The Rise of Remote Work
While the coronavirus pandemic presented the largest work-from-home experiment in American history, the trend of more flexible workspaces has grown in popularity for years.
As a result, employers that adopted remote work options for their teams were faced with a unique set of challenges and opportunities. With a few key best practices, you can keep employees engaged with coworkers and tasks, even from the comfort of their own homes.
What is Remote Work and Why Does it Matter?
Remote Work is an employer-offered benefit that gives employees the option to work outside of the traditional physical workspace. It typically involves teammates working from home or working in public spaces, such as coffee shops or libraries.
According to statistics compiled by Forbes, offering remote work to employees can help organizations in five different ways:
While distractions are present in work-from-home environments, numerous studies indicate that employees actually feel more productive while working outside the office.
Similar to productivity, remote work can improve employee performance when managed appropriately and granted proper autonomy.
Improved productivity and performance result in better employee engagement and lower absenteeism.
Employees desire jobs that offer flexibility. When a role permits and encourages remote work, it can improve employee retention.
Companies that utilize remote work setups can save money on office space, heating and cooling costs, and more.
Aside from these benefits—and being especially convenient during public health crises—flexible work options are also popular among employees because life happens. Whether your worker has a sick child at home, a car appointment that they can’t miss, or something in between, being able to take work on the road makes unexpected occurrences easier to manage.
What Issues Do Remote Work Teams Face?
A 2020 survey conducted by BerniePortal reviewed how effectively teams transitioned to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic. Among respondents, the top two issues that remote work teams faced were unreliable internet connections (32%) and decreased productivity and team engagement (27%).
On top of that, the survey indicated that other remote work struggles included communication breakdowns between managers and team members, as well as difficulty connecting with clients and everyday HR processes experiencing delays.
Other possible concerns for work-from-home teams include:
- Time theft
- Interruptions (childcare, family, pets, etc.)
- Overworking and time management
- Uncomfortable work environment
- Unstructured schedules
Download the full survey report to review all findings.
How to Track Engagement for Remote Employees
While convenient for many, remote work can be challenging for both employers and employees.
Employees may struggle with many of the stressors mentioned in the previous section, as well as plenty of other factors. Likewise, employers may have trouble keeping track of employee productivity and offering fewer in-person touchpoints between managers and direct reports.
The following solutions can help managers coach employees throughout the day—a much-needed opportunity that’s often missed in remote work:
1. Consider a Productivity Monitoring Tool:
2. Invest in an HRIS:
3. Evaluate Other Technology Solutions:
4. Implement Routine Video Calls:
Less about keeping people honest and more about face-to-face human interaction, routine video calls keep your team engaged and communicating outside of email.
5. Implement Routine All-Team Calls:
Keep your employees informed and in touch with all of your organization’s latest need-to-know info. These regular calls also provide structure and normalcy for your team.
6. Invest in Your Company Culture:
Remote happy hours, lunch hours, shelter-in-place buddies, and more can help keep your employees involved in the team’s culture so that when everyone does return to the office, you haven’t missed a beat.
Remote Work Management Best Practices
With remote work rapidly becoming more familiar in today’s work environment—approximately 4.7 million people were working from home in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States—it’s essential for employers to at least consider remote-work options for their employees.
Yet coaching and managing remote employees can be a challenge. But with a few tweaks to your process, you can successfully support your team with performance management tools while they work from home. Consider implementing the following tactics:
Utilize a Performance Management Tool:
Implement regular 1:1 meetings between managers and employees to track progress on projects and check in regularly. These can be tracked and managed using a robust HRIS.
Make Yourself Available to Provide Feedback:
Ongoing communication allows HR and managers to coach, conduct growth-centric conversations, develop team members’ skills, and more.
Make SMART Goals—which are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely—to communicate how you plan to work with your team.
Host Daily Standup Meetings:
Build bonds between team members with daily check-ins that kickstart the day—and cover anything that needs to be discussed.
Technology Needed for Remote Work Teams
As mentioned above, appropriate technology solutions are essential to remote work success. But it should be stated that not all teams require the same resources. A salesforce may require webinar software to present demos that won’t apply to a team of developers. Likewise, marketers will probably rely much more heavily on a project management platform than lawyers researching a case.
Still, the following list of platforms helps boost your team’s productivity through virtual collaboration.
1. Video Conference/Meetings:
Including Google Meet, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom
2. Virtual Collaboration:
4. Project Management:
Compliance and Remote Work: What Teams Need to Know
What once seemed routine in-person becomes much more difficult to manage when team members work remotely. HR compliance falls into this category.
It’s possible that with a change in scenery, HR administrators may be tempted to relax some of their longstanding office regulations. It’s also possible that remote teams face additional hurdles with compliance, such as remote Form I-9 verification. Yet according to educational technology firm Skillsoft, policies that applied to in-person workspaces before COVID-19 should extend “to work conducted at home as well.”
For human resources personnel, the following seven compliance issues may come up as a result of ongoing remote work operations:
1. Time Off and Productivity Tracking:
Organizations that employ non-exempt and exempt teammates might struggle with tracking time and productivity. A monitoring tool can provide managers with coaching opportunities throughout the day—as well as clock-in, clock-out functionality—much like in an in-person office setting.
Plenty of companies already have tech policies in place. However, HR should consider amending or updating rules to ensure they also apply to remote work. For example, these policies should be explicit about the appropriate usage of technology like computers, company cell phones, and other equipment.
3. Verifying Form I-9:
While various services digitally verify Form I-9, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses E-Verify to remotely confirm employee eligibility for work in the U.S. The free service matches the information provided by employees on their Form I-9 with records available to both the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
How should teammates dress during remote work hours? What are the proper protocols for video conferencing—should people have their cameras on, should they remain muted unless speaking? And what about working with clients or web-chatting with colleagues? These norms should be established so that everyone is on the same page.
5. Industry-Specific Ethical Practices:
If your company handles sensitive user information, immediate steps need to be taken to ensure that you remain compliant with applicable laws even while working from home. For example, if a business is required to follow HIPAA regulations but doesn’t have an acceptable system in place to protect client health data, it could be held liable if that information is stolen or lost.
6. Worker’s Compensation Claims:
According to SHRM, employee injuries and illnesses are “compensable under workers’ compensation if it arises out of and in the course of employment, regardless of the location the injury occurs.” HR should develop remote work policies to ensure home offices are safe—and also stay up-to-date on state-specific worker’s comp laws.
7. Distributing Federal and State Notices:
Employers are required to comply with labor laws, some of which apply to specific industries. One particularly common stipulation is that labor law information should be posted openly in the workplace. Yet what if workers aren’t in the workplace? This information should be distributed electronically and easily available on HRIS platforms or intranets.
Best Practices for Writing Remote Work Job Descriptions
HR administrators for small- to mid-sized organizations may be responsible for the entire hiring process. As remote jobs become more prevalent, companies should know that while role descriptions remain mostly the same, there are some differences.
Provide context and clarity when writing remote job descriptions, and include the five following details:
1. State if the Role is Exclusively Online or if it Only Provides Remote Flexibility:
If your team is only working remotely on occasion, remember to include that work-from-home is temporary. Likewise, if you offer remote work options but primarily operate from an office, explicitly state this.
2. Include Tech Requirements:
Not everyone has reliable internet at home. If the role requires a strong connection and familiarity with digital platforms, applicants without either may not be good fits for the position.
3. Request Remote Work Experience:
Balancing work-from-home responsibilities is a skill like any other. Those with previous experience may be better suited for longer-term roles—or may be able to more easily get up and running with the team.
4. Emphasize Teamwork and Collaboration:
It almost goes without saying, but remote workers can easily become siloed without in-person interaction. Tell applicants that you’re searching for highly collaborative, self-starting employees.
5. Put “Remote” in the Job Title:
If the job is exclusively work-from-home, say so in the listing (e.g. Communications Specialist – Remote). First, it sets expectations early for potential applicants. Second, the tailored posting will have a better chance of appearing in relevant search results.
Interviewing and Onboarding While Working Remotely
Finding the right talent for the right position at the right time requires great patience and strong company culture—especially so when your team is working from home. But hiring and onboarding new employees isn’t impossible while working remotely, and can be an advantage for both you and your prospects.
For interviewing, much of your typical, in-person processes will remain the same. Many hiring managers begin with phone screeners and even conduct initial interviews over the phone, so that won’t change. However, once you enter the phase in which you’d normally meet in person, video conferencing becomes your new best friend. (This is where the previous section regarding necessary technology is especially important.)
Keep in mind the following suggestions when conducting video interviews:
- Watch body language—much like you would in an in-person interview: A lot can be said about the way a person carries themself, even while over a video call.
- Double- and triple-check tech setup before beginning: Make sure your internet connection is reliable, your webcam is working, and that your audio is operating properly.
- Dress like you’re attending an interview: When you prepare as if you’re meeting in-person, you help frame your approach to the interview. Matching your typical dress will help you accomplish this.
While the interview process is generally the same, remote onboarding requires a different approach than when in person. So much of the typical onboarding process includes meeting people face to face, reviewing the workspace, and generally becoming acclimated to your new surroundings.
Yet when approached with forethought, remote onboarding can be just as effective as its physical counterpart. Before Day 1 begins, try to accomplish the following:
Create an Onboarding Checklist:
An onboarding checklist gives your new hire an attainable set of goals that they can achieve in their first few days on the job. As a result, you help build up their confidence and keep their progress on track.
Compile an Employee Handbook:
With an employee handbook in-hand, your new hire can become better acclimated to the company, including what to expect in terms of vacation, daily procedures, and more.
Utilize Digital Benefits Administration:
For ease and simplicity, help new teammate select their benefits without all the paper clutter. Likewise, by seeing what all is included in your benefits package, you can set the stage for what employees will receive as part of their compensation—a huge first step towards long-term retention.
Ensure that Your Tech Plan is in Place:
People can’t work without computers. They also can’t work if their computers don’t work properly. By demonstrating your company’s technological competency, you’ve shown that you can be trusted—once again reinforcing to your new hires that they’ve made the right choice.
You can also set the stage for your new hire with a great first day on the job. Keep a repeatable, digital-friendly schedule in place to make sure every new employee’s first day is great, and include the following:
Company Culture Guide Review:
Similar to the employee handbook, a review of the company Culture Guide (if available) establishes what’s expected of all employees, and is a necessary first step to cementing the relationship between the organization and the new hire.
Virtual Welcome Lunch:
A great way to introduce the new hire to their immediate team, much like you would during an in-person first day.
Logistics and Account Setup:
It’s important to set aside time for your employees to figure out how to log in to all of their equipment and accounts. If not, they could have trouble in the near future or dedicate time outside of work to figuring these issues out—both of which you should avoid, if at all possible.
Set Expectations with a 30-60-90 plan:
Much like onboarding checklists, employer/employee 30-60-90 plans help set up your new hires for success. But the 30-60-90 plans dive a little deeper, allowing team members to see what they’ll be working on—and what’s expected of them in the first three months on the job.
How to Offer Open Enrollment While Working From Home
Aside from payroll, benefits packages often account for the majority of an organization’s budget. If a company employs remote workers, it can successfully administer benefits during open enrollment by using an HRIS and following a well-planned strategy.
First, outline a strategic, month-by-month schedule:
- Month 1: Go online and get up to speed on your HRIS with relevant training sessions; you want to be well-versed in the platform before you select benefits or administer options to your employees.
- Month 2: Once you’ve selected benefits, communicate this information to your employees. By working well in advance, you reduce the deadline pressure, particularly while many of your colleagues may also be managing work-from-home routines.
- Months 3 & 4: Finalize any leftover benefits questions and implement open enrollment using your HRIS.
Second, ensure that you have the appropriate tools in place to administer benefits remotely. These include an HRIS as well as the previously mentioned technology tools needed for work-from-home teams.
Finally, be available during the open enrollment process. By partnering with a brokerage, you can handle any inquiries that may come up, as well as help ensure the process runs smoothly from start to finish.