How to Plan and Execute Professional Development for Virtual Contractors
Dr. Abigail G. Scheg, People & Culture Manager, VaVa Virtual Assistants
Professional Development is woven into the fabric of VaVa Virtual Assistants. It’s in our values:
We love what we do. We feel fulfilled when we can serve Clients to the best of our abilities and seek out opportunities to learn, grow, and develop our skills regularly.
What is Professional Development?
Professional development takes so many shapes, sizes, and time commitments. My background is in higher education, where professional development often means attending and presenting at professional conferences, writing scholarly journal articles, or even writing a book in your field of study. But, it also means taking a class, obtaining a certification, exploring a new career pathway or facet of your career, or identifying an opportunity in your communication skills and bridging a gap there. Personally, I think of all professional development is equally important: no one opportunity is “better” than another because all development opportunities help us to grow in an area that we need (or maybe even one that we didn’t know we needed).
Part of my role at VaVa Virtual Assistants is to plan internal professional development opportunities for our team. In order to plan them, I had to determine what professional development our team was even interested in! To find out, I met one-on-one with members of the team who were interested and asked them a series of questions about their roles including what professional development opportunities were of interest to them—spanning technologies, soft skills, and internal guidance (or how we do something here at VaVa). Since our professional development is optional, I wanted to be sure to have a pool of ideas that resonated with the team in a variety of ways
Organizing a Professional Development Topic List
Once I met with the team, I had a list of about 78 professional development topics that would keep me busy for a while! I started to divide this list of opportunities into two main categories:
- Tools and Technologies
At first, the topics seemed to be all over the place—which was great! I loved seeing the variety of ideas that the team was interested in learning! However, the more I reviewed the topics and considered how they would be put into action, the more they aligned with these two areas. Several Contractors requested topics related to communication style such as working with various types of Clients.
Communication Enthusiasts is another one of our Values. While this topic at first seemed to fit into a “soft skills” category, it was actually a Values-based development session
Thoughtfully Scheduling a Professional Development Series
From there, I started to scaffold a schedule, moving back and forth in the planning process between the two categories: Tools and Technologies and Values. Offering a development session once monthly, I cultivated a cadence swapping between the two. This way, if a category of development did not resonate with someone, they’d soon have another opportunity to attend a session. For instance, if a member of the Contractor team is only interested in learning the specific actions and capabilities of a tool (such as Trello, Asana, Salesforce, or HubSpot), they would have regular (bi-monthly) development sessions that they could attend and then they could skip the other conversations related to Values if they preferred to do so.
I also wanted to vary the topics across the months. For example, using the tools listed above, Trello and Asana are both project-management type tools; on Tools and Technologies months, I wouldn’t put those topics back-to-back. One month would be Trello and the following Tools and Technologies month would be Canva. This provides the team with a wider variety of types of tools and technologies to learn about.
Taking time to talk about professional development with each member of the team also allowed me an opportunity to ask if they’d be interested in hosting a session on the topic they expressed interest in or another topic. Some team members were very interested in hosting and others just wanted to share ideas. I tried to allow everyone the space to find where they fit best into the conversation, whether that was host, participant, or idea generator.
Follow-up and Future Planning
After each professional development session, a survey is sent out to the team so they can provide feedback on the session, the presenter, and the content. Each survey also asks participants to provide feedback on any other types of professional development sessions they would like to see provided by the team. I like to put these small opportunities for engagement (such as suggesting a topic idea) in front of the team as often as possible so everyone has a chance for low-stakes engagement that helps to foster the culture.
Planning and aiming for creativity and versatility in professional development also serves as a professional development opportunity for me: I need to stay one step ahead of the curve (when we already have so many team members that are already a step ahead) so we can offer what the team needs in a timely manner. This exercise energizes me and renews my interest and passion for professional development which I love sharing with the team.
If you’re interested in being part of a team that supports you in expanding your career and developing your skills, come join us at VaVa.
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