Realities of remote work: keeping connected

Communicating with at-home employees requires a measured approach.
By: | April 27, 2020 • 3 min read
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series related to coronavirus around remote employee strategies and priorities for HR leaders—from HR’s top experts.

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In the last few weeks, the rapidly changing pandemic has challenged employers to keep their workers informed about everything from safety protocols to business health, with many HR leaders and experts advising that communication is a key component to helping the workforce successfully navigate this new environment.

However, employees can overdose on communication and the right balance is necessary, says Heather Deyrieux, president of the HR Florida State Council, an HR professional association.

She suggests that leaders keep a daily list of nonurgent matters that can be emailed so they’re not constantly bombarding workers.

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“Many [employees] feel tired because their mind is going 1,000 miles per hour and it’s hard to concentrate on work,” Deyrieux says.

At DISYS, Laura Smith, vice president of global HR, says among the biggest challenge for company leaders is calming employee fears.

The global staffing, IT consulting and managed services firm supports approximately 4,000 employees. Before this pandemic, less than 10% worked remotely. Now, 98% do.

“I view my role and my team’s role as serving as triage combat medics for the company,” Smith says. “I’m always telling employees to contact me for anything and they do. Fear is the overriding challenge today, and fear means different things to different people.”

On top of allaying fears, HR should also be encouraging leaders and managers to make personal connections with their employees.

Engage employees in water-cooler conversations and ask questions: How did you sleep last night? How are your kids adjusting? How are you staying active? Ask your team to jump on a video call and sing “Happy Birthday” to a co-worker. That shows you’ve been paying attention to employees’ lives before the shift to remote work, Deyrieux says, and are taking a personal interest now to ensure they’re their best selves.

Just as important, she says, HR leaders need to stay connected with other HR professionals. Whether you make a phone call or attend a virtual happy hour, talk about employee issues, changes or best practices in this fluid environment. Maintain a steady flow of fresh ideas to take care of yourself and your organization.

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Those connections can help HR leaders bring empathy and understanding back to their own workforces.

“Once we get back to normal, if you didn’t treat your employees right, this will be their opportunity to change positions,” Deyrieux says. “This truly is a time for leaders to step up to show not only that the company cares for [employees] but ‘Here’s how I care for you.’ ”

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For more on how HR can serve prioritize employee wellbeing during this unprecedented time, click here.

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 hreletters@lrp.com.