It's not a secret anymore that the way of working has dramatically changed over the past few years. It's a new brand world out there and it has become a challenge for employers to attract and retain talent, as the "Great Resignation" wave didn't spare anyone. So what is the HR role in this perpetuum mobile landscape? Has it evolved or do organizations expect the same behavior from their HR teams? Should HR professionals adopt a remote-only way of working or should they be 100% present in the office? Let's dive deeper into the subject.
How Remote Work Is Changing Human Resource Management?
The human resource department has historically been located where a company's employees work―available on the spot to answer questions, provide advice or even serve as a "referee" when conflicts arise among employees. So, even if the role of the HR department has always been relatively clear, in the new, hybrid work environment the role of the HR professional is changing significantly. HR teams have to cope with a new business landscape, but they themselves are also part of this shift. HR leaders are increasingly performing their job duties remotely, while also having to hire and look after remote and hybrid teams.
From our standpoint, some of the challenges that HR teams are facing can be grouped under five categories:
Managing the Recruitment and Onboarding Process
This has always been an important part of an HR leader’s job, and with more employees working remotely, it became an aspect of the role having undergone the biggest transformation.
Keeping Candidates Engaged and Involved
80% of the HR professionals surveyed by SHRM reported that maintaining employee morale and engagement is a top priority. Fostering a sense of inclusion and connection between workers who are miles apart isn’t easy, but it’s crucial when it comes to maintaining employee happiness and retention.
Ensuring That Remote Employees Are Productive and Comfortable
Constant support and development of policies and procedures for remote work are needed, while also making sure that the company's culture and values are upheld by all employees, no matter their working style.
Making Sure the List of Employee Benefits Are Fully Aligned With Current Trends
As the competition for talent is different and as challenging as ever, employers are competing with the full array of work experiences available to today’s employees—traditionally in-office, remote, hybrid jobs and, in some instances, not working at all. To get in the game, companies must offer adequate compensation and benefits packages - which was already a sine qua non pre-condition. But to win, they must recognize how the rules of the game have changed. While workers are demanding higher compensation, many of them also want more flexibility, community, and an inclusive culture to accept a full-time job at a traditional employer - according to a Harvard Business Review survey.
Putting in Place Performance-Based Evaluation Systems
These evaluation systems should measure the quality of the results, contribution, and value added instead of assessing employees based on their presence or hours in the office or even digital presence. Trust that employees will work productively against established goals means that companies embrace moving towards an outcome-based mindset and a model where their staff have a level of autonomy over their schedule and where they choose to work. This is helpful to many employees who are working to blend their personal and professional responsibilities.
The critical role HR professionals must play in this flexible workplace evolves around planning, training, the right technology and communication practices – and the deliberate creation of a supportive culture, lived and breathed by senior managers. Especially that we can't assume that everybody, including people managers, should be supportive of the new ways of working. Those who proved so resistant to flexible working in the past, haven't changed their minds overnight. Many of them will be keen to reassert the old normal at the earliest opportunity, so this is going to be part of the HR challenge too.
So how can the HR department handle all these issues while enjoying the perks of remote work?
Should HR Professionals Switch to Remote-Only Work?
The benefits of remote work are numerous and they should also be available to HR professionals, as they are no different to other knowledge workers and they too want to work more remotely than they did before the pandemic.
HR Professionals Should Work Remote-Only
85% of HR people say they can be effective with work from home (WFH). Because not only will they be more empathetic and productive, but they will also have an implicit understanding of this dynamic and be better equipped to tackle any problems.
If you look at it closer, there are multiple benefits of having a remote HR team:
- Flexibility. Remote working arrangements go hand in hand with a more flexible approach to scheduling. Without a daily commute or traditional office hours to work around, a remote HR team can more easily flex their schedules to meet the needs of employees.
- Better work/life balance and more efficiency. We all have personal responsibilities that consume our time and attention. No commute means more time to attend to those issues. As a result, your focus at work will improve. Remote HR leaders can manage multiple teams simultaneously and organize their schedules in a way that makes the best use of their available resources. This means they can be more efficient decision-makers, scaling up and down the support for your business depending on your needs.
- Better understanding of remote work and its challenges. Working remotely brings an entirely new set of challenges for an HR team, from managing paperwork and training online, to overseeing interpersonal issues between colleagues as they adapt to a new way of collaborating. A remote HR professional will have an implicit understanding of this dynamic and be better equipped to tackle any problems.
- Smoother induction and coaching into the company's culture. Onboarding remote employees is an enormous challenge, as the lack of in-person communication can leave new hires feeling uncertain about their role or cut off from the company culture. A remote HR leader can lean into their own experience to help guide and mentor employees during some of the most critical moments.
- Money saving. Telecommuters save money on gas, tolls, public transportation, parking, food etc. Taken together, those can equate to a fairly significant salary increase. When it comes to remote HR professionals, this potential money saving goes even further as the increased flexibility of working remotely means they can make the best use of their time and yours. There’s also the direct benefit of being able to hire outside of big cities and talent hubs, where the cost of living and salary expectations are generally lower.
Of course, HR teams need to be accessible to the company's employees. However, "accessible" no longer means "on-site." Technology has made it possible for them to be accessible anytime, anywhere.
Moreover, the nature of HR work continues to evolve to such an extent that HR specialists are working on projects or leading project teams, analyzing data, serving as internal communications experts, evaluating and implementing technology, developing succession plans, and sourcing and recruiting talent. Many of these duties do not need to be done in a specific physical location.
HR Professionals Should Be Required to Work in the Office
On the other hand, there are voices claiming that human resources is not a job suited for remote working. Because HR professionals play a critical role in today's workplace, their physical presence is necessary.
Here are their arguments:
- The role of HR professionals has become more strategic. 83% of human resources professionals reported that their senior leaders relied on HR to help navigate new situations or practices, and 73% of HR professionals reported that their senior leaders recognized HR functions as crucial to the business function. So, if their job is to help executives and key departmental leaders align human capital strategy with business goals, then their presence in the office is required. They must be the go-to source for people analytics that drive business decisions and HR strategy.
- HR can better support employees with a physical in-office presence. Human resource professionals need to be present to support individual employees. Today's workers are stressed, worried about job security and constant organizational changes, which takes a toll on wellness, productivity and employee engagement. In order to be able to help, HR teams need to be at the office regularly, getting to know everybody and building enough trust for them to reach out for assistance. At the same time, the new way of work has made it more difficult for teams to break down silos and collaborate to deliver on expected results. Which is why the human resources department needs to be present for these teams as a strategic partner, helping them understand the new team dynamics and break down barriers to communication.
- Gen Z is breaking the patterns, as 43% of its members report that they prefer face-to-face collaboration, according to a survey from consultancy XYZ University. That and the challenge of managing multiple generations in the workplace will require HR practitioners to be on-site to advise managers and senior leaders on how to craft employee communications.
Nevertheless, we all need to take care of ourselves. Which is why a hybrid way of working for HR professionals will help relieve the stress of the commute, leaving them more time for thinking and special projects that require concentration. So, if being remote every day is not an option, then getting the best of both worlds, with effective implementation, can be a satisfying solution.
Hybrid Work Is the Best of Both Worlds
Gemma Dale, co-founder of The Work Consultancy and lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University Business School, told HR magazine that "hybrid provides the in-person experience for relationship building and connection, plus remote time for detailed and focused work.”
- By finding a good a balance between establishing a good work environment and human connection, and between flexibility and practicality. I.e., much of HR’s work, like admin and policy work, can be done remotely, though other tasks, for example final interviews, should stay in-person only.
- By making the decision related to the working model rather based on the context of the work than on its content. There is no one size fits all. For example, an HR partner that is working with a very ‘in-person’ client group may need to come in more often than an HR administrator undertaking largely independent processing work.
- By finding ways to adapt to the new hybrid environment and ensuring remote employees feel supported, able to speak up and confident in leadership and culture, which is likely to look different from a distance.
“There will be adjustments to make, but there are also advantages – when employees work remotely there may be fewer constraints on location and scheduling that afford you a bigger talent pool”, said Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder of HR consultancy 10Eighty, in the same interview for HR magazine.
How to Set up a Successful Remote HR Team?
Benefiting from the best of both worlds, through effective implementation, means adopting a set of ground rules and working principles.
Establish a Clear Remote Work Policy
If you want your work from home policy to be effective, you need to describe the specific processes that will guarantee a successful collaboration between team members. Employees need to know when they are required to come to the office, if there are mandatory days for certain teams to be there, and if there is a minimum number of days per month they need to show up.
As splitting time between the office and home becomes the new normal, it’s important to be mindful and respectful of everyone's time. There's no reason to bring everyone into the office only to have them sit in cubicles with headphones on anymore. Managers should carefully consider when teams must work together in person, and when it's just as fine to let them have a virtual meeting.
Communicate and Define Expectations Clearly
Team members need clarity about their roles and responsibilities, because clarity improves execution skills, and productivity. Managers should establish communication rules and schedule regular 1-to-1 meetings with their teams to check in on project status, determine if anyone needs additional support, and ensure everybody is on board. Managers simply need to know that physical proximity is not a prerequisite for creating a work environment with high employee engagement, and instead focus on making sure employees have the tools and resources they need and know what is expected of them.
Provide the Right Communication Tools and Collaboration Platforms for Successful and Secure Work
Collaboration tools were key to supporting efficient communication and productivity during remote working times and still are, within the new hybrid workforce model. What software will the employees be using to communicate with their co-workers? Put it on your remote work collaboration tools checklist and categorize it accordingly: specific tools for instant messaging, others for video calls, etc. Add there all the other tools you’ll provide them (and expect them to use) to collaborate with their team members, for tracking the projects they’re involved in and for managing their tasks and time. And for accessing various resources available to them.
Plan Time for Collaborating and Socializing
Employees who work from home need to feel as much a part of the team as those in the office, so don’t forget to set up video conferencing for all meetings so that they feel like they are working at the same level as everyone else. You can also organize virtual social activities: staying in touch with all of your employees is essential and virtual happy hours are a great way to ensure that!
Invest in Employee Resource Groups
Find remote-forward advocates among your team members to help you create a safe space for all employees who share a common identity. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are voluntary, employee-led groups aiming to foster a diverse, inclusive workplace and high engagement around different topics. ERGs don't only offer friendship; they also give employees the chance to develop skills and create cohesiveness and camaraderie. Plus, ERGs designed to address a specific topic or issue can help keep leaders in the know.
Remote jobs are here to stay. The people who can adapt to and thrive in this new way of working will help shape the future of HR in the modern remote workplace. Human resources as a profession can, and should, evolve together with the definitions of "work" and "workplace," and the technology available to get work done anytime and anywhere. Adjustments to work-life balance, a new generation of employees with strong feelings about where and how they do their jobs, and changes to the traditional concept of office space will continue to create new challenges for HR leaders. So, the ability to not only solve problems but see them as opportunities for growth will be key to the success of HR professionals working remotely.