How to Adjust to a Post-COVID Remote Workforce
By Megan Han, SPHR, SHRM-CP | Published June 22, 2021
“Over the last year, we transitioned from a fully analog, in office business to a digital, remote business. One of the best pieces of advice I could offer from our successes and failures is that you cannot overestimate the change management and attention to culture needed during a change like this. Even without the pandemic, people will feel like it is a huge change that puts them outside of their comfort zones, and how the business supports them through this emotionally, in addition to operationally, will dictate the productivity and happiness of the team. Do zoom happy hours. Have virtual group runs. Block time for people to work together on group calls. All of those little things matter just as much, if not more, as providing them a laptop and a branded coffee mug_.” –_ ABD Client
2020 was a challenging year but a positive result from the year was companies being able to adapt to remote work. In 2021, with vaccinations being received and companies planning for return to work, many organizations will continue to support either fully remote work or partial remote work setups. Moving to fully or partial remote workforce opened the potential talent pool of individuals who might not live near the company headquarters and are not planning on relocating.
One area where challenges still exist is guiding the remote workforce through change and performance management. As companies pivot to temporary (or sometimes permanent) virtual offices, new ways of navigating change, conducting reviews, and managing performance improvement and feedback, can benefit from, flexible processes and policies aided by online software.
For organizations searching for support when managing remote staff, software like Lattice or 15Five or even utilizing resources through an HRIS or payroll system can help support the process. These systems provide a centralized place for storing documents and allows both managers and employees ways to communicate virtually, with prompts and/or questions already set. A strong platform should not only require input but also inspire conversation around performance and training needs.
Systems are not enough though. Keeping open and regular communication with remote staff is vital. Remote employees don’t have the luxury of popping into their manager’s office for impromptu check-ins or instant feedback on a project. This communication helps them to feel a part of the team and gives employees a voice—with the bonus hopefully being strong performance and commitment! Systems like Slack and Teams, as well as instant messenger, do provide avenues in the communications area. But never underestimate the value of person-to-person feedback and communication! 2020 led to more isolation of the workforce than normal, so picking up the phone or jumping on Zoom can be an important way to show employees how valuable that face-to-face feedback is in their improvement, growth or addressing their concerns.
“The sudden shift to a fully-remote posture forced us to rethink our standards around helping to develop remote employees. In particular, it drove home the importance of formalizing communications around goals, expectations, and areas for improvement, and the need to double down on positive feedback.” – ABD Client
Some important reminders when thinking about the approach to remote workforce management:
Customize performance management to the needs of both the organization and the culture—this may include more patience with how quickly improvement or growth happens.
Provide regular feedback, both positive and developmental—for all employees. A lot of time is spent helping those who need improvement or growing potential leaders, but how is performance managed for steady workers, who do their jobs but are more in the middle? Are they getting the support they need? Are they provided the timely feedback that they need to remain successful?
Give space for employees to share their voices and feedback.
Recognize both the challenges and the wins—be proactive with solutions and praise.
Catch and deal with performance issues or even positive performance early so the organization can provide timely communication and plan for appropriate coaching, if necessary.
Make sure goals are clearly communicated and documented.
Consider requiring employees to share their work product at each stage of the process to better analyze improvement or rely more on verbal communication over written work.
Hold employees accountable for both their own professional growth and their goals.
Be timely with communication and documentation.
Whether managing a remote or in-person team, making a commitment to regularly communicate and support employees is key to a successful workforce overall.
Megan Han, SPHR, SHRM-CP
Megan Han, SPHR, SHRM-CP is an HR Consultant at Newfront.