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Building successful programs for remote workers

Though many organizations assumed that people would be eager to return to the office post-COVID, the permanence of remote working arrangements became apparent to HR professionals some time ago. However, the transition is far from over. With businesses now making working from home a part of their long-term business plans, HR professionals are staring down a new challenge: managing the entire employee lifecycle remotely. This comes with a series of tech obstacles, such as managing cybersecurity concerns that come from employees accessing the network remotely, the hurdle of not having readily available IT support like you would in the office, and potential equipment failure and malfunction that can’t be immediately addressed. That doesn’t mean remote work as the new is impossible or even improbable, it just means that organizations need a holistic view of the new picture.

The permanence of remote working arrangements became apparent to HR professionals some time ago — but that doesn’t mean the transition is over. Quite the contrary, as businesses make working from home a part of their long-term business plans, HR professionals are staring down a new challenge: managing the entire employee lifecycle remotely.

Having established, trained employees transition to home offices for a while was one thing, and welcoming new employees remotely with the expectation that they’d come back to the office eventually was another. Now, businesses are planning to manage every aspect of an employee’s lifecycle without having a guarantee they’ll ever come to the office in person, and that’s a whole other beast.

With new hires starting from their home offices, HR departments and managers must work faster than ever to get them up to speed. It’s daunting, but keeping the four pillars of successful remote work environments in mind — communication, equipment, security, and reliability — can help leaders develop permanent onboarding procedures that help new hires feel comfortable and supported at any point in their employment journeys.

Communication forms the backbone of any good working relationship, but it is even more critical when employees work from home. From the moment a recruiter engages a candidate, relationship building should be top of mind. The clarity and consistency of communication between a recruiter and a candidate colors the entire process. Candidates may take inefficient or insufficient communication as an indication of how working for the company will be and see it as a red flag when deciding whether to accept the offer.

Once an employee accepts a position, the level of communication needs to stay consistent. We all know employees leave bosses, not companies. Failure to provide adequate training, feedback, information on company policies and procedures, and engagement opportunities during this process can lead employees to feel undervalued and unappreciated. It can lead to ongoing isolation at the company, especially for remote workers. The same can be said later in the cycle. Employees need feedback to understand what they’re doing well and how they might improve. Failing to offer that support can lead to disengaged workers who are unaware of how to progress in their workplace.

HR leaders looking to optimize communication with remote employees may want to start by examining their onboarding materials and adjusting them to make them more remote-worker-friendly. Asking managers to engage in monthly or quarterly one-on-ones with their reports can encourage open discussion about how things are going. Finally, communicating clearly and regularly about how to get feedback, lodge complaints, and share ideas can help workers feel more connected to the company.

Equipment assessments need to become regular occurrences now that employees are working from home for good. A worker’s computer and devices are their only connection to the workplace. If these tools are inadequate, their work and career satisfaction will suffer. Tools can mean a number of things depending on the business and the employee’s role. For some, it may just mean a computer. For others, more complicated setups may be necessary. Companies, not workers, should be responsible for providing and maintaining these items in a timely manner. In a remote work environment, replacements for faulty equipment (or equipment as needed) can require additional delivery time. In addition to equipment not being readily available, clarification of IT needs can be more difficult remotely than if IT services were provided in-person in an office setting.

As with the security training above, leaders may also want to include equipment training in their onboarding and educational offerings to ensure that all employees are on a level playing field with their equipment. Similarly, conducting home office eligibility assessments — which assess the candidate’s environment, internet access needs, and more — during the recruiting process can help inform managers about the potential equipment needs of each candidate should they be hired.

Managing corporate networks became much more complicated when employees started working from home. While the shift to cloud computing was already underway before COVID-19, the peace of mind from having all authorized users under one roof has dissipated with the rise of work-from-home arrangements. As a result, many enterprises invested in identity and access management platforms, certificate-based e-signature software, remote monitoring capabilities, terminal server-based platforms, and security event logging.

While all these tools are helpful, security procedures are only as strong as their weakest link — and, all too often, that weak link is employees without proper training. HR and IT leaders, especially at companies that have made significant updates to their security procedures, may want to review their risk management and data privacy policies to confirm that they are in line with current best practices and any new software the company uses.

This security training should be an integral part of onboarding programs and regular learning opportunities as remote employees’ devices are their only connection to the workplace. If their computer stops working, they will often be unable to complete work or get help from IT promptly. As such, each remote employee must be empowered to identify cyber threats should they arise and know how to use the internet safely.

Without the regularity of the office or daily interactions with coworkers and managers, employees need to feel that there is a steady force at work in the background keeping things on track. They need to trust that someone is there beside them and can provide guidance should they need it. While managers and coworkers play a role in this, the onus for creating that sense of security often falls on HR’s shoulders.

HR leaders and their teams have always worked hard to give employees a sense of continuity and security in the workplace, but that job is even more critical when there is no physical workplace. Employees turn to HR when they’re unsure where else to go. With more employees having their entire journey from home, more individuals searching for a reliable source of truth will be seeking guidance on day-to-day operations.

HR leaders must now push for investments in tools that facilitate a smooth transition to extended work-from-home policies. Recruitment dashboards, workflow management tools, and logistics processing software can help companies build sustainable work-from-home procedures that provide a sense of structure for new and veteran employees.

Business as (Not So) Usual
While the rest of the world settles into a reimagined workplace, more work is on the horizon for HR professionals. The shift to more extended and permanent remote working arrangements means that HR leaders must rebuild their programs from the bottom up to account for new challenges that workers may face. It may be a tough road, but it will no doubt be worthwhile as companies continue to navigate a new way of working.

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