Facilitating Professional Development When you Manage a Remote Team

It’s a good day. You’ve told your direct report, Christine, that she’s earned a promotion. This is the reason you love leading a team and managing people!

Christine was a coordinator that, a year ago, expressed an interest in project management. You two have been meeting weekly to talk through her career goals. You’ve identified the skills Christine needs to learn and the projects that will help her hone those skills. You’ve checked in and delivered constructive feedback on how Christine can continue improving.

Here’s the catch: It all took place remotely.

As a team manager, facilitating your team’s career growth is your most important responsibility. It’s a win-win: Your team develops and you improve as a leader. This article shows you how to facilitate career growth remotely without missing a beat.

But first, some context on professional development

Professional development can mean different things to different team members.

Common ways employees think about it can include:

  • Learning a new skill
  • Moving teams
  • Securing a promotion
  • Taking on more responsibilities
  • Improving leadership skills

Regardless, employee development requires time.

It requires your continual coaching, active listening, and thoughtful follow-up questions. It requires an in-depth knowledge of your team member’s professional goals, strengths, growing areas, and motivations.

On remote teams, those conversations don’t happen organically.

There are no impromptu coffees or chat sessions. Your job is to create the opportunities for these conversations.

Facilitating growth on a remote team

Provide the tools

Working as a remote team can delegate most conversations to email or chat. Avoid this, if you can.

Instead, divide conversations into two buckets:

  1. Turn to email or chat for tactical conversations, project follow ups and updates, and team FYIs.
  2. Turn to video calls or phone calls for almost everything else.

Empower your team to follow suit. Whenever you get an email or chat from Christine, for example, ask yourself: If Christine and I worked in the same office, is this conversation something she would come to me in person for? If the answer is yes, move to a video call.

Turn to tools that make talking ‘in person’ as seamless as possible. Remote company Invision recommends Zoom for video conferencing, Dropbox Paper and Google Docs for collaborative writing, and Slack for chats that can move to a quick call. Looking for remote-friendly learning and development programs? Hone is here to help.

Set the time…

Talking about career development doesn’t happen organically on a remote team. It’s your responsibility to carve out the time.

Your team doesn’t know where they stand until you provide context and feedback. And your team doesn’t know how to develop their careers until you provide guidance and resources.

To get started, set regular 1:1s with your team that do not focus on the projects at hand. This is not a time to check in on project statuses. This is the time to talk broadly about your direct report’s professional goals. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How are you?
  • What’s going particularly well?
  • What are you challenged by?

Christine expressed interest in learning a new skill during your weekly video 1:1. Because the call was in person, you could gauge the conversation and ask guiding questions around the skills she wanted to learn next. Questions can include:

  • What’s your favorite part of your job? Why?
  • What skills are you most proud of having learned so far?
  • Is there something you wish you learned more of in this role?

These conversations rarely, if ever, happen over email. Provide your team the opportunity for bigger conversations — they’ll appreciate the initiative.

… and be available just to chat

In addition to carving out time with direct reports, spark conversations with a more informal tone. These conversations would take place over coffee, lunch, team retreats or happy hours if you all worked in the office. They’re an important part of understanding what makes your team tick. They provide an opening for learning your team’s hopes, dreams, drivers and fears.

When leading a remote team, it’s your responsibility to start these conversations. Here are three ideas to get you started:

  1. Invision stresses that calls don’t have to be a big event. As Invision says: A quick 2-minute call to ask questions can save hours down the road. Ask yourself: If we worked in the same office, would this conversation be in person? If the answer is yes, switch to a call.
  2. The co-founders of Basecamp recommend occasional calls with “no work talk allowed.” Instead, use the time to build rapport and catch up on life.
  3. Don’t talk business 100% of the time. Create team Slack channels for #random conversations, giving #props to others, and greeting #new-team-members.

Overcommunicate

Your team’s professional development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Employees need to understand the role they play within the broader company. Providing context is especially important on a remote team. Remote employees run the risk of feeling isolated from the company at large.

As the leader of a remote team, reiterate:

  • The team goals
  • Other team’s goals
  • The company mission
  • The company roadmap
  • New company-wide initiatives

You’ll help your team understand where things are heading and how they fit into the company’s future.

Team meetings are a great forum for sharing the wider company narrative. Per usual, hold these meetings over video. Share context in every meeting — and always save plenty of time for questions. Follow up in your 1:1 meetings. You’ll find that direct reports may save their more personal questions for a 1:1 conversation.

Set structure

Once your team reaches a certain size — let’s say 5+ people per function — you’ll need to set structure around growth opportunities.

The remote company Buffer sets structure with career frameworks for each function. Each ladder includes a growth path for individual contributors and managers. Each ladder also walks through requirements for each level, like:

  • The level of ownership over project progress
  • The level of ownership over project results
  • The strategic involvement and planning required
  • The scope of influence across teams

Once you’ve set your frameworks, provide digital copies to your remote team.

You looked at Christine’s career framework to grow into a project management role, for instance. Christine looked at the requirements and identified which she didn’t have yet. From there, the two of you identified projects that would help Christine fulfill those requirements. Because Christine had a digital copy, she was able to understand what was needed for his growth — and check in against the requirements listed.

Facilitating career growth when leading a team is hard. But it doesn’t have to be. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll set the stage for success — for yourself and your direct reports. 

To learn more about remote management, join us on December 11th for our webinar on Developing and Engaging Distributed Teams with executives and HR leaders from InVision, Dashlane, CultureIQ. Click here to register.

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