up weekly, or even daily, team video calls dedicated to sharing. Create a company chat channel to discuss career development and interests. When employees are given a place to share new ideas, something magical happens: Connections are made that weren’t visible before. New collaborations form. This is where “culture” goes from concept to reality.

When employees are given a place to share new ideas, something magical happens: Connections are made that weren’t visible before. New collaborations form.

2. Provide the right tools

Ensure your employees have access to online learning tools. There’s no shortage of distance learning resources out there: CourseraKhan AcademyUdemy, and Udacity are just a few. These programs offer an excellent, affordable way to learn skills from coding to social media marketing and more. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology even provides all its college course content online for free.

Consider having your employees fill out a short survey to determine where their interests lie and put together a resource doc of pertinent programs and certifications.

You might also consider building your own online university, as my company did with AdaptiveU. This gives you more control over what your employees learn, as well as another channel for sharing. If you lack the time and resources to build your own site, programs such as Easygenerator enable you to create courses easily.

3. Encourage exploration

It’s tempting to limit your employees to learning new skills that are pertinent to their jobs, but I encourage you to let go of your preconceived notions of what is or isn’t valuable when it comes to learning.

Letting your employees explore their own passions and interests can yield some unexpected results. Art classes, for example, can teach your engineers and coders to look at problems in new ways and come up with creative solutions. Studying poetry can help your marketer use stronger, more impactful language. When employees pursue what interests them, not only are they happier contributors, they’re better able to think outside of the box.

Letting your employees explore their own passions and interests can yield some unexpected results.

4. Invest in your team

Invest in your team and include learning in your budget. My company gives most employees 30 minutes of paid learning time every day. Conference and webinar tickets are a one-time cost that can provide months of inspiration and revitalization. Offer to pay for certificate courses or create scholarships for employees seeking degrees in their field. The return on investment is immeasurable: You’ll gain skilled, inspired workers who will use what they’ve learned to make your company better.

The right people make all the difference. Once you have them on your team, keep them. Long-term experienced employees add to institutional knowledge, encourage organizational growth, and strengthen company culture.

To borrow from Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, we want to be a culture of “learn-it-alls,” not “know-it-alls.” Investing in your team’s learning will improve engagement and strengthen your internal talent pool.

[ How does your talent strategy measure up in 2020? Download the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era. ]

Natalie Ruiz is the CEO of AnswerConnect and parent company  AnywhereWorks. Natalie started with AnswerConnect in 2006 and worked her way to the highest leadership position in the company. She has been instrumental in the growth of AnswerConnect, its offerings and impact on clients’ and employees’ lives.