COVID-19 has forever changed the way we work. As organizations quickly transitioned to remote work models, they gradually adopted systems to retain employees and keep their businesses running. HR professionals are now tasked with maintaining continuous communication across a dispersed workforce, demanding careful planning and preparation.
Human resources (HR) leaders have been forced to rethink and reorganize their office environments for a post-COVID-19 world. Most important is the strategy involved in reevaluating how work gets done, including the evolution of the workforce. Organizations that carefully plan and develop remote work strategies based on trust and transparency can increase their employees’ engagement and loyalty, which will, in turn, benefit their business.
This article explores critical business continuity trends and tips for HR leaders in a remote work environment.
Business continuity trends for HR leaders in 2021 and beyond
The pandemic has created a new business climate focused on remote work. As a result, organizations have had to review and update their business programs. To ensure business continuity, HR leaders must be prepared to manage several critical phases of any crisis simultaneously: preparation, response, recovery, and resilience—and do so seamlessly despite much of their workforce being offsite.
Trend #1: Flexible and adaptive planning
An ongoing trend toward flexible and adaptive planning has continued to increase. As the traditional office workforce moved to a more distributed labor model, HR management processes evolved to align with remote work adjustments.
HR leaders have had to adapt quickly to meet the challenges of a remote workforce. For example, the sudden shift from the traditional office environment to working from home created employee morale and engagement challenges. In addition, distributed workforces without proper security protocols created new vulnerabilities for employers and increased opportunities for cyberattacks.
Trend #2: Renewed emphasis on employee well-being
The impact of the recent pandemic presents many challenges for both business managers and HR professionals. Employees who are worried about their health or job stability are less productive. But HR managers can help alleviate employees’ anxiety. Such challenges present opportunities for businesses to think about how they effectively communicate with their teams, maintain the security and sustainability of remote operations, and sharpen their enterprise focus on health and well-being.
Trend #3: Testing to prepare for any disruption
Simultaneous business disruptions are on the rise—including the pandemic and numerous other outside factors. An increased focus on risk management, regulation, and compliance has pushed organizations in regulated industries to revise their business plans to avoid penalties and fines. To create a company-wide culture of preparedness and threat resilience, organizations must establish a unified business continuity testing strategy that HR leaders communicate to all employees.
Conducting tests based on simultaneous threat scenarios is a definitive way to prepare your workforce and business operations for the unexpected. In addition, such testing reassures your employees that you are ready for any challenge.
Trend #4: Timely and effective incident management and crisis communication
The COVID-19 pandemic has helped illustrate the importance of an effective incident management and communication strategy. A good plan will still fail if you can’t communicate through the process. HR leaders in organizations of all sizes must evaluate, plan, and execute multiple methods to communicate with employees about a disaster situation. When traditional voice communications and telecommunications are impaired, consider alternative systems such as emergency notification software so that everyone has access to the latest information.
Tips for managing and motivating a distributed workforce
Most organizations have transitioned to at least some remote work. While many people believe that employees prefer to work remotely, some members of your team might be struggling. In fact, more than seven out of 10 employers have struggled with this transition. And when researchers measured what motivates employees, they found that those forced to work from home were the least motivated.
People with home offices spend more hours working in them than intended, but the home office environment can impact the quality of their work. If your organization plans to maintain a work-from-home structure, even part time, the HR team should work closely with remote employees to ensure their success.
To help employees stay engaged and productive, HR leaders must consider employees’ overall well-being, both physical and psychological:
1. Be empathetic
As you maneuver the challenges of managing a remote workforce, remember to be patient. Everyone is working in a different environment and faces their own challenges. Online communication may not always convey a person’s intended tone. Be aware of how a recipient might interpret an electronic message. Trust your teams, and help the company’s leadership shift its focus from just meeting deadlines to delivering quality work.
2. Establish a schedule and set expectations
To maintain momentum, it’s important to set boundaries, such as work hours and breaks, as well as communicate team expectations. Decide how often you need to communicate with various teams and individual employees. Encourage the use of software that tracks progress and sends project updates, which can add transparency to cross-departmental processes. Remind employees to take time off to recharge and decompress so they don’t burn out.
3. Stay connected
Working remotely can lead to feelings of isolation or a lack of connection between team members. As Gallup research noted, isolation under normal circumstances can decrease work efficiency by 21%. The pandemic has undoubtedly increased this percentage. HR leaders should encourage managers to check in on team members, conduct virtual meetings, and publicly acknowledge employees’ efforts to deliver projects.
Another aspect of staying connected is making sure that your team can indeed maintain an internet connection and power. Have you considered how a major weather event could impact work-from-home employees? Consider investing in hotspots and generators, or products like Agility ReadyTechGo, for critical employees to stay online and powered up, no matter where they are.
4. Lead by example
The HR team should demonstrate a commitment to the success of working remotely. Use the same tools to interact and share work progress within the HR team, and don’t hesitate to turn on your video when chatting with employees.
5. Update roles and responsibilities
Whether due to layoffs or challenges of working remotely, some team members may have taken on more responsibilities. HR specialists can help team leaders review, update, and clarify the responsibilities of every role in the team, along with the team’s objectives.
6. Ask for feedback and celebrate success
Be available to receive various teams’ perspectives to find new and improved ways to accomplish business goals. During check-ins, discuss which processes are working well and ask for suggestions on what to improve while teams are working remotely.
7. Be agile and flexible
Newly remote workforces are sure to encounter challenges that your HR team hasn’t dealt with before. Be ready to adjust to ever-changing circumstances and the inevitability of the unexpected while keeping business continuity in mind.
Communicating with a distributed workforce
Many business leaders have struggled with the concept of staying in touch when their employees are not physically in the office. With so many employees now working remotely, it’s more important than ever to be able to easily communicate with them on any device—no matter where they are located. Establishing and deploying a comprehensive communications plan builds employees’ trust and increases their motivation and productivity.
For example, monitoring and communicating federal, state, and local updates and guidelines as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves is part of such a plan. Updating workers on the latest company guidelines and protocols can help alleviate employee confusion and anxiety.
With the right resources, HR leaders can keep the workforce up to date on any changes made to the company’s business and emergency preparedness training. Platforms like Agility Central offer centralized access to a shared library of various resources and educational training for everyone on the team. Emergency notification tools such as Agility Alerts can send a check-in note as a text message or an email to a specific group of people based on their department or location. These tools allow companies to target communications by geo-fencing, ensuring that the appropriate employees receive the necessary information.
Maintaining timely and transparent communication with employees is integral to a successful remote work environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic is just one of many disruptors. Business risks and threats are continually increasing and evolving, making business continuity a top priority for organizations. HR management processes must adapt quickly, especially to meet the ever-present challenges of a remote workforce. Business leaders and especially HR professionals must establish and maintain continuous communication across the organization to ensure resilience.