Everyone wins in companies that offer top-quality professional development programs. Employees sharpen their skills in areas that help them advance their careers. Employers reap the benefits of having a workforce that’s continuously improving — and has additional incentive to stick around for the long haul.

However, companies can no longer build professional development programs the way they used to. The pandemic has scattered teams, with many employees working from home either all or some of the time. So how do you introduce a new kind of remote-friendly learning culture?

Build an online professional development program

The roadblocks to remote professional development aren’t really technological. Online learning has been around for decades, and millions of professionals have gained qualifications and certifications without setting foot in a lecture hall.

Pre-pandemic, however, those professionals also benefited from mingling freely with colleagues. That meant they had several offline ways to develop their skills and career. They could shadow a senior coworker throughout the workday, network at national conferences and listen to visiting experts at brown-bag lunches. They also could observe and learn from high-performing peers at the office, which helped them hone soft skills like leadership and communication.

Inevitably, your online career training will have fewer of these real-time, sometimes spontaneous interactions. It will certainly be a different learning culture when you’re managing a remote team — but not an inferior one. Here are five tips for building an online professional development program that shines.

1. Publicize the rewards

Get buy-in from your team for the new program by emphasizing that while the methods may have changed, the rewards have not. Training and development remains the best way for employees to keep their skills relevant in a fast-changing world and earn promotions. Champion the program in group settings, where you can talk about your overall vision for a more flexible learning culture, and in one-to-ones, where you can focus on individual team members’ wants and needs.

2. Build a collaborative knowledge library

Encourage team members to pool their knowledge resources in a cloud-based library that can be accessed and updated from anywhere. This repository can contain anything deemed useful for professional development, from curated playlists of YouTube videos to webinar slideshows. Got an administrative assistant who’s hungry for more responsibility? Put them in charge of the library, including sourcing materials for it from team members.

3. Balance virtual and asynchronous learning

It’s tempting to go all-in on webinars and other types of virtual learning simply because they resemble in-person training. But does your distributed workforce really need a packed schedule of live events on top of their core responsibilities? Furthermore, it can be hard to find topics for training sessions that are relevant to everyone, which means some attendees may feel like they’re wasting their time.

A better strategy is to strike a balance between real-time and asynchronous learning, which is when people have the freedom to study at a time of their choosing. For example, have employees set aside an hour for self-directed professional development every week. As well as helping your employees learn faster, having this kind of forward-thinking, flexible learning culture could deliver a powerful boost to your company’s brand and reputation.

Read How to Unlock the Power of Asynchronous Collaboration on the blog.

4. Start a remote mentoring program

In many industries, professional development is as much about building relationships as it is about building skills and knowledge. A mentoring program geared toward remote employees can help achieve both. Senior employees who are working remotely may welcome the chance to take on a protégé. Mentors can collaborate with their mentees remotely at first, and then in person if circumstances allow.

5. Share wins and review progress

Professional development is infectious. One employee who’s learned new skills may inspire two colleagues to do the same. In a remote learning culture, however, individual achievements — and the momentum they can bring to the rest of the team — can fly under the radar. To avoid this, create a forum (a monthly meeting, perhaps) where people share their wins, receive kudos from you and their peers, and offer feedback on the pros and cons of any training they’ve undertaken.

And don’t forget to make your online professional development program part of your recruitment strategy. Job postings for remote positions should convey the message that geography is no barrier to career advancement at your company. In this most competitive of hiring markets, it could give you the edge you need.

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