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Making Learning and Development a Priority When Your Team Is Remote

April 21, 2020
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“Never stop learning.” The business adage holds true even during a health and economic crisis — just ask any third-grader wrapping up their school year via Zoom.

With so much in flux, it’s easy for companies to shelve learning and development (L&D). But in times when employees are worried about job security, restating your investment in their future might be more important than ever. For the same reasons that companies aren’t pumping the brakes on performance reviews or goal-setting, teams should continue focusing on employee growth.

Whether you’re in crisis mode or remote work is “business as usual,” here’s how to encourage managers and teams to make full use of your L&D program. 

1. Leverage managers as advocates.

While HR teams may be tasked with rolling out L&D efforts, they can’t singlehandedly drive adoption. That’s especially true when employees are dispersed or remote. As with most workplace initiatives, managers are critical to getting employees on board. That means having them bring up your company’s program during one-on-one meetings and challenging reports to come forward with virtual courses or conferences they’d like to attend.

This approach is especially important in times of crisis when employees may worry about furloughs or layoffs. Managers should make it clear that direct reports’ development hasn’t taken a back seat. They should also lead by example, sharing updates on courses they’ve enrolled in and skills that they’d like to sharpen.

Managers can also create opportunities for shared learning. Ahead of their next department meeting, ask managers to designate a teammate to give a presentation explaining their area of expertise. Budget permitting, expense attendees’ lunches during the session. In addition to educating the rest of the team, these recurring “lunch and learns” give managers another way to recognize subject matter experts in a powerful and public way. 

2. Make development part of goal-setting.

According to a LinkedIn study, over 90% of employees claim that development is something that’s important to them — but finding the time to follow through isn’t easy when managers aren’t willing to shuffle workloads to accommodate it.

What’s the best way to rally employees to hit a business target? Grant it legitimacy through the use of company, team, and individual goals. C-suite leaders should ask employees to add at least one development-related goal to their docket each quarter — and that includes managers. Using the SMART model can make each of these more tangible. Here are a few examples of L&D goals:

  • Company: Roll out a new $500 per year learning stipend for full-time employees this quarter.
  • Manager: Complete 40 hours of coaching and management training before the end of the year. 
  • Individual: Enroll in a copywriting course this quarter to improve our client communications.

During a crisis, companies may need to adjust their goals. But there’s a silver lining — these situations give teams an opportunity to shift gears and prioritize development in lieu of conventional quotas or scrapped targets. After the crisis settles, individuals will only be better prepared to tackle their usual goals and maybe even take on new responsibilities.

3. Broaden your definition of L&D. 

While development should always tie back to business needs, it’s worth taking a broader view of what skills or programs are “fair game.” That’s especially true when team members are working remotely for the first time. In situations like these, project management and written communications are especially valuable. “Soft skills” like listening, collaboration, and public speaking are just as important when employees are collaborating via teleconference.

In addition to the above, encourage remote managers to brush up on more nuanced leadership skills. Here are a few potential topics that go beyond the run of the mill “leadership 101” style course:

  • How to Apply the GROW Model of Coaching
  • Engaging in Active Listening
  • Leading Under Pressure
  • How to Delegate Effectively
  • How to Hold Performance Conversations
  • Conflict Resolution and Mediation

Whether you work with a learning management system (LMS) or reimburse employees for enrolling in classes, reiterate what L&D really means at an all-hands meeting. Have managers broach the topic with employees in their one-on-ones. Soft skills classes might be especially impactful for individual contributors aspiring to lead a major project or even manage a team someday. 

4. Diversify your offerings.

The global coronavirus pandemic has made it even more apparent that all HR initiatives, including L&D, need to be remote-friendly. People teams have already adapted their onboarding processes to remote work, and there’s evidence that companies are in the middle of transitioning the rest of their curriculum. One LMS vendor reported that logins were at an all-time high, with some companies spending up to five times more hours in the platform since the health crisis began.

In addition to providing employees with virtual alternatives to traditionally in-person experiences, experiment with less conventional offerings. Learning stipends give employees the flexibility to pick their courses and consume content in a way that’s best suited for their learning style. Some companies offer additional perks, like book reimbursement policies. Asking employees to participate in virtual “book clubs” can help generate discussion (and maybe healthy debate) on the business topics they care most about. 


Ready or not, companies have had to take an honest look at how remote-friendly their policies and practices really are. But one thing has remained constant: To drive adoption on any major people initiative, it takes manager cooperation. Use these tips, in lockstep with team leads and managers, to reaffirm your company’s commitment to L&D in a time of uncertainty.

For more tips on keeping your team engaged and productive in the middle of a crisis, check out Lattice’s remote work toolkit.