Creating a solid foundation now will lead to stronger remote work in the future.
By Jo Deal
The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses to shift to remote operations as much as possible, with CNBC reporting that 42 percent of U.S. workers are telecommuting for the first time. The transition to digital has sent businesses and HR teams through a whirlwind of change and uncertainty.
During and following this disruption, it’s critical for HR to provide effective support and flexibility for employees while also empowering managers to lead and adapt to what is working and what is not.
Focus on Remote Employees
Transitioning to remote work is a significant adjustment on its own, even without the added stress of being forced into the situation due to an unpredictable pandemic. Companies play a huge role in supporting employees through this difficult time, and need to recognize that all the changes have a vastly varying impact on their employees.
It’s more important than ever for HR to accommodate every employee’s individual situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. HR should encourage managers to reach out to each employee to ask how they’re doing and whether they’d like to discuss things like their schedule and what is or isn’t working. Some employees don’t want frequent check-ins or personal questions, while others appreciate the extra concern and accommodation. The key is approaching each individual differently and finding out what works for them.
It’s important to recognize the many different working personas that will emerge during this pandemic. Some employees thrive when working from home during the usual hours, but others—often those with kids or loud roommates—struggle with work during normal office hours and can be more productive working during “off” hours or in chunks throughout the day. Many employees appreciate being able to take a long break during the day to exercise, cook, or help children with schoolwork, then finish work their later. It’s important to allow this, trust that employees will get their work done regardless of their schedule, and offer flexibility wherever possible so that employees can work when they’re most productive and content.
In addition to scheduling, HR should pay close attention to whether employees feel isolated (and may need more communications, interactions, and guidance) or stressed and overwhelmed (and may need less communications or the freedom to skip unessential meetings). Some may be in distress, dealing with the pain of a loss, an unhealthy loved one, or a cancelled wedding, and might need some time off.
Of course, it’s also important to provide resources that support employees’ mental, physical, and financial well-being during this time, and make it very clear what’s available and how to find it. Take, for example, LogMeIn’s wellness program. It offers financial, social, and physical resources in one place, including:
- tips for managing stress and anxiety;
- strategies for dealing with isolation;
- classes on meditation and mindfulness;
- home office ergonomic resources; and
- financial, investment, and legal support resources.
Gathering feedback on how things are going and what types of resources are needed is a great way to keep a pulse on employees. Being able to pivot to meet these needs is where HR organizations will not only add significant value, but also gain employee trust and loyalty.
HR should use one consistent platform for all information related to the pandemic, including internal updates, remote work tools and trainings, employee resources, and other critical communications. With so many conversations across multiple channels, this ensures employees don’t have to sift through various platforms to find what they need and fully understand the current situation.
Focus on Leaders
First and foremost, managers must be trained and encouraged to lead by example. People are always more receptive to guidance when the person giving it follows it themselves, and leaders who do this also build team unity and strengthen company culture. Managers with high emotional intelligence will flourish at this time. This is hard to teach but not impossible. Developing bite-size learnings to help leaders improve their emotional intelligence is invaluable at times like this.
Two particularly crucial areas for leading by example are maintaining regular communication and taking regular breaks. Studies of remote workers show the importance of these practices, and they’re even more important now.
During this crisis, HR has a unique opportunity to empower employees to develop resilience, earn new skills and take on new roles, work with managers to be more empathetic and understanding, and get creative in allocating people to work, which can also help minimize layoffs, furloughs, or other cutbacks.
LogMeIn has effectively moved almost 100 employees from roles that are less relevant during the pandemic, such as office operations, into roles more suitable for remote work and more valuable to the current climate, such as customer and sales support. This is not only an efficient use of resources, but also builds unity and strengthens company culture by showing employees that the organization values and wants to empower them.
Training sessions to help employees perform in these new roles—and trainings in general during this period—also need to take on new formats. Lengthy in-person trainings need to be condensed into intuitive video trainings that convey the key messages faster. Trainees should also have easy access to managers and peers to answer questions. Collaboration tools such as Slack can help, providing a platform where those new to helping customers can find answers easily or parents can swap homeschooling tips. These technologies can help people locate answers on their own time, when they need it, without overwhelming their schedules with emails or calls.
One common mistake among managers with newly remote workers is assuming they aren’t being productive if they aren’t as communicative. Employees have a wide range of working styles, so managers need be accommodating and should only be concerned if there is a visible performance decline. Plus, much data around remote work shows that it actually improves productivity. For instance, a recent LogMeIn survey found that 65 percent of employees are more productive in their home office than at a traditional workplace, and 85 percent said productivity has increased in their company because of greater flexibility.
A Happy Balance
While communication is key, HR must keep in mind that it is possible to over communicate. Ironically, in trying to stay connected while remote, employees often feel overwhelmed by the abundance of emails, Slack chats, virtual meetings, virtual shout-outs, virtual happy hours, and other communications. It’s important for HR teams and managers to clarify what’s optional and what isn’t. That way, employees don’t feel guilty about not attending everything. To note, this varies drastically from team to team, so HR needs to gather feedback from employees on an ongoing basis to find the right balance.
It’s a turbulent time for businesses, but this crisis is presenting a great opportunity for HR. The way companies treat their employees during this time—and into the future—has an enormous impact on how they feel about their organizations. Companies that can handle remote work well during this crisis will be substantially overprepared to handle it in the future.
Jo Deal is CHRO of LogMeIn.