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Performing the Core Functions of HR Remotely

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Your Human Resources department isn’t just a team of experts in managing people—they’re experts in managing your company’s people. And if it’s operating effectively, your HR folks have tried and true tactics for keeping things running smoothly. While every successful HR team is unique, most probably have regular check-ins with employees to discuss their goals and offer them development opportunities; gauge employee sentiment based on how they act at the office; take managers out for coffee to discuss leadership or succession questions. What’s the common denominator? Adequately addressing people problems requires people to interface.

But, as we continue to navigate a workforce shaken to its core by the COVID-19 pandemic, HR teams now have to support employees they haven’t seen in person in many months—and, in virtually onboarded cases, at all. While some functions of HR including paperwork and reporting can easily be done remotely (one example: the government has approved an extension allowing remote I-9 verification), problem solving, employee development and succession planning require a little more creativity.

Here are four ways to make HR work in a remote setting.

1. Know Your People—in Their New Work Setting

When there’s no chance to run into people in the hallway or chat in line at the cafeteria, getting to know colleagues becomes a difficult task. But it’s more important than ever for HR professionals, if you are to support them in the new normal. For example, you may think you know your accounting team and their challenges at the office, but are they facing different obstacles at home? Is your head of accounting dealing with his kids’ remote learning troubles, which is causing him to miss deadlines?

Knowing your people means knowing the nature of their work and the culture on their respective team. Speak to individuals to see how you can best support them, not only through official avenues like offering them parental leave, but also through smaller, internal changes. Perhaps, moving that accounting deadline to a different day of the week would make all the difference.

2. Provide Learning Tools

Learning and development on the job are always important. But it’s particularly crucial at a time of massive disruption when employees need to sharpen key soft skills like resilience, communication and productivity. Employees need to have tools that enable them to learn and grow in the flow of work without day-to-day coaching from HR or their managers. Implementing a learning management system can help employees set goals, guide their own development and access learning materials as they need, when they need them.

HR will still have to dedicate time to developing and deploying the appropriate learning content and resources. But centralizing it and making it widely available can be game changing. Remember, remote HR doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to facilitate employee growth—and technology can actually make that process easier on you.

3. Schedule Face Time

By this point in the year, we’re all exhausted by video conferencing. But it’s a necessary evil. While studies show that too much time on camera can be stressful, you’ll get a clearer understanding of how people are doing if you can see their faces. Face-to-face interactions are critical to us as humans, so to continue evaluating how your employees are feeling (are they down? are they energetic and motivated?), you’ll have to schedule more video calls. But taking a break from a computer screen might help—instead of a typical Zoom session, try FaceTiming in the backyard, or while you take a socially-distanced walk around your respective neighborhoods.

4. Set Solid Boundaries

The work of HR is never done. There will never be a time where every employee is happy, every manager is trained, every succession plan is written and every job description is updated. When working remotely, you never have to go home because you’re already there, so it can be hard to turn off your computer and put your phone on do not disturb mode. But you cannot solve every problem. And you need time to relax. Set your boundaries—and encourage your employees to do the same. Set a good example, and teach by doing.

For more columns by HR expert Suzanne Lucas, click here.

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