Education Stipends for Remote Teams

Human Resources

Being able to grow and learn in a role is crucial for most employees. In fact, in the most recent Stack Overflow Developer Survey, opportunity for career growth and learning was named the fourth most important job factor, chosen by over 43% of respondents.

While many companies do a good job on actively promoting learning and education, many also benefit from the passive learning that can happen in offices, for example by letting people pair up with more senior employees, or simply by promoting a culture where there is collaboration between teams and employees.

In a fully remote team, this happens too – but more often than not, face-to-face time is better used for team building and information exchange, than week-long pairings. It's therefore recommended to promote education otherwise.

On Education Stipends

A stipend is a fixed sum that is being distributed every year or on a monthly basis. They are usually part of an overall benefit strategy. Stipends, in their usual form, are meant to be spent for a specific use case (e.g. hardware upgrades, travel, conferences, education), but it's not mandated on what exactly stipends should be spent on.

Stipends for Learning, Education and Growth should be spent on anything that promotes professional growth, for example. That includes, but is not limited to:

  • Online Courses (through Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, etc.)
  • In-Person Classes
  • Industry News & Magazine Subscriptions
  • Coaching & Mentorship (for example through MentorCruise (disclaimer: NoHQ and MentorCruise share the same founder))
  • Books

List is highly influenced by the policy at Buffer. Additionally, it's the decision of the employer, whether or not the education stipend should be spent on employment- and industry-specific education, or anything that counts as classes (which would also include Yoga classes for example).

How much should you offer?

Companies that implement education stipends, like Buffer mentioned above, decide on an annual monetary value they'd like to assign to "Learning and Education". The sum of these stipends highly depends on what they include, and what other benefits are being offered. Buffer provides an environment where learning is already promoted and conference visits are not part of that stipend, so they offer $240 per year to every employee. That assigns a value of $18,000 to additional learning and growth of their employees. Nestio, a marketing startup, are offering over $1,000 per year to their employees, but they reside in a stressful sector and location where employee retention is rather low. Offering this perk is crucial!

How high the stipend is going to be depends on multiple factors and your company in the end.

  • Are you looking to promote overall skill growth, or do you want people to spend the stipend on job education only? (One promotes wellbeing and satisfaction, the other ones promotes career growth and usually has a measurable ROI)
  • Do you offer other benefits that would promote career growth and learning (e.g. team retreats, conference visits, training, subscriptions or books)?
  • Is this something that aligns with your company culture?
  • Are you in an industry where continuous learning is crucial (disclaimer: It almost always is)

Why this is crucial to remote teams

So, all this seems fairly generic. Why is this so crucial to remote teams?

Well, we already touched on it a little bit, but in essence:

It's much, much more difficult for remote employees to grow their skillset organically, without the employer promoting it.

And that's important: Over 40% of respondents to the StackOverflow Survey see this as the most important part when deciding whether to take an offer, or leave a current position.

Whether an education stipend is crucial for promoting education is up to you: Maybe your organization has enough opportunities to grow and learn, but even a small stipend can give a good signal that you are promoting growth. As Buffer states:

The goal for us with the stipend wasn’t to give them a huge amount of money but to let them know that this is something we want to support at Buffer.

And that sums it up: With a stipend, you can give people some support and a nudge in the right direction. If you feel like some people might come short when it comes to career development – giving a little support is always welcome.

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