Yesterday two of my friends made striking statements to me: One said he didn’t expect to go to his office until 2022, and another said I don’t feel far away from her anymore since she doesn’t see anyone anymore. I had already planned to write this but their words reinforced the need for a post on virtual professional growth in my mind.
No, I’m not saying that my friends aren’t growing. I am just saying that their turns of phrase stood out to me because of where my head was at. People feel somewhat disconnected right now as COVID has caused many office-workers to work from home (WFH). This has caused changes in workplace cultures, social norms, and some job performance expectations – but it shouldn’t stop your networking or technical growth. In fact, now may be a unique opportunity, for some, to grow more than ever professionally.
All of that said, I’d like to share my thoughts on a few digital networking & learning alternatives that I did pre-COVID, but have ramped up since it became clear that things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon. (Hell, we may BE in the new normal and nobody knows it.) Here we go!
The first one (which will range from free sources to paid ones) involves you setting aside some time to learn more about your current line of work, or something entirely new to you, online.
Make use of services like Google Analytics Academy to understand more about the current standard for web analytics. Learn how to code in various languages through things like Codecademy. Khan Academy now covers multiple topics and has moved well beyond its roots of “just math” into the realms of science, economics, the arts, life skills, and more. Udemy touts itself as having the world’s largest selection of courses. LinkedIn Learning has a boon (don’t use that word often) of resources available for those with access. Get certifications in digital marketing and software skills from Simplilearn. This is a lot of options, but what I’ve listed represents the tip of the iceberg of what’s available to you out there!
I mentioned these specific options because I’ve made use of all of these services at one time or another in the past, but now I’ve invited a number of coworkers along for the ride. We work through lessons together and hold regular discussion groups as we all advance our existing skills while getting to know each other better in the process.
Attend Professional Digital Conferences
Many conferences didn’t “just go away” in the face of COVID (haha – don’t get me wrong, some definitely did) – tons of them have adapted and taken their show online. I have scheduled days “away from the office” to still attend digital conferences and learn the newest materials in my fields of interest while virtually meeting new peers and hearing insights from industry thought leaders. The fact that you are at home doesn’t have to “keep you at home” (if you know what I mean).
This has led to me including my place of employment in trial runs for a number of new beta test features in products that we use that we otherwise may have missed, and we’re seeing a payoff from those inclusions already! You can do this and still build value for your workplace and your career!
Check Out Interesting Digital Presentations
Similar to the last one, but with a slight twist in terms of scale – catch quick talks or special presentations online if you don’t have the time to set aside a day or two for a virtual conference. I have registered for discussions with Chip & Joanna Gaines (I love them) talking about grit, Mark Cuban talking about innovation, and John Legend evangelizing about the impact of social justice in the modern workplace – to name a few.
These are presentations I likely would have missed before, but guess what? You are allowed an hour every now and then to escape your norm to hear thought-provoking and perspective-expanding ideas when you’re sitting at home all day. Trust me, it’ll help break up the monotony of your new daily WFH routine and, again, give you the chance to network with new peers and thought leaders.
I feel like this type of pause in your day is typically reserved for upper-management at some companies – but it’s totally available to everyone right now, even more so than in the past, if you’re working at home.
As an example, a friend mentioned to me how she wanted to share her ideas but didn’t want to bring her employer into the mix. She had just genuinely solved some issues that she felt others in her line of work could benefit from if they read her thoughts in-detail. I told her there’s an easy fix for that: just don’t mention her employer by name. I encouraged her to post her insights out on Medium and take care to use terms like “for my employer” and “at my job” or “at work”. She isn’t alone in her desire to share what she knows.
I also blog (obviously) but to be clear, I had planned to get back into blogging prior to COVID. Still, having this much “me time” now has certainly helped with the productivity of my situation.
Make Continued Use of LinkedIn
I left social media for 4 years starting back in 2016. I felt like things had gotten waaaaay too negative online for my taste, and I didn’t think any of it was doing anything positive to my mental health at the time – so I jumped ship for a while. But, even before coming back to the fold last year, I KEPT my LinkedIn profile and related activities going that entire time while continuing to grow my network and reach out to individuals who inspired me in some capacity.
Although its environment has gotten a little more lax and inclusive in terms of content (which isn’t a bad thing) LinkedIn has proven itself as a force to be reckoned with in terms of professional networking and idea growth. I found my current job through LinkedIn back in 2013, and have been offered multiple roles at other companies since (which I happily turn down because I work at a pretty cool place). Just because we’re at home, don’t let your investment in “other options” fall to the wayside.
Not only is this continued behavior a vital professional safety-net (hey, when it comes to layoffs or being fired – “anybody can get it”), but it’s also important that you validate your skills and confidently REMEMBER YOUR WORTH as an employee in terms of what you bring to the table.
I know we all use Social Media, but I don’t think as many people take advantage of learning how to really use Social Media in order to progress their professional endeavors and build up their reputations. I am not an expert in the field by any means, but I’m putting in the work to learn more about online advertising through the medium and making sure to keep my audience (read as coworkers, professional contacts, and family/friends) aware of what things I’ve got cooking.
You never know where sharing your hobbies and interests online may lead. In the past, this has brought me fun interview opportunities, paid advertising offers, collaborations, free products, and more. Who knows what the yield will be of seeds that we plan today — right now — while we’re all working from home.
And when you’re ready to juice that up, join the rest of us and create a regular Zoom meeting with others to discuss materials you’ve read on a regular basis. It is that easy.
All I’ve mentioned here are things I have personally done in some form or another throughout this entire COVID-inspired WFH-Era (I’ve been working away from the office since the end of February 2020, and it’s not changing anytime soon). This is a very long “temporary” normal that we all have to learn to adapt to or risk being left behind compared to our peers who stepped up to the occasion. I believe in you – you got this!
What did I miss? If you have anything you’ve been doing for professional-growth that’s not listed above, please consider sharing it in the comment section below.