How does HR Function from home in the “New Normal”?

It’s safe to say that things have changed an awful lot in recent times. With the coronavirus pandemic ushering in ubiquitous whisperings of a “new normal” across the workplace arena, we’ve all had to adapt and pivot in some way or other.

While the concept of remote working has been around for a while, it’s now becoming a long-term reality for many. For many industries that has been challenging, though looking at the traditional office, desk-based job, many have found that they have been able to work well remotely. There have also been some encouraging stats around productivity.

While many office-based roles have proven themselves to adapt to remote working relatively quickly, it hasn’t been the same for everyone, particularly in people-focused roles that require face to face interaction such as HR.

Whether it’s organising events, scheduling regular touch point meetings, addressing difficult workplace issues or generally keeping the open line of communications open, HR teams have likely found the sudden shift to remote working more difficult than most. And while there are plenty of HR methods and tools out there to enable this from a remote environment, it’s never quite the same as speaking to someone face to face.

As such, we’ve pulled together some key points and tactics for HR specialists, be it freelance HR consultants or full timers, to keep on supporting your teams remotely and throughout these topsy-turvy times.

freelance hr consultant

Set the bar over comms

Communication in business is everything. This has been particularly accentuated in the current climate of remote working where it can be easy to feel distant from your teams and colleagues. While it ultimately lies with managers and team leaders to set the standard over how comms are conducted with their individual teams, HR can certainly provide some direction.

Where possible, HR teams should encourage a culture of quick response time and freedom of communication, using tools such as Slack to keep everyone in the loop. While tools such as Slack have long been around prior to the remote working drive, encouraging a hub that fosters employee engagement with a constant flow and drive of conversation (serious or otherwise!) can help people feel like they’re still close in still in the loop.

Outside of instant messaging, HR professionals should also encourage managers and team leaders to dedicate their time to regular catch-ups with their teams and on an individual basis to check in with their projects and ensure they’re all well and satisfied enough to be able to perform their work efficiently (more on this a little later).

Other tips around remote working HR communication protocol involve:

  • Use a dedicated online HR platform (such as BambooHR) to enable employees to streamline a number of different HR activities like annual leave requests and individual reviews
  • Outside of Slack and email, create a separate online hub for company information, assets, party photographs and mission statements for people to easily refer to
  • Give employees a voice. Not being face to face or in meetings for long periods of time can make it hard for employees to feel empowered or valued. Make time for regular presentations and slots to allow employees to take to the floor and present their ideas or projects

Maintain regular virtual events (and not just endless quizzes!)

We’ve all probably done our fair share of virtual quizzes by now. That’s not to say they aren’t a fun and light way to break things up at work every other week or so, though now that remote working is here to stay for many, it’s certainly time to diversify.  Despite the positives of working from home, many have said that they miss the casual office chitchat and human energy.

While it’s difficult to recreate that over Zoom, try and get creative. What about a remote bake-off where everyone tries to bake something following a certain theme? We all miss background office music, so why not curate a remote playlist so teams can share what they’re listening to? Some companies have been having virtual movie nights and listening parties or even virtual wellbeing classes.

Keep the feedback loop running

Part of the ongoing feedback loop and the encouragement of “over communicating” from both sides is the need to gather feedback. These are uncertain times that require all parties to adapt to the disruption and changing landscapes in terms of protocols, tools and ways of working, and many of us are in a state of trial and error.

In order to encouraged increased levels of inclusion from a remote standpoint (with a view to maximising productivity among other things!) it’s import to encourage feedback. Tying in with the increased need for communication benchmarks, It’s important to allow time for colleagues to express their feedback and pain points on this “new normal” we’re currently working through.

Think about utilising methods and tools such as surveys for managers to encourage employees to feed into with regards to feedback and ideas for improvements. These improvements can cover anything from communication, recognition, frustrations, workload and allocation or company cohesion; all of which can easily fall through the cracks in an extended remote working environment.

Remember that the remote working drive has seen a lot of businesses report an 85% increase in productivity, so the benefits are clear for all to see. It’s vital that HR leaders and management keep on top of this by ensuring employees are well listened to and there are constant improvement projects and feedback loops in place.

Well-being and mental health are more important than ever

Employee mental health is vital for overall well-being in normal times. In the US alone, millions are lost each year due to work-related stress and anxiety. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic remote working was on the rise, and with recent events accelerating the shift and the world going through cataclysmic changes on a seemingly almost daily basis, the emphasis on mental wellbeing has never been more prevalent.

Whether it’s the added childcare responsibilities that come with full-time remote working or the state of the economy, there’s a lot consider these days and a huge amount of uncertainty.

As an HR professional, you can steer the narrative on this in a number of ways:

  • Try encouraging managers and employees to have catch ups outside the topic of work. Set up time for a “virtual water cooler” for a space to discuss how you’re really feeling and to discuss life and matters that aren’t about the daily grind
  • Sponsor employee fitness and mental wellbeing activities. The remote working push has seen a boom in home fitness apps such as Centr. There are also mindfulness apps out there like Headspace which encourage people to take breaks throughout the way to meditate.
  • Encourage a separation between work and life. With remote working it can be very easy to not know when to “clock off”, as the physical separation that exists with having an office simply isn’t there. Also, having your work setup or home office within reaching distance makes it much easier to check emails out of hours. Encourage active off time and make communications out of work hours off limits where possible!
  • Encourage breaks. Much like the point above, working from home in our bubbles means we can forget when to take usual lunch breaks or coffee breaks with colleagues. Encourage colleagues to set alarms for break out times each day and encourage time away from desks much like you would in a standard office

Keep on breaking up the norm

We’ve listed several key considerations for running HR from home in the modern work environment. There are of course plenty more ideas and things to think about when running HR from home with a remote team. These are challenging but exciting times, and overall we’d encourage all teams involved to keep an open mind and try new things where you can.

All in all, continue to be as supportive as possible and foster an environment where everyone pulls together for the benefit of all.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash