Top advice to help you transfer skills to a remote workforce

Sean Bave, general manager and vice president of Stack Overflow Talent, explains how to make the most out of remote workers.

Upskilling and training your remote software developers is important. Technology changes and expands at a fast pace, and in the face of a widening tech skills gap it is critical that your team not only keeps up, but stays ahead.

Software developers are some of the most diligent workers when it comes to teaching themselves new skills. Almost 90% of them say that they’ve taught themselves a new language outside of their formal education, and they spend on average seven hours a week of their own time learning new skills necessary to do their jobs.

We’re also seeing an increasing trend in developers working remotely. This is great for productivity, but means it’s difficult for you to check in person to see how the training is going. Additionally, it’s much harder for them to learn alongside those who work in the office and keep up with any training taking place on site (or even just the scraps of information they might naturally pick up from their deskmates).

So how can companies provide the right kind of training to remote developers and make sure that they are upskilling in a way that is in line with company goals?

Here are three key things to remember:

Understand the options

Whilst you might think of training as something that involves showing up in a meeting room and putting in a few hours of effort, the education landscape is rapidly changing. There are increasingly more effective ways of training that can be done remotely. Developers themselves are recognising this, and are turning to non-traditional methods of education in order to keep their skills fresh. In fact, over 49% of developers in the UK with less than four years of experience say that they have taken an online course.

This means that it’s vital to give your developers options when it comes to how they want to upskill. For some developers, the most effective way to learn might be through an online learning course, such as a Udacity Nanodegree programme. Others might prefer to participate in hackathons or developer bootcamps. These are all valid ways of upskilling that can all be done remotely. What’s important is not to be too rigid in what you offer and let your developers decide for themselves.

Build a community

One of the most effective ways for office workers to pick up skills is via their peers. In fact, informal learning can comprise up to 75% of total learning. Remote developers, however, don’t have that luxury, and can miss out on the casual interactions among colleagues.

Thankfully, developers are well-known for forming and being part of strong communities. According to Stack Overflow data, 70% of developers agree or strongly agree that they feel a sense of connection with other developers. And traditionally, developers are often known to be open and free with helping each other, whether online or offline.

With this in mind, it’s worth not only tapping into the developer community that is already there – whether that’s on Stack Overflow or Reddit – but also building a community for the remote developers at your company. Implement tools such as Trello or Hubgets for online collaboration, and create private groups on Slack or Telegram. Developers can use these tools to communicate freely, ask questions and share ideas.

Set personal and strategic training goals

Every member of your team is different. They all have different training needs and different skill levels. Some may be experts in one type of technology, but need to put in some additional work on another. This means you have to carry out assessments of each individual’s needs so that you can tailor the training to them.

Part of this will consist of setting personal goals for each remote team member: upskill them in something that they want to and need to learn. There is nothing worse than an organisation investing time and money in training that no one is interested in.

However, it’s crucial to strike the balance between the goals of each of your team members and the strategic goals of the company. Work out exactly what you as a business want to get out of the training and ensure that what you’re teaching them is beneficial to your bottom line.

Learning new skills at a rapid pace is perhaps more vital to developers than any other member of your team: in fact, 11% of developers in the UK and Ireland say that the opportunity for continuing professional development is their highest priority when assessing potential jobs. By understanding the options available, building a community, and setting goals that are in-line with your company’s aims, you can make sure that you keep your remote workers engaged and empowered when it comes to upskilling.