Now that’s what I call ‘distance learning’: how to maintain your personal development in a crisis

27 March 2020 -

Now that's what I call distance learningYou may be committed to your own personal development plan or you may be helping your team to reach professional goals. How do you manage both, virtually?

Ian Wylie

For many of us, lives have gotten really busy lately, with little warning or time to prepare for new routines and ways of working remotely. This presents a dilemma for managers: how to keep your team on track to meet objectives, without giving up on your own personal development and study goals. With these tips, we think it can be done.

Set clear expectations

Agree the new way of working. Although everyone is finding their feet at the moment, it’s really important for you and your team to have clarity around what you’re asking them to do, says Eszter Molnar Mills, director of leadership specialist Formium Development. “Set clear objectives, make sure the expectations and success criteria are clear,” she says. Are you expecting them to work set hours, or deliver set results? The latter may be more appropriate if colleagues are also acting as part-time teachers or carers. She recommends agreeing and blocking out non-contact time to enable team members to work without the distraction of the newly increased flood of email, notifications and messages.

Motivate them

Feed their motivation. Team members will need more self-motivation while working virtually, so allocate work that naturally drives and engages them, says Molnar Mills. Revisit workloads and tasks, making sure that they are using their talents and strengths. Maintain a high level of interest in their work and reinforce the purpose of their activities.

Trust them

Show trust. Don’t be a micromanager, warns change management consultant Keith Richardson. “Micromanaging suggests you don’t have confidence in your team to achieve what you have asked them to do, and that you are not confident in the direction you have set,” he says. Leave the door open for them to come to you for further help should they need it. “Showing trust motivates people and builds teamwork. If someone is breaking that trust, deal with it quickly and decisively and move on.”

Be supportive

Counter anxiety and disruption by looking to maintain the social links that your team previously took for granted, suggests Molnar Mills. “There are countless stories of teams having happy hours and pizza parties remotely – what could you do?”

But what about your own personal development?

Be realistic

Life has changed, so if you’d previously carved out, say, ten hours per week, don’t feel you have to rigidly stick to that, says Graham Philpott, career development manager at Henley Business School. “If your life has suddenly got more difficult, then adjust downwards.” Equally, if you’ve unexpectedly found yourself with lots of time on your hands, use some of it for more personal development. This is a key message that CMI’s chief Ann Francke has been putting out: “This could be a great period to learn. You may be working from home or with fewer distractions. What better time to do a structured learning journey or put yourself through the CMgr process. CMI has incredible resources to help you further your career. Please use them.”

Reprioritise your actions

Your study timetable may have changed, classes postponed, exams switched to assignments etc. These things may well change both what you need to study, and when you need to have done it by. “You might also need to learn some new skills, such as learning how to work effectively from home, so those things will need to come to the top of your list,” advises Philpott.

Schedule appropriately

When are you most in the zone for study? Do you want to synchronize your learning with a study buddy on an open WhatsApp video link? When are you least likely to be disturbed? When can your partner take responsibility for those life chores?

Set aside a personal space

Where you used to do your personal development may now be your workspace all day long. “If you’ve been sat there for eight hours, then move somewhere else for your study as this will help your mindset realign,” suggests Philpott.

Join the CMI community

“Take part in relevant communities of practice where you can learn from others while sharing our own expertise,” advises Lisa Harris, director of digital learning at Exeter University. In the world of higher education, for example, #LTHEchat on Twitter runs focused sessions on specific aspects of teaching and learning where contributors “go the extra mile” to share resources and help others. You can also join the CMI community on Twitter and LinkedIn using the #BetterManagers hashtag. Why not sign up to watch our weekly Better Managers Briefings every Friday, where we discuss the pressing issues facing leaders during the COVID-19 crisis?

Treat yourself when you achieve

The treat may have to change to the next episode in that box set rather than a drink down the pub, but the principle is the same. An important aspect of progress is reflecting on how far you’ve come, so rewards allow you to take a moment and praise your hard work.

Finally, in all things, be willing to trial and pilot things for the next week or so, advises Philpott. You can always change them again if they aren’t working. “We’re on a period of self-discovery here, so don’t expect perfection first time,” he cautions. “Be kind to yourself if you need to adjust, even multiple times.”

You can find out more about the benefits of becoming part of the CMI community on our FAQ page. With unrivalled learning resources, checklists and templates, we can help motivate both you and your team.


Image: Unsplash