Even senior leaders may need some support on managing a remote workforce.
Editor’s note: This is the final in a series related to coronavirus around remote employee strategies and priorities for HR leaders—from HR’s top experts.
The vital role of HR tech in supporting agile workforces is being illuminated by the current pandemic, which has forced millions of Americans to become remote workers—some without proper support from technology or training.
Fortunately, DISYS, a global staffing, IT consulting and managed services firm that supports approximately 4,000 employees, launched Workplace in February and trained its employees on how to use the connectivity platform developed by Facebook, says Laura Smith, vice president of global HR. In March, as the coronavirus spread, she says, HR worked with IT to test its tech tools and fixed some glitches. She also offered online training to a handful of the company’s leaders who were struggling with the platform’s video-chat function.
Through virtual, weekly town-hall meetings, Smith says, the company’s leaders raise concerns, share ideas and discuss the company’s health status. The CEO, Mahfuz Ahmed, recently conducted an “inspirational” town hall, reassuring employees that they would not be laid off. Innovative ideas and practices have since been “bubbling up,” Smith says.
“I’ve encouraged leaders to serve more as a coach,” she says. “What I’ve observed and hear from them is that they love the regular [visual] touchpoints. When we’re in our offices, we don’t have regular town halls. If I have any say [after the pandemic subsides], I’d like to see them continue.”
Meanwhile, never assume those in senior roles are confident in leading employees through this pandemic; they too may need added training, says Kimberly Cassady, talent officer at Cornerstone OnDemand, a cloud-based learning, talent management and talent experience software provider that supports 2,000 global employees. In the past, 40% worked remotely but now 100% work from home.
“I lead every conversation with [business leaders with], ‘How are you doing?’ ” she says. “I ask if they need anything and what they are struggling with the most. Just asking can be a huge relief. Don’t assume they know the answers, that they know what they’re doing.”
Cassady says the HR team was aware of its leadership’s skills and gaps and projected what support would be needed. HR developed virtual training programs and held open mic meetings that attracted 215 out of 300 managers on managing remote staff and demonstrating empathy during this global crisis.
Surprisingly, Cassady says, her biggest challenge involved herself.
“I never worked remotely before for an extended period of time at home,” she says. “I found myself basically glued to my chair and not finding the separation between work and home or when to stop working. I was also recognizing that burnout with my team and was surprised I needed to give myself permission to take a break and step away.”
She shared her experiences with the HR staff and leadership team. HR created a work-from-home tip sheet, containing best practices that leaders could share with their employees, such as set specific work hours, reduce the length of meetings and dedicate a workspace that’s physically separate from other areas in your home.
Cassady’s own work volume has increased. Every week, she hosts an open mic forum for U.S. managers to address questions and another to accommodate those overseas. She also writes a weekly, two-page employee newsletter covering key topics, such as employee policies, coronavirus updates, the organization’s status and recent company changes.
Perhaps most creative of all is that any leader or employee can host an optional development hour on topics ranging from cooking with an instant pot to family craft ideas. HR is even considering coordinating a virtual “Bring Your Kids to Work Day.”
“We’re getting more accustomed to this,” says Cassady. “We’re not going to rest on the fact that we have proven we can do this for nearly a month now. We don’t know what we don’t know at this point.”
Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.