Three people discussing skills and development

Never in a million years did I dream I’d be working in a technology company. Not given my degree in the distinctly non-techy field of Political Science.

When I first started at Microsoft, I was only 19, scared to enter the workforce, and unsure how I could positively impact my team. Now, after being here over two months, I understand that a university degree alone doesn’t give you the skills you need to develop for the future digital workplace. Past experiences and the encouragement at work is vital for personal development.

And developing new skills in employees is a wonderful way to keep them engaged – after all, engaged employees aren’t just more productive; your business becomes more profitable, too.


1. Encourage volunteering

People often undervalue volunteering, seeing it as an after-thought. But there’s so much more to it than that. It’s an important way to gain invaluable and – importantly in the world of work today – transferable skills. These tasks also help with personal growth, too.

As such, this is an ideal way to help your staff develop new skills (or improve existing ones). Look for opportunities both within your company and beyond, and help shake that notion that volunteering is largely just ‘something to do’ or a way to boost a CV.

Volunteering has a side-benefit: it makes people feel like they’re making a difference. That has an incredible effect on how your staff will view themselves, impacting morale, esteem, and their overall productivity. In short, it gives people an often much-needed purpose.

Before I joined Microsoft, I was actively volunteering and enthusiastically saying ‘yes’ to any work opportunity that came my way. This gave me fantastic experiences working alongside lots of communities and across different environments and industries. I met people I never would’ve had otherwise, and they taught me invaluable new skills.

Don’t restrict your people. Do anything. Everything.


2. Introduce an early in career programme

Most large companies today offer an early in career programme, which takes on interns, apprentices and new (or soon-to-be) graduates. These programmes are designed to nurture young people’s independence, and put them on the right path as they begin their careers. To ease them into a new culture. To give them real responsibility. To offer the chance to work on projects they’re passionate about.

It’s precisely the start that young graduates need. Fresh employees – brimming with ideas and innovation – are needed for the continued success of any company. Yours is no different.

For instance, Microsoft’s early in career programme lets bright young people join as an apprentice, interns, or graduate depending on experience. They then have the chance, seeing all levels of the business. It’s a chance to work in a proper work environment, allowing them to network with colleagues, and learn new skills. It’s the perfect opportunity to test out new roles and encourage further development.

And while you’re busy strengthening skills in these younger employees, they’re bridging that generational divide and bringing new skills into your business.


3. Identify your workplace culture and values

A workplace culture and easily communicated values are integral to a modern business. It’s a way of creating a sense of community, ensuring everyone’s working towards a common goal.

As an example, Microsoft’s culture is themed around a simple premise: to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more. And what could be more empowering that helping people develop new skills?

Ask yourself:

  • Who are you (as a company)?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What do you want employees to get out of working for you?
  • How will this manifest itself?

For me, workplace culture involves being part of – and supporting – a team, where you feel comfortable to be yourself without judgement.

Today, a core part of many company cultures is the idea that time should be used, during working hours, to boost the skills and knowledge of employees. Or, as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says, “Don’t be a know-it-all, be a learn-it-all.”

Encourage this concept of a ‘learn-it-all culture’ by allowing time for employees to work on skills that help them, and can benefit the business. You may not realise it at first, but you’re now creating an even more productive (and potentially more loyal) workforce – and one that’s grateful for the opportunities you provide.


4. Focus on that work-life balance

In the modern workplace, the employee experience comes first. It affects how your people perform, how they view your company, and where they fit in.

It’s important to know…

  • Do your employees have the right tools to perform their jobs?
  • Does your employee experience negatively impact your customer’s experience?
  • Do you encourage people to maintain a good work-life balance?


Exhausted employees, burnt out from overwork and frustrated by the lack of vital tools, won’t remain employees for too long – or, if they do, won’t be able to perform to the best of their abilities. Nor do you want to tip it in the other direction. An undisciplined company emphasising life over work won’t have much of a business in the long run.

Look at changes you can make across your workplace – such as introducing learning hours that let employees grow – to keep your workforce stable, skilful, and engaged.

However, it’s not just about ensuring the well-being of your employees – although this will undoubtedly be your top priority. Being at Microsoft has already taught me the importance of so much outside of my job role. I’ve also become better at time management. I’ve learned valuable skills I never knew I needed, and ones I’ll never forget. I’ve been empowered.


5. Create accessible, considered support

If there was a phrase that sums up absolutely any workplace, it’d be ‘horses for courses.’ Everyone on your team is different. Diverse workplaces tend to be far more open and innovative – just don’t try to uniformly develop skills for your employees; taking a one-size-fits-all approaches won’t bring out the best in them.

Take older workers, for instance. It’s likely that they’ll need more support and time to master new digital skills that younger employees take for granted.

Or consider how women are represented in STEM, and how you can help your female employees develop in this area. It’s a factor that initially played heavily on my mind when I came to Microsoft. But encouragement and empowerment, and having confidence in my own unique skills has shown me that the technology sector is for everyone; not just the male workforce.

Offer support that’s accessible, tailored to the individual. That way, they can build on the skills they need to grow.



About the author

Komal Ajimal, Services Solution Strategist InternKomal is a Services Solution Strategist Intern in the Services department. Her role includes helping the team generate leads from 0 to 20%, which involves understanding Microsoft’s solutions and their go-to markets. Her passion for working with people all over the business has seen her involved in planning events, being part of the Campus 101 project, and running the Services interns’ Roundtables. These monthly sessions are aimed at adding to every intern’s personal growth.