The Rise of Remote Work: Navigating Human Capital Management in a Virtual World
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic proved that adage in a big way. With mandatory physical separation, nearly every business had to figure out quickly how to get things done remotely.
Unsurprisingly, companies and workers alike realized that not only could they be productive remotely but that there was a lot to be said for not sitting in traffic every morning and evening. Commuting down the stairs and spending the workday in sweats holds a lot of appeal, it turns out.
Concurrent with the remote work trend, however, has been what can only be called a crisis in employee engagement, with some surveys showing that nearly half of all workers intend to move on to greener pastures. While not the only factor, remote and hybrid work have definitely had a hand in this state of affairs. Employee engagement is directly related to organizational culture, and maintaining a thriving culture can be much more difficult in the absence of face-to-face interaction.
As we continue to examine human capital management (HCM), and its overall goal of transforming HR processes into strategic advantages, let’s take a look at how organizations can navigate the waters of remote work to their benefit.
Managing remote work expectations
As with most things, a remote work environment will be more successful if there’s a clearly defined plan from the start. While managers need to be attuned to the challenges of work from home (WFH), including interruptions from children and/or pets, there should be clear expectations for productivity.
Exactly what those benchmarks are will vary widely, but for example, a customer service representative might have a metric of handling X calls per hour for Y hours per day, with zero barking dogs heard by customers. If those expectations can’t be met, that particular person might not be a good candidate for WFH.
Providing the right tools
Few things will frustrate an employee more than technology that’s confusing or simply doesn’t do what it should. For remote workers to be engaged and productive, they must have the proper tools to get their work done efficiently, and the training to use those tools effectively.
Being properly equipped goes beyond technology. Workers may need access to physical company materials such as stationery or presentation kits, and the means to mail them to prospects or clients.
This is a broad topic that gets to the heart of the additional challenges for managers in a remote work environment. Gone are the quick in-person check-ins, or a direct report popping into a manager’s office with a question, and extra effort must be made to make up for these interactions.
Managers should not only schedule meetings as they normally would, but also hold regular remote team interactions without an agenda; a coffee break or happy hour, for example. And touching base with each employee individually is vital as well. The frequency of these sessions will vary depending on the employee, but they should cover things like a general determination of how the worker is doing, opportunities for professional development, soliciting suggestions for improvement, and general open discussion.
Whether in person or remote, a manager must build trust with his or her team. These individual sessions, properly handled, will go a long way towards developing trust, which in turn will make things go better when difficult conversations have to happen.
Budgetary expectations for remote work
It’s tempting to view WFH strictly as a cost savings. Office space might be reduced, company vehicles used less, and productivity can arguably increase when employees aren’t spending their time stuck in traffic.
Remote work brings a new set of expenses, though, starting with the obvious costs of the necessary technology (and keeping that technology safe in the age of rampant malware). Many organizations have taken advantage of that technology to widen the reach of their talent pool, hiring workers from all over the country. The ones who do this most successfully also budget for travel, to bring those remote workers in perhaps quarterly for team building or even social events like holiday parties. These face-to-face events can have a huge, positive impact on culture.
Viewed through the lens of HCM, remote work is another opportunity to achieve company aims and goals. With proper attention paid to the details of establishing and managing remote employees, there’s no need for organizational culture to suffer.