Chris Webb explores how Continuing Professional Development has changed for professional services in HE during the pandemic and how professionals can leverage the hybrid working space to boost their development.
From as early as April 2020 (1), commentary was starting to appear online and in the media about the potentially detrimental impact of the move to remote working for many individuals, including the now-familiar concept of ‘Zoom Fatigue’. However, this was, for a number of workers, hardly a new phenomenon – articles assessing the pros and cons of remote working have been doing the rounds for some time pre-Covid, with the focus often falling on areas like productivity and work-life balance (2). More recently, though, as numerous graduates, apprentices and school leavers have transitioned into early career roles in the hybrid working era, the discourse has also encompassed the impact of remote working on the professional development of less experienced employees, particularly in regard to networking, mentoring and progression opportunities and how these might be accessed easily within the online space (3). But what of existing professionals who have been working in a remote or hybrid capacity since the start of the pandemic? Many of us may have reflected on how our day-to-day roles have altered since March 2020 but what of our Continuing Professional Development (CPD)? In this article, I’ll explore how professional services staff in the HE sector have adapted their CPD to changing circumstances and the challenges and opportunities that have come with new ways of working.
Zoompocalypse Now – CPD Challenges
The start of the pandemic not only saw a rapid move to online video calling technology like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet for the majority of professional services staff in their day-to-day work (indeed, in April 2020, Zoom peaked at 300 million daily participants, up from just 10 million in December 2019 ), it also led to the meteoric rise of the CPD ‘webinar’ which, while hardly a new invention, provided professionals with access to a wider range of training, information and professional development opportunities than ever before, with the vast majority of professional conferences also moving to an online space. While the accessibility of online training and events has arguably given professionals the opportunity to listen to and connect with CPD and speakers from a much wider spectrum than they could previously, there are questions around what might be missing from a professional development perspective. Rish Baruah, Senior Careers Consultant and Founder of Karuna CV, notes that while there are many pros to online continuing professional development, “The worst part for me is missing out on the discussion after the session, which is where a lot of the real learning takes place!”. Indeed, professional networking has proved to be one of the more challenging facets of CPD to replicate in the online/hybrid working space and, although platforms like Hopin have helped conference organisers to simulate many elements of in-person conferences, it has been notable how popular many in-person networking events have been since Covid-19 restrictions were eased earlier this year and this may well be due to individuals recognising the benefit of ‘coffee break chats’ or ‘corridor conversations’ for discussing new ideas and CPD opportunities that weren’t always easily accessible in a fully online space.
However, it is important not to underplay the exposure to new CPD opportunities that has come from the increase in online activity. Catherine Hodgson, Careers Consultant at Arden University, recalls an Advance HE Connect event on recent employability literature, the format of which meant academics and other professionals from Australian universities could also attend – “This was some of the best training I have attended, sharing knowledge with academics and careers development professionals from a global perspective”. CPD opportunities in the online space can also extend beyond what we learn and who we interact with, to enhance what we do with this learning and how we share this with others.
Pods, Vlogs, Blogs and Side-Hustles – CPD Opportunities
Indeed, many professional services staff in the HE sector have found that the development of new tech skills and understanding of different software platforms have opened up new ways of working in their day-to-day roles. As Catherine Hodgson notes, “Using the platforms of Teams and Zoom which were initially unfamiliar to us have now become the norm and we can meet and network with colleagues across the UK and even the world. I feel this has really enhanced my overall experience of CPD”. This technology has also allowed professionals to explore other avenues for CPD, such as creating their own content via the medium of blogging, vlogging, live streaming and podcasting, providing a new way to explore projects they are interested in and share their professional interests with a wider audience.
For Rish Baruah, this has certainly been the case – “For me, some of the most valuable CPD has been due to stuff that isn’t part of the day job, and that might not have happened without the pandemic – podcasting, local radio appearances, blogging and the early-stage work I have been able to put into Karuna CV”. With HE professionals able to fold the skills and learnings from these digital CPD opportunities into their day-to-day work, it may be that the move to remote/hybrid working has accelerated changes in the way that we undertake CPD which would have been valuable even pre-Covid. Ruth Winden, Careers with Research Consultant at the University of Leeds, feels that the shift to online has not only created new ways of engaging with CPD but also greater choice and accessibility in terms of how professionals do this, providing a leveller in terms of CPD opportunity – “…they can attend live sessions, access recordings; take part live in breakout rooms, ask questions directly or engage in chat rooms; they can be on calls and choose to be visible or not – all these nuanced ways of participating in learning were not possible beforehand”.
Top 3 Tips for Managing your CPD in the Remote/Hybrid Working Era
- Make the most of new Continuing Professional Development opportunities that weren’t available to you previously, such as global conferences and networking events, but don’t forget to mix and match training and development opportunities based on what suits you best – for example, you may choose to attend a webinar to develop knowledge in a specific area but set up an in-person forum or meeting with colleagues to share this information and discuss ways to apply this to your professional practice.
- Connect with individuals who can support you with your professional development – the ability to network with professionals outside of your current employer has arguably never been easier, with communities of interest on platforms like LinkedIn and Facebook providing individuals with access to mentoring, coaching and collective learning in a range of different areas. If you are relatively new to online networking, ask for recommendations from other professionals on sites like Twitter and LinkedIn – despite the often negative press surrounding social media, these platforms are home to a large number of supportive professionals and learning communities who can help you feel less isolated in your CPD journey.
- Finally, remember that CPD is more than just the webinars, training sessions or other online activities you might take part in – as Ruth Winden notes, “Reflecting on what we learn, implementing newly gained skills and expertise, deepening our knowledge through conversations, reading, and writing are as relevant as ever”. Speaking with your line manager and other colleagues about your CPD needs and which development opportunities might benefit you is as important in the online space as it is in the physical world of work.
- BBC – The reason Zoom calls drain your energy
- Vox – How remote work is quietly remaking our lives
- The Conversation – Young people are missing the office – here’s how they can thrive in a post-pandemic workplace
- Wired – Zoom took over the world. This is what will happen next