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How Human Resources Can Help Meet the Challenges of Remote Working

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While some companies have managed the challenges of remote working for decades, others found themselves confronting the challenges of remote workforce management nearly overnight. While the recent past has made many more businesses comfortable with remote working, they may still struggle to deal with issues that are inherent in a remote workforce. 

However, many may not realize that the human resources industry can meet those challenges, and allow businesses to refocus on, well, business.

The right human resources partner can help a business focus less on remote work challenges and more on doing great work.

Why look to HR to meet the challenges of remote work? 

When looking for solutions to support remote workforces, many companies which could greatly benefit don’t immediately think about the human resource industry. 

Some popular culture stereotypes contribute to a narrow view of the HR industry, portraying human resources professionals as fun-killing policy junkies (who often lack respect and power to boot.) However, human resource professionals are uniquely positioned and well suited to help a business meet the challenges of a remote workforce. 

The goal of human resources is to make sure everything is running smoothly, in compliance, and the environment is safe and fair for everyone. 

Here are some ways that HR can help businesses manage the most common challenges for remote working.

Employee time management

A human resources professional can provide employees with time management tips and support. Sometimes simple suggestions – like putting working hours on a digital calendar, scheduling breaks (with reminders), and a notification to step away from work to have lunch – are easily overlooked. An HR development or employee relations manager can also provide educational materials to help employees improve their work habits, follow up with employees who haven’t taken paid time off, and mention to managers when they notice an employee has been working consistently less or more than they should be. 

Additionally, HR software, like a cloud-based time and attendance system, has obvious value for employers, as employees clock in and out, request time off, and can manage key activities, like goals tied to performance reviews. 

Not being “seen” by employers

One consistent, and legitimate, concern is that workers who are primarily working from the business office are more likely to be promoted than those who work remotely. An HR administrator can help even the playing field by helping companies create strong telecommuting programs. An employee relations or personnel manager would be uniquely well positioned to encourage a culture of recognition and help leadership provide space for that recognition, be it a formal company award or a public recognition for a project with exemplary results. 

Improving work/life balance

While they can't do anything to make the employee have a work life balance, human resource professionals are equipped to at least give the tools and the guidance on how to achieve it. With insight into employee performance and time, HR staff can alert managers to employees who haven’t taken any time off in a significant period of time, look for signs of burnout or work exhaustion, and provide suggestions to help employees find some middle ground. 

Download The Free Remote Work Policy Guide

Tracking productivity

Productivity is important and it’s not only about the end result. Productivity issues are most frequent when expectations haven’t been clearly communicated. A solid remote work policy can provide employees with clear expectations about work processes, procedures, and outcomes.

Having people log how many hours it took them to do a task or project is important when it comes to scoping future projects, and assessing performance. A human resources data analyst can provide a reassuring voice to let employees know that project tracking isn’t about trust, but about data. Incorporating project management software is a big help for data and HR is a big help for providing guidance on the human resources –the employees– needed to make those projects happen. An HR professional will also ensure that the time tracking method is fair to everyone involved and that it meets all employment laws and regulations. 

Team building over a distance

Team building is challenging even when everyone’s in the same place, but it can admittedly be easier when everyone can commiserate over the chicken salad sandwiches provided at the workshop. It’s understandable that physical distance (and time zones) can make it difficult for remote teams to bond without intention and effort. 

Modern HR professionals, like employee relations managers, are interpersonal communications professionals, and typically keep up to date on the resources and technologies that connect people. Whether it’s scheduling workshops to reinforce communication skills, vetted personality assessments to help employees and their coworkers understand each other better, or figure out a creative alternative to the ubiquitous Zoom happy hour, helping people grow together is right in HR’s wheelhouse. 

Finding and reviewing job candidates

Hiring remote employees is its own, special challenge. In addition to the raw costs associated with acquiring employees, the hiring landscape can involve headhunters, recruiters, and recently, even imposter-interviewers hired to make a good impression. (A shocking report provided by HR.com reported that 80% of organizations say that it’s possible they’ve experienced employee or candidate ID fraud.) Between candidate ID verification, required paperwork, and varying tax and employment laws from state to state alone (not to mention international employment laws), having a professional staffing specialist or coordinator help with hiring remote workers can make a world of difference when it comes to finding and hiring the right employees. 

Communication issues

Words matter more than ever when it comes to communicating in a remote work environment. Without the benefits of live, face to face interactions, it’s impossible to get the whole communication picture. The person who is always looking away in the video chat may be bored… or their camera may be in an awkward position to simulate eye contact. The tone of the written word can be misinterpreted - an exclamation point may indicate frustration to the reader when the writer was simply excited. Including an animated gif in a message may seem like a good natured reply to a coworker but the CEO may not have the same appreciation for it, even if she is using group chat. Similarly, an introverted colleague may say a lot with a four word answer while his extroverted partner 

Luckily, communication is one of the most fundamental human resource skills, and HR staff can provide resources, educational materials, training, and even help create policies and guides to help staff know when to use the chat channel, send an email, or request a meeting. And an HR professional can help untangle communication snafus by providing facilitation and support when there’s an issue. 

Understanding technology

Many organizations have an IT team helping with the technical support side of technology, and they’re often focused on optimization, data management, and security. Human resources can help support those teams by managing things like software training, going through documentation and providing orientation to the system with new hires, and helping create and distribute policies surrounding use of technology. Additionally, HR can help set business expectations and policies that prevent potentially uncomfortable situations, such as not having the bathroom door in view of the camera, just in case. 

Dealing with isolation

Isolation is one of the most universal challenges of remote working for employees. Intense periods of isolation have been the reality for many during the pandemic, and even though much has improved, workers of all walks of life have felt the strain. The workplace can help employees by providing resources and connecting them with appropriate benefits which may help alleviate those feelings. 

HR can also help businesses create more casual opportunities for employees to spend time together virtually, such as starting a book club, sponsoring an online painting class, or hosting a company-open Zoom during a popular sporting event. They could also empower staffers who have ideas, like a midday guided meditation or 5 minutes of sharing ridiculous cat gifs in a designated #CatChat channel. While human resources professionals aren’t necessarily event planners, creating safe spaces for employees to engage with each other is an important part of fostering a culture of mutual support and empathy. 

When looking for solutions to support remote workforces, many companies that could greatly benefit don’t immediately think about the human resource industry.

How can a business find a human resources partner to help? 

If your business doesn’t have its own human resources department and isn’t planning on bringing a human resource professional on as an employee, you can partner with an HR agency or contract with a freelance HR professional. Organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) provide certification for human resources professionals. 

Having someone who is an expert on today’s issues like compliance, policy making, benefits, training, hiring, and payroll for a diverse workforce that includes remote, in-office, from home, interstate, and maybe even international employees is more important than ever. 

The right human resources partner can help a business focus less on remote work challenges and more on doing great work.

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