Working remotely is not an inherent ability.
We have already written about the role of organizational leadership in times of the pandemic, but another area that carries increasing importance in the sudden shift to remote work is the role of human resource professionals.
For organizations that have suddenly found themselves working in a remote environment, the most important thing to understand is that their employees are also trying to adjust to the new circumstances. Just like their employers, most employees did not prepare for remote work. Aside from adapting to the new structure of their workday, they additionally have to deal with the sudden collision of their personal and professional lives.
The Role of HR in the Transitional Times
HR professionals can help ease the transition and the adjustment by inquiring, listening, understanding, and addressing the individual circumstances of their colleagues. Whether it’s the logistics and technical matters, personal circumstances, or the basic ability to process the turbulent changes, HR managers can provide support and guidance for their colleagues in a variety of different ways.
In the following lines, we will highlight several key areas in which HR managers play a crucial role in enabling team members to remain productive through a dramatically changing work landscape.
Clarity of Communication
As the role of internal communicators is not always defined in organizations and often gets assigned to HR managers, this area needs mentioning here, as it is a prerequisite to effective remote work. In times of crisis, such as those we are facing now, team members need to have clear, timely, and actionable information on what’s expected of them and how they are supposed to meet those expectations. With all the informal means of sharing information in a shared workspace no longer at our disposal, it is essential to find ways to ensure that everyone is on the same page. HR managers should collaborate with the management (and communication specialists) in formulating and properly communicating messages that address the needs and responsibilities of team members.
Not all organizations rely equally on online communication and collaboration tools, and even those that are well accustomed to various tools of remote work need to adjust to conducting all their activities in the virtual realm. Whether organizations are introducing new tools or increasing their reliance on existing ones, HR managers should guide and oversee the implementation. This includes defining guidelines, advising team leaders and managers about team-level communication, moderating the internal blog or any other central information platform, etc.
HR managers are often the intermediary between employees and management. This role is further increased in the transition to remote work, as both the management and the individual employees are struggling with their changed reality. Being in the position to understand both of these perspectives, they can serve as a bridge between the two sides in order to ensure a fully informed decision-making process and facilitate effective communication.
All employees are facing unique challenges of working from home. While these factors may or may not affect their work performance, it is important that HR managers provide an opportunity for employees to talk about them. One-on-one check-ins dedicated to addressing the individual circumstances of employees can help in resolving specific challenges, provide emotional support, or at the very least a pleasant, casual interaction. Working from home inevitably leads to feelings of alienation, and it is important to show care and understanding for every member of the organization.
Virtual Team Activities
Shifting to remote work puts the team identity to the test. While team activities are now limited to the virtual realm, this still leaves you with a substantial playing field. Team building activities in a remote setting are a challenging area, but the option pool is broad enough to find an activity or two that’s well suited for your team. Here are a few options:
- For instance, if most of your employees live in the same county or state, you can send them a gift package containing healthy goods, a book to read, and a note to cheer them up. This way you will show a gesture of kindness in the time of need. Moreover, you don't even need to send those packages yourself. There are many small businesses specialized in providing such services and this might be a good time to support them.
- Organize one-to-one sessions with various experts that will benefit your employees. Personal trainers, psychological therapists, foreign language teachers. Basically, services from all the specialists able to adjust their programs to online/home settings are now more than welcome.
- Organize fundraising for vulnerable groups and medical professionals in your area or think of a special way in which your company could help the community.
- Evaluate the existing or potential healthcare package for your employees.