Over the last 6 months, COVID-19 has compelled business leaders to move their workforce to working remotely, so that business could continue without compromising employee health and safety. This global WFH experiment has brought to the fore, benefits of working remotely for both organizations and people. It is a clear win-win. While people will benefit from eliminating office commute, greater flexibility and improved quality of life, the organizations see opportunities to reduce their real-estate investment and expand their talent pool beyond geographies they are physically present in.
This widespread trend of going remote will force HR functions to invent remote work models that best suit business needs. HR will have to rethink, reconstruct, and reimplement everything within its umbrella.
This article addresses 9 key questions that HR will have to answer in the new remote working era.
Which remote work model should be implemented?
Remote work models could take 3 forms:
- Hybrid-Remote, where part of the workforce operates permanently from home and the rest from the office. However, this model has drawbacks since both groups may not be aligned and it may be difficult for a common culture to evolve.
- All-Remote, where the organization does not invest in any office infrastructure and the people "work from anywhere." While this model is ideal, it requires a complete mind-set and culture shift to make this a success. Therefore, very few companies have implemented it.
- Near-Remote, which overcomes the negatives of the Hybrid-Remote model while serving as a stepping stone to an All-Remote model. Everyone works from home but comes to the office once or twice a week as per a predetermined roster. Since the entire workforce does not report to the office on the same day, infrastructure costs are trimmed by reducing office space. And the interpersonal connection is maintained, thus ensuring collaboration and allowing a common culture to evolve.
Why would people be willing to work from home?
The current WFH scenario is a forced phenomenon. With support systems out of bounds for households, employees are forced to juggle multiple responsibilities at a time. This has caused physical exhaustion and mental burnout.
As the situation normalizes, WFH will be viewed as a ‘key perquisite’.
WFH eliminates the stress of commute, reduces exposure to pollution and crowds, and saves valuable time for productive use. It permits people to relocate their homes to more suitable locations for better lifestyles, financial savings, social connect, etc. People unwilling to work from home will be exceptions and not the rule.
What are the prerequisites to implementing a successful remote work model?
- A remote work model needs complete buy-in from leadership. Executives need to lead by example
- Organizations must have a "Head of Remote" to lead this initiative
- A "Remote Task Force" with cross-functional representation from Business, HR, IT, and Admin must implement and tackle day-to-day challenges
- Organizations must have an online communication channel where people can seek help on remote working and share their experiences
What will change in the Recruitment & Onboarding processes?
The remote work model permits HR expand their search for talent beyond geographical boundaries.
For new recruits, assimilating with the company culture in the initial months is key.
So, while onboarding will go digital, it is important to "humanize" this process.
Virtual interaction with immediate supervisors and leadership can go a long way in creating a feeling of warmth, and care.
How will Learning & Development be affected?
Organizations’ development teams across companies have been coming up with learning strategies to help employees transition to work from home in a seamless manner.
- L&D will have to train people in being effective while working remotely and creating a boundary between their work and home
- L&D will have to coach managers in remote people management
- L&D initiatives will have to be redesigned to retain the benefits a classroom setting offers
How will HR implement a good culture and value framework in the remote workplace?
By reposing trust in people who work from home! Monitoring them online is discouraged. If people do not feel trusted, it could negatively impact their morale and contribution.
In a physical office, it is relatively easy to ingrain the values of the organization and check for slips and omissions.
In the WFH mode, values tend to be sidelined and it becomes important to periodically remind and reinforce them through leadership communication, stories, and recognition.
How will communication change in the remote workplace?
HR will have to evolve frameworks that include:
- Specifying which platforms should be used for formal and informal communication
- Defining do's and don’ts to respect mutual time and space
How will HR ensure engagement virtually?
With the human-to-human connect diminishing, it is imperative for HR to devise ways to keep the workforce engaged by creating more touchpoints like:
- Encouraging participation on intranet
- Hosting virtual interest or hobby groups, team-bonding meets, town halls, where family is also invited to join
- Incorporating appreciation and recognition as a recurring agenda in staff meetings to allow people to talk about contribution of their colleagues and build stronger relationships
- Creating online channels for water cooler conversations and
- Deploying surveys and effectively using chatbots to capture people’s sentiments in regular intervals
What are potential negative implications that HR will have to watch out for?
People working from home tend to be in the "always on" mode, resulting in burnouts.
- It is important to encourage people to switch off their laptops when not at work, take periodical breaks during routine hours, and take days off
- Managers will have to look out for signs of breakdowns and feeling of isolation and neglect
- HR will have to provide structured interventions to keep the workforce physically and mentally fit. After all, the well-being of the organization depends solely on the well-being of its workforce
HR will be at the forefront of this tectonic shift in the way people work and how organizations function, and it will have to transform itself to deliver organizational success in the remote working era.