It’s not farfetched to call Perry Timms an L&D trailblazer. As well as being recognised by HR magazine as one of HR’s “most influential people”, he’s also a seasoned HR professional, TEDx speaker and author.

L&D podcast host and Chief Learning Officer at Looop, David James, had the pleasure of meeting Perry to talk about the training and development of remote workers.

Perry has been a remote worker — in some capacity or other — for around twenty years. From dial-up connections and conference calls via prepaid phone cards, Perry has seen it all. With flexible working now a common expectation of the modern company, Perry and David talked about how this cultural shift is, and should, be affecting the way we implement learning and development. Listen to Perry and David in episode 7 of the L&D podcast here or read on for the summary.


Perry Timms influential HR thinker
Perry Timms receiving his award as Most Influential HR Thinker 2018 (Source: Twitter)


When It Comes to Developing Remote Workers, What Should HR Be Aware of? 

Flexible hours. Shorter workweeks. Unprecedented levels of autonomy. There’s a lot more for companies to unpack when implementing a flexible working policy than hardware and software. When done right, flexible working arrangements have the power to increase employee satisfaction and employee retention, whilst allowing the company to stay ahead of the competition by accessing a global talent pool. 

Here are two key factors that HR should consider when cultivating remote workers


The Company Culture

Firstly, remote workers will likely spend most of their days working from home, alone. This matters because, unfortunately, managers are often reluctant to trust their employees to work from home or, indeed, any other unobservable place. If you can’t trust an employee to do their work from home, then why hire them in the first place? 

Perry adds, “There are lots of people who haven’t developed the maturity — and the trust — in order to say to people: it doesn’t matter where you are. If you can connect and do your work, you can do it wherever you want to.”

Forbidding employees from working remotely is an overt way of signalling distrust but skepticism can be shown in more subtle ways. For example, most office-based employees have probably been asked — on the odd occasion that they did work remotely — “How long did you spend watching Netflix today?” Provocative questions like this may be raised in jest but they aren’t helpful when it comes to fostering a flexible company culture.


The Type of Support That Remote Workers Need 

Trust is just the first hurdle to clear when developing remote workers. To support and develop remote workers, HR also has to evaluate how they cater to their remote workers’ wants and needs. At a high level, most employees want the same things, including:

  • Adequate remuneration 
  • Job security 
  • A healthy work-life balance
  • Appreciation for their work
  • Learning and development
  • Positive relationships with their colleagues and superiors
  • Satisfying and interesting work
  • Opportunities for progression

In areas such as adequate remuneration, the support from HR won’t need to change. Almost every other area, however, is affected when an employee works remotely. Consequently, businesses shouldn’t adopt a “one-shoe-fits-all” approach to managing and supporting remote workers

Perry explains that remote workers are “so detached from the mother-ship that they get forgotten about.” During his time as a remote worker, Perry has felt “isolated, lonely and excluded” because he “wasn’t in that one place where the majority of people were.” He adds that remote workers “often feel like they have to work harder to be remembered and included.” As a result, work-life balance can suffer as the remote worker struggles to find a rhythm that works.

When it comes to assuring that flexible workers still have the opportunity to grow through L&D, Perry says “If we design it from the start, and we say, we don’t have to bring people physically together for some of this, then I think we’ll start getting people going: now I can participate.” HR will need to be more creative in delivering their training. For example, HR could seek to create “learning partnerships” between remote workers so that they can feel connected to the company and learn simultaneously. 

Remote working has the potential to offer a business and its employees a litany of benefits. However, if a support framework isn’t established and maintained, the potential for problems to arise will only increase. It’s therefore absolutely vital that HR continuously search for better ways to help their remote employees feel connected and valued. It’s HR’s job to be proactive about gaining employee feedback and adjusting the approach where necessary.

Pick up a practical guide to engaging the modern learner here


Perry Has Been a Remote Worker for 20+ Years, Has His Learning Trajectory Suffered?

Perry has worked for a number of organisations over the years but learning and development was never handed to Perry on any kind of plate. Conversely, he needed to go on a personal “rampage to learn”, which went far beyond the pro-active attitude that could be expected. This left him feeling like he needed to work much harder than his peers. Perry admits that this shouldn’t be the expected stance for employees — opportunities for professional growth should be easily accessible.

According to research by TotalJobs, “two in three UK workers have quit a job due to a lack of available learning and development (L&D) opportunities.” This is a scary prospect for HR departments who feel stuck with a learning and development strategy that is failing employees within all areas of the remote working spectrum. 


How Can Remote Workers Succeed in a More “Traditional” Company? 


Perry Timms at TEDxBucharest discussing “The Future of Work”

Speak Up 

Perry encourages each and every employee to take personal responsibility for him or her self. HR can offer guidance and support but they can’t read minds. Hence, Perry suggests that remote workers shouldn’t be afraid to share their ambitions and desires with HR and management. Part of being detached from the mothership is that you’re less visible and have less potential for the kind of casual interactions over coffee that build relationships. 

Remote workers need to be even more deliberate in their relationship-building and career-planning efforts than their office-based counterparts. Here are a few ideas to consider: 

  • Arrange regular calls so that everyone stays in the loop 
  • Get to know colleagues on a personal level by making additional time for small talk
  • Meet in person when possible — whether that be a team dinner or an onsite meeting
  • Opt for video calls over audio calls, and audio calls over texting

Using these ideas as a jump-off point, remote workers can start nurturing the relationships that contribute to personal growth and professional success. 


Never Stop Learning

Continual learning is a core element of both professional development and fulfilment so the quest to be “the best version of yourself” should never stop. For continued growth, remote workers can merge learning with their worklife in several ways. 

One of Perry’s suggestions to incorporate learning into your working life is to “use learning as a positive distraction” by having “learning interludes”. The idea is to break up humdrum or challenging work by taking short breaks to learn something new. 

In the short-term — at a minimum — you will experience a burst of energy that will allow you to tackle challenging work with increased focus. While, in the long-term, these learning interludes aid both your personal and professional development. 

To make the most of his learning interludes, Perry keeps track of articles he wants to read and skills he wants to learn in EverNote. Then, when it’s time for a break, he pulls up the next item on his list to dive into. 


Integrating Remote Workers into Your L&D Strategy?

Find out more about learning in the flow of work here and book a free demo with Looop today

Ask Perry Timms for advice on LinkedIn or Twitter, or read his blog on Medium.

Share your thoughts with David James on LinkedIn or Twitter.