Employers shouldn’t forget about professional development in a hybrid world

How do you help your team thrive in today’s virtual workspace? Stephanie Wallis, Head of Sales at Jarrold Training, investigates.

The world has changed a lot since 2020.

Annual sales of loungewear (otherwise known as jogging bottoms) have increased by 80%; more of us are enjoying the great outdoors than ever before; and we all now know what the word ‘furlough’ means.

Workplaces have also witnessed a significant shift, with flexible working policies and software such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom becoming commonplace. This, as I am sure most of you would agree, has been hugely beneficial. It has allowed us to be better connected, as well as save time and resource.

In fact, in February 2022, the Office of National Statistics reported that more than three-quarters (78%) of those who worked from home in some capacity reported a better work-life balance.

But that is not to say that homeworking isn’t without its challenges. On the contrary, the loss of physical face-to-face meetings, where chemistry naturally flows back and forth and individuals can sense body language, has arguably put a considerable dent in collective collaboration – it’s just not the same as talking to a face on a screen. And even then, some refuse to turn on their Zoom camera… so how do you know if people are truly engaged with the conversation?

Nevertheless, it’s clear these changes are here to stay; more than a third of UK workers would quit if they were told to return to the office full-time. And why should they? During multiple lockdowns, employees demonstrated, for long periods of time, that they were capable of working from home with technology empowering them to do so.

Surely output should be measured in innovation, productivity and real-time results, rather than hours in an office building or in front of a screen? Businesses that choose to ignore this are experiencing employee dissatisfaction.

And so, on top of staying flexible to retain valuable staff members, businesses should also keep opportunities for learning and development front and centre. Short courses that focus on developing personal and professional confidence, the ability to develop relationships virtually, and even how to self-motivate and manage time efficiently, will be important focuses for businesses to ensure that their teams thrive in a hybrid environment.

Building strong virtual team relationships requires intentional effort, and regular video meetings can help to emulate face-to-face interactions, enhancing connection and understanding. Active listening and empathy through virtual channels can also help to deepen bonds.

However, it’s important for virtual team interactions to not just be about work and deadlines. They should have a social aspect to them too so that teams know each other on a personal level. Why not introduce a Friday afternoon quiz or end of week team meeting to catch up in a space where “work talk” is specifically off limits?

In a hybrid work environment, employers play a crucial role in supporting team self-motivation and time management. Clearly communicating expectations and goals can help to provide a sense of purpose to employees. Once these goals are established, employees should look to break them into smaller tasks to help create feelings of accomplishment. This will help to foster a culture of trust, where autonomy is valued, which will in turn, empower employees to take ownership of their tasks.

I would also recommend that employers look to implement personal action plans for each team member to help them keep on track with their objectives and goals and enhance performance within teams. This will help to set expectations for both the employee and team leader.

By transforming the way we look at training – so that it keeps up with the challenges of the modern workplace – we can create a culture of confidence and clarity. This will contribute to a happy and successful workplace that retains its best workers and thrives for many more years to come.

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