Some companies have long embraced the benefits of remote work, allowing some — or even all employees — to work from home some or even all of the time. However, for many traditional companies, the sudden thrust into the work-from-home culture necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic has been disorienting.
In the midst of this crisis, HR departments may find themselves dealing with a completely new set of urgent responsibilities — from managing increasing requests for time off and sick pay, to enforcing new social distancing guidelines, to overseeing furloughs and even layoffs.
However, they may also be wondering how to best carry out their usual responsibilities, such as evaluating performance and moderating behavior, when everyone is working remotely.
After all, standards for good behavior and strong company values are just as important now as they were during “normal” times. In fact, they may be even more important.
Here’s more about how your HR team can keep up with their responsibilities from home:
Emphasize Digital Behavior Standards
Now that most employees are working remotely, it might be a good idea to remind everyone that online behavior is subject to the same rules as in-person behavior.
As we wrote in our post How HR Should Deal with New Social Media Platforms, courts have continued to hold employers responsible for employee harassment, regardless of whether that harassment takes place on-site in the office, or online via email, chat message, or social media post.
Policies should clarify that bad behavior is bad behavior, regardless of where it happens. Employees should understand that even private messages can be used as evidence in a harassment investigation if an employee shows them to a manager.
Employees should also be well aware that your company is willing to aggressively investigate even anonymous work-related harassing messages, getting lawyers involved if necessary.
Clarify Remote Work Rules and Procedures
Under normal circumstances, a work-from-home policy should include both the criteria under which working remotely is permitted, and the processes by which remote work time should be requested and approved. It can’t hurt to add those things to a work-from-home policy for the future, although they aren’t particularly necessary at this time.
However, other expectations still need to be spelled out clearly, especially for employees who have never worked from home before. Make sure employees understand what is expected of them in regard to:
- Working hours – Which times of the day will employees be expected to be available?
- Responsiveness – How quickly are employees expected to respond to requests? Within how many hours?
- Productivity – It’s important that employees understand what is expected of them and whether their tasks and work will be logged or tracked.
- Security expectations – Especially if employees deal with sensitive data, the remote work policy might need to specify that they must avoid insecure internet connections (although, again, this may not be as large a concern right now as most popular public workspaces, such as coffee shops and libraries, have been off limits).
- Equipment responsibilities – Your company might already have a policy in place regarding employees using work equipment, such as laptops and phones, at home or for personal use. Remind employees that these policies extend to this work-from-home period. Employees might also need clarification on which apps and programs they’ll need for online meetings and other communication, and what their connection requirements are.
Welcome Complaints and Problem Reports
Don’t assume that going remote means that interpersonal problems will disappear.
As we mentioned in our recent post Leveraging Virtual Training During the Pandemic, the coronavirus outbreak has prompted new kinds of problematic behavior in the workplace, such as racist stereotypes linking the ethnicity of certain people to the spread of the disease. Issues related to the coronavirus have also paved the way for intrusions into personal health information. These kinds of issues can lead to legal problems down the road, as well as long-term damage to employee relationships.
Employees need to understand that they still have full access to the standard complaint process, even when they’re not physically in the office.
Hopefully, employees already know that they have several options when it comes to making complaints, whether it’s to their direct supervisor, to HR, or even through an anonymous complaint line. Emphasize that complaints don’t need to be made in person, and that all complaints will be received with respect.
For their part, managers need to know exactly what their responsibilities are when it comes to making themselves available for complaints and other issues. Good listening may be a bit more difficult when it’s not face to face, but managers still have the same responsibilities to leverage the power of empathy and act quickly to address the issues in the complaint.
Related post: Creating A Sexual Harassment Complaint Process
Maintain a Strong Workplace Culture
In many workplaces, in-person meetings and even the physical office itself play a major role in company culture. Without those in-person connections, it may feel like culture building is impossible. The values and standards that HR has worked hard to enforce in the past may seem less tangible.
However, there are still many ways for employees to maintain meaningful connections during this time — and there are plenty of ways for leaders and managers to demonstrate company values. There are many opportunities to help the community, whether as individuals or as a group. And giving employees a digital place to share some of their trials and successes can provide a sense of community during a difficult time.
Plus, advancements in technology are making it much easier for remote employees to stay in touch with one another regardless of their locations.
Chat apps like Slack have become very popular with remote and non-remote companies alike, serving as a “virtual water cooler” where employees can share personal news, photos, and even memes and gifs. Admins can dedicate channels to personal communication as well as for professional conversations.
And, of course, video conferencing apps like Zoom make one-on-one meetings or even group meetings very productive, even when the participants are miles apart.
Keep on Schedule With Workplace Training
This is a uniquely stressful time for most of us. Now more than ever, employees and managers need clarity and reminders of what it means to treat one another with respect.
There’s no need to cancel or postpone workplace training during this time. Thanks to modern technology, online training is better than ever. Features like digital polls, chat rooms, and video conferencing are making civility training engaging, effective, and convenient for everyone.
Are you ready to get started? Click here to learn more about ELI’s virtual training offerings:
You can also learn more about VILT with these blog posts: