Human Resources Managers Adapting to Remote Work

During the COVID crisis, organizations and their Human Resources Managers that had never considered remote work as an option, let alone as desirable, pivoted rapidly to implement remote work capabilities as a matter of survival. The speed of that deployment revealed the resilience and creativity of organizations when faced with questions of existence.

In the late 90s, faced with a far less serious threat but still one that was keeping my organization from growing, we implemented remote work. Our drivers? We were out of options for talent and space. Our solution? Creating a work from home program that was hugely successful. Productivity, accuracy and retention all increased while expenses decreased. There were some lessons along the way that still apply. Then, as now, the “easy” part of the work was deploying systems and technology that allowed for remote work – even though that technology was significantly inferior to the plethora of options now. The harder part was retraining the management employees to lead remotely, to foster a spirit of community and engagement without physical presence, and to continue our philosophy of continuous learning.

A recent survey by Remote, an organization that provides technology solutions for companies with distributed workforces, found that 82% of organizations planned to increasingly transition to remote work and a more flexible working environment where possible. A somewhat startling 64% of organizations reported that employees are asking for the option to keep their role while relocating to a different state.

 

The Human Resources Role

Working exclusively within the HR function provides a daily glimpse into the realities of such surveys. The vast majority of our clients are intending to increase remote work where possible for the long term. Many are expanding their recruiting efforts to include consideration of candidates who are not in the immediate geographic area. Such an expansion leads to other considerations and complications in terms of payroll and benefits. Organizations will have to weigh such options carefully.

And will organizations willingness to look for talent in other, less expensive areas than the San Francisco Bay Area have a negative impact on the relatively high wages many professionals here enjoy? We have heard of local organizations who have made the determination that remote work is here to stay, explicitly tell their teams who are relocating out of state that they will be reducing their salaries to those more commensurate with their new home locations. And as organizations source talent in more cost-effective locations, will it affect employment/unemployment here? It will and how is yet unknown.

For organizations not intending to allow remote work when the economy opens back up, the Human Resources Department may risk losing talent. Seventy percent of workers in a recent survey stated that if they were required to return to the office full-time, they would seek other, more flexible employers.

There are, of course, many jobs that can’t be done with just a laptop and a good internet connection. Leadership teams will have the additional challenge of managing a bifurcated workforce – those who can work remotely and those whose roles do not lend themselves to such an option – and the inevitable discord that this situation is bound to create. Questions of fairness will arise. Are there ways to increase flexibility for the team members whose jobs have to be onsite to counter that?

 

Logistics

Lastly, there are the more tangible logistical and physical considerations. Colleagues in the data security and information technology spaces have opined that the rapid deployment of remote work has created “security holes you can drive a Mack truck through.” While such immediate action was necessary, wise organizations will engage competent professionals to ensure that they and their customers’ information are secured.

Most working from home, especially those who did not work from home prior to the COVID exodus to our spare bedrooms and dining-room tables, do not have workstations or options that are on par with those enjoyed in the office. I spent the first few weeks with a laptop on a TV tray before furniture could be moved and a desk could be ordered.  Learning to work from home made creating boundaries of time and space necessary. As we support our newly-remote workers, thinking about how to help them create a healthy separation within their own homes will be critical.

 

Opening the Discussion

And speaking of health, most home set ups – TV tray notwithstanding – simply do not support good ergonomic practices. As employers we still have responsibility for the health of our teams when at work. Our team participated in an “Ergonomics at Home” program that we are proud to host for all of you on October 21, 2020 via Zoom. Every one of us made immediate changes within moments of viewing the incredible program ergonomics expert, Roberta Etcheverry held. Small changes, many with items we could find in our own homes, produced great results. Please RSVP to join us for this short, impactful session.

 

Closing Thoughts

From the philosophical leadership considerations to practicalities of ergonomics, remote work is a sea change for many organizations and no unit is more involved than HR is helping chart a new course.

Darwin opined that it was not the strongest who survive, but rather the most adaptable. Is remote work an example of that?

If you’d like to share how remote work is impacting your organization, I welcome the conversation.

 

Be well,

Danika

Danika Davis | CEO and HR Evangelist

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