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How to keep your career development moving even when working remotely

Under normal circumstances, career development is usually top of mind for most professionals. With so much in flux due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on many aspects of daily life, no one would fault anybody who decided to put career development on the back burner for a while.

That may not be the best course of action. Ryan McCrea, a vice president and manager of talent development at Commerce Bank, says that even though the work environments for many have changed, he continues to encourage Commerce team members to keep their careers on track.

“We’re doing so many things virtually right now that – in a lot of ways – the process of managing your career at Commerce continues to be seamless,” he says. “We’ve set things up so that they don’t change that drastically.”

It’s all part of Commerce’s philosophy of giving team members the right tools and resources to get where they need to be – even during a pandemic. “At Commerce, we encourage everyone to fully own their careers,” McCrea says. “Our job is to support and help them throughout that process.”

The talent development team has the same credo for every new team member: know yourself, know the bank, and plan your path. “The first step in that process, knowing yourself, is really critical,” says McCrea. “We encourage people to really do some soul-searching and give a lot of thought to what their strengths, opportunities, motivations and values are.”

Beyond that, McCrea encourages team members to think not about what job they might want down the road, but to focus on the experiences they want to have. “Thinking about specific positions can sometimes be too narrow,” he says. “By framing it in terms of the experiences people want to have, it can open up interest in opportunities they might otherwise have overlooked.”

McCrea has found that for some, thinking about desired experiences can be a bit puzzling at first. “It may require you to really examine what you need to feel professionally fulfilled,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s hard to know the next steps you really want to take and where you want to go in your career.” Once a team member has all these elements in place, he adds, a full plan can start to form.

He also notes that the best long-term plans have lots of short-term actions in them. Those smaller steps should include absorbing as much training as possible and getting to know as much about your employer as you can. Commerce, for example, offers a wide variety of training opportunities and technology tips through an online portal called Commerce for U that team members can access from anywhere as they keep their development going even while working remotely. Joining professional groups such as one of Commerce’s employee resource groups, as well as external ones, can help people build their networks and gain valuable knowledge. You can even find ways to build your network and job shadow virtually through a new site offering connections across the bank called Commerce Pathways. McCrea says, “Being virtual does not mean we have to stop growing our network.”

“At the same time, it’s important to know that none of this happens in a vacuum,” McCrea says. “You don’t need to do all of this on your own. You’ll have mentors, coaches, bosses and others who will all play a role and will help guide you on your path.” In this way, McCrea likens career development to mountain climbing. “You wouldn’t climb a mountain without tools, support, preparation and skills. Building your career is the same way in that regard. And your boss should be like a Sherpa to you, making sure you get up the mountain and don’t fall into any crevasses or freeze along the way.”

While McCrea encourages everyone to keep their professional development moving despite the unusual circumstances dictated by the pandemic, he also recommends that people may need to adjust their approach in an all-virtual environment.

“It’s important to get to know your bosses or mentors well, so to connect with them on a deeper level, you may need to reach out a little bit more often and be proactive about it,” he advises. “Have a topic in mind that you can discuss briefly to get to know them a little bit. Or you can ask about something you see in the background of the room at home they’re working in.” These types of conversations, he says, can help replace the impromptu in-person conversations that don’t happen when everyone is working remotely.

McCrea also recommends continuing to work with mentors. “At Commerce, there’s a lot of virtual mentoring happening right now, particularly across all of our employee resource groups, and people are very appreciative of that,” he notes. “They’re listening to podcasts or reading books, then having a conversation about them. Or they’re talking about things that are important to them that might fall outside of work, like hobbies or their families.”

McCrea’s final piece of advice is one that’s applicable to anyone, regardless of their profession or level of career development. “Do your best to stay positive,” he says. “Just stay positive. Whether you enjoy working from home or are really missing the office – and for some people, it’s both – try to make the most of each day. Sometimes, that by itself can be a step in your journey.”

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