The conventional walls of an organisation no longer describe what an organisation is. Technology has broken those walls into shambles and built a new remote organisation structure.
How do HR managers adapt to this? Getting lessons from successful brands that have worked remotely is one way.
The world saw two years’ worth of digital transformation in just two months during the second quarter of 2020. Organisations entered the new normal with all employees working remotely from home to stay safe while ensuring business continuity.
However, if industry predictions are anything to go by, the evolution and tech trends brought in by the pandemic are not going anywhere and remote work is here to stay. Even the former IBM CEO, Ginni Rometty, says that a vaccine might allow people to return to a newer normal but the hybrid way of working will continue.
For HR managers and leaders, it could be challenging to set aside their experience of managing in-office teams and draft new policies to manage remote workers in such a short time. To ease it out for them, let’s take a view of the brands that have been working remotely since inception and learn a few lessons from them.
Brands that have been working remotely
While remote work became the new normal post the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been several organisations working remotely since inception, and making it work.
Remote work might be the norm for a majority of the companies today, but for brands like Buffer, Basecamp, Zapier, GitLab, Automattic, Trello, etc., it has been the norm for years. Let’s quickly get a view of how some of these brands work and learn from them.
This is one organisation that has been working remotely since 2011 and ditched its office set-up completely in 2015. They have come up with a complete list of hacks and tips when it comes to remote work. Here are some things that HR managers can most certainly learn from Buffer:
They believe in asynchronous communication which means one can send a message with their issues or thoughts and the other person would get back to them when they start working. They use Threads for this purpose.
They have set-up best practices for all collaboration and communication tools so that everyone’s on the same page.
They use various remote working tools like Zoom, Threads, Trello, Dropbox, Zenefits, etc., to make remote work easier.
They have set up routines for teams and have a Calendar in place to know each person’s availability
Zapier is a reckoned brand that has been professing remote work for employees from the very beginning. It has over 300 employees working distributed 100% across 28 countries and in 17 different time zones.
They have set-up a program called ‘Zap Pal’. After hiring remote workers, they assign a pal who ensures the new member feels at home in the new organisation. They also have Pair buddies where they bring two-three teammates together randomly through Donut every week to have a discussion and keep socialising with everyone. This weekly check-in also enables open communication.
They follow a balance of real-time and asynchronous communication to ensure everyone is in connection. They have lessons for new hires on a tool called Lessonly and have another onboarding tool Sapling which automatically delivers this content.
They offer Tango cards with credits that remote workers can use on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, etc., to invest in a hobby of their choice like reading e-books or listening to music.
The world’s largest all-remote organisation, GitLab has over 1,315 members working remotely from over 66 countries. They believe that people at GitLab can work from anywhere as long as they have good internet. Travellers, parents, caregivers, everyone gets the freedom to contribute to the company from where and when they can work best.
They have work from anywhere policy instead of work from anywhere which allows people to travel the world while working and contributing to the organisation.
They use GitLab for remote collaboration when writing codes. Informal communication flows naturally in this organisation.
They have complete handbooks with clearly documented objectives & key results, best practices, tools, etc., to promote transparency. This publicly-viewable handbook also assists in onboarding.
They use Google Docs for documentation, actions, decisions, etc., to make collaboration seamless.
Key lessons to learn from remote working brands
Many brands have successfully been remote since their inception. The main mantra behind success is trust in the employees to get work done. But managing human resources, one cannot work on trust alone. All the three brands discussed above have analysed their working style and improved on their way of working to get the most out of the remote workforce.
Here are some lessons that HR professionals can learn from them.
Have water cooler channels
Call it office banter, call it coffee room chats, call it lunch discussion – traditional workplace encouraged employee engagement that kept the environment light. Working remotely in different locations rob employees of this privilege.
The 2020 State of Remote Work by Buffer, one of the pioneers of remote working, states loneliness as one of the biggest struggles of remote workers. Out of 3,500 global remote workers surveyed, 20% considered themselves lonely in remote working conditions.
HR managers need to ensure remote workers get the family-feel they get when working in physical proximity. They should encourage random chats in company groups. In fact, the majority of the time, employees wouldn’t casually chat amongst themselves. This is where HR managers should come forward with a strategy.
They should create a channel solely for random chats or hold chat sessions like Zapier. They should send out regular messages to encourage employees to come forward and discuss stuff. Moreover, they should host contests and competitions, share facts, trivia, and jokes, send birthday & work anniversary wishes, etc., to keep the group alive. Such conversations bring everyone together and prevent burnout.
Set-up statuses for availability
Unline in-office set-up where you know when a person is free or available on desk, remote working blurs the availability scenario. The distinctions between personal and professional obligations can blur while working from home. This is where HR managers should jump in and clear set boundaries.
Make sure to encourage workers to set statuses for when they are active, offline, on leave, stepping out from break or lunch, etc. This way, there won’t be any miscommunication or other workers waiting for the response. They would know when someone is available and can expect a prompt response from them.
A recognised expert on workplace flexibility, Cali Williams Yost says, “Set clear priorities so employees can plan their lives around them. Clarify expectations for accessibility and responsiveness such as during what hours e-mails or instant messages should be reviewed and responded to, or when it is best to call or text.”
Offer work from home allowances
Brands that have been all remote since the working has offered work from home allowance to their remote workers. This makes the employees feel more comfortable working from home. There should be a no-questions-asked allowance offered as well. It could be a small sum but offering such things gives them the assurance that their work is being appreciated.
- It could be simply offering small perks like sending across a work from the home kit including the work chair, work desk/laptop table, headphones, etc., which can be great.
- HR managers can also arrange for allowances for internet compensation as per the monthly bill attached.
- They can send out food vouchers to order in food and hold a virtual lunch together to bring everyone together.
Organise get-togethers & retreats
Every brand working remote since inception vouches that hosting annual or bi-yearly parties for employees works wonders in keeping their morale high. Every big brand working remote has been flying their employees in for a yearly get-together.
While this might seem extremely expensive, considering the amounts saved in infrastructure and other things, it wouldn’t come out to be so expensive.
Company retreats happen out to be great for everyone to catch up on life, discuss random ideas, and much more in-person. Brands like Zapier have been not just organising get-togethers but week-long company retreats bi-annually.
Rethink overtime compensation
Back in the traditional working space, any additional work time over three-four hours meant overtime or leave compensation. As per recent studies, the majority of the remote workers are now overspending hours on work. They are unable to wind up work after completing eight hours and end up working way more than they did when in office.
As per the International Labour Organisation, Indian employees are working way past the ILO norms of working hours, which is 48 hours a week. This means that most of the employees in the remote working set-up are now working extra hours. So, should you pay extra for all the extra hours they put in?
HR managers need to rethink their overtime compensation strategy. Instead of billing it by the hour, it should be billed by the tasks performed. They should be awarded on their productivity or output instead of time-in-seat as that doesn’t remain a metric to judge a person’s work.
The majority of the companies that had been encouraging remote work even before the pandemic had been compensating overtime based on the extra work done instead of the hours filled in the overtime sheet. HR managers can learn this trick and put it out among the remote teams to avoid getting endless overtime approvals.
Ensure that espoused culture & expressed culture are the same
Authentic leadership is where leaders express what they espouse. While analysing this is easy in a traditional workplace, HR managers need to ensure that the leaders express what they believe in, especially in terms of the corporate culture.
A disparity between the espoused culture and the expressed culture is a common sight in most organisations. HR managers need to align what the leaders promote as the corporate culture with the behaviour of the workers.
This might be challenging considering the remote workplace. But that’s where the main excitement is. HR managers working with remote employees need to be stern while maintaining a balance between what the company culture promotes and how they work remotely.
No matter what the company values or visions are, they should make a handbook or guide available for all employees to get back to whenever needed. An open line of communication is imperative when trying to maintain a company culture and connect with the remote workforce.
As per a number of studies, remote work is here to stay. Even after the pandemic ends and everything gets back to pre-pandemic normal, many companies will continue working with a remote workforce. A Gartner survey of 130 HR leaders has even concluded that 90% of them plan to allow remote work even after the vaccine becomes broadly available to all.
Today, a new hybrid working model has evolved, which is here to stay. HR managers have come up with new provisions for teams to work remotely for some days a week and in the office for others. This would create a balance between remote work and regular office work. It would break the burnout or boredom of working alone from home.
HR managers need to be swift in creating new SOPs or handbooks for their remote employees to ensure everyone is on the same page. Include the tools to be used, best practices to be followed, and even offer training for the best use of tools to make remote work a success for the organisation.
About the Author
Tanya Kumari leads the Digital Marketing & Content for Classic Informatics, a global web and software development company. She is an avid reader, music lover and a technology enthusiast who likes to be up to date with all the latest advancements happening in the techno world.
When she is not working on her latest article on tech dynamics, you can find her by the coffee machine, briefing co-workers on the perks of living a healthy lifestyle and how to achieve it.