In a recent blog series that I wrote, I recently discussed what goes into making a Great Place To Work (GPTW for short) and what you can do to help your organization achieve that goal. In short, making a place a GPTW is a lot like stone soup – everyone brings something, and everyone benefits from doing so!
One of the top things you can do is create professional development opportunities for people at the office or even while working remotely.
Often, people perceive barriers to taking action due to either funds or permission. So here are 7 completely unobjectionable things you can do, sometimes holding a meeting during lunch, and that don’t require any funding or approval – just initiative, drive and investment of time!
Organize a book club
While it may seem trite, this is actually a fun and easy-to-implement idea. You can use a simple survey to propose 3-5 books that you think are relevant for your workplace – circulate a simple poll through any one of the free means of doing so (Surveymonkey, Google forms) – and pick the one with the most votes. Schedule lunchtime meetings either weekly or semi-monthly to discuss the book as you go along.
You can show extra leadership and planning by publishing a small plan of what chapters will be discussed each week, as well as reading ahead of the group and proposing discussion topics – again, relevant to your workplace. To help support participation you might circulate a few bullet points of interesting things said at the last meeting – not a full recap, just a few to let people know what they missed.
By having just a few chapters each session people who aren’t consistent with reading can still participate by reading just the parts for that session.
Keep a calendar of professional events
Spend a little time making a list of links to professional associations in your area. This could include PMI, IIBA, networking and meetups for technology, agile, or anything specific to your industry. Keep a published calendar for your office (or possibly start a small blog with updates more publicly) about upcoming events 30-60 days out. Groups will typically have recurring meetings that are easy to schedule, even if you don’t know the topics they’ll be having.
If you have coworkers who have completed professional accomplishments, such as a very challenging assignment or a certification, organize a little get together with (literally) cake and ice cream. Don’t get bothered about whether work will reimburse you or not – I’m talking about spending $20 once in a while on this! It’ll be very appreciated. Ask the person who just had the accomplishment to perhaps talk a little (say 5-10 minutes, not a big presentation!) about who helped them get there, what they did to prepare, or what they learned along the way.
Find webinars online for lunch-and-learn events
This is an excellent option if you work in a distributed team, or a small/remote community where there aren’t a lot of active professional groups.
IIBA, PMI, and many software development organizations have webinars for free, and even their own YouTube channels – several professional publications maintain a bank of webinars you can review at any time, or for a very small charge. Even watching a few relevant TED talks can be interesting and thought-provoking!
Organize a lunchtime event to watch something you think is interesting. If your team is located together, get a conference room and (like a book club) offer discussion topics for after the content. If distributed, ask everyone to bring their lunch then do the same thing virtually, online together.
Create an informal speakers bureau
In the same theme of lunch-and-learn type of events at your office, you can organize quarterly events of discussions about business-relevant and interesting subjects at your office. Here are a few ideas that offer professional development for the speaker and the audience:
- New business practices, competitor profiles, industry events, relevant to your company.
- New and emerging technologies and how they may affect your field or company.
- A report about a recent conference or in-town professional meeting.
- Invite managers and leaders, offer them the opportunity to speak about (or send a delegate to speak about) important initiatives, and possibly how the audience fits into The Big Plan.
Organize a volunteer event
Almost every charitable organization has a way for 10-20 people from an office to come in and help out for half or whole day shifts. Typically they do ask for a committed date at least 4 weeks in the future. In case you’ve never organized this, holidays do fill up fast.
As a note towards office sensitivity, I would suggest a community charity and not a religiously affiliated one. (Generally speaking, never select your own place of spirituality or worship as an office outing.)
Examples of good charities include organizations which support families who foster children, meals-on-wheels, homeless shelters, food banks, educational or veterans organizations, elderly care support, and groups which support families and individuals dealing with cancer.
This may take some time away from the office. If that’s an issue for your workplace, organizing a donation drive of food or materials for that same organization is a great alternative.
Organize a social event at the office
While not strictly professional development, everyone appreciates a good team-building activity at the office! Getting together and making teams for a food based event like a chili cook-off, cupcake competition, or any theme-based-eating event will go over just fine.
Remember: light publicity can help!
Whatever you do, circulate some pictures and a brief write-up of the event afterwards. It will help create interest for the next one. If you have an internal blog post or business social media engine you use for employee-to-employee collaboration, put things there on a running basis.
It can take a few months to get significant interest and participation; things like this can help make you more successful.
And finally, remember that you don’t have to do these alone. All of the above lend themselves to splitting and sharing the work with others. You can do the calendar and scheduling, someone else can arrange content, another person can handle some marketing aspects. As long as you’re coordinating and collaborating – and doing what you say you will do! – this activity in itself becomes a valuable professional activity that shows initiative and provides a learning experience for participants.