What is HR’s Role in the World of the Remote Workforce?

HR's role in the remote workforce

Telecommuting, working remotely, home-sourcing, telework – whatever you choose to call it, the remote workforce has been growing for years. And now, it’s the new normal. So what does this shift mean for employee management? Here are five unique responsibilities HR must take on in the world of the remote workforce.

1. Expanded Search & Recruitment

Hiring has always been an important responsibility of HR professionals, but with more of the workforce working remotely, the process of search and recruitment has changed quite a bit. Today, finding the right person is no longer limited by geography. Improved communication and collaboration tools allow people in some fields to work from anywhere — no relocation costs required. While this does open up the playing field to a greater number of players, more doesn’t necessarily mean easier, or even always better.

As businesses large and small expand their strategies to include remote workers, HR has the difficult task of creating and improving processes for search and recruitment when local professional networks and face-to-face interviews may not be useful or feasible.

Hiring outside of your sphere, whether that be location, connections, or expertise, can be risky, and combined with the unique challenges of managing a remote workforce, experienced hiring professionals are critical to ensuring the success of a team that includes remote employees.

2. Virtual Onboarding

What does your onboarding process look like? A week of orientation? A meet-the-team lunch? Some job shadowing? While remote employees require you to get creative with your onboarding itinerary, the process is no less important than it is for employees that work in a central location. After all, onboarding doesn’t just mean learning the ropes. It should be about getting new hires to be productive, engaged, and valuable members of the company.

Some businesses try to manage onboarding without the help of HR services and professionals, thinking a new hire’s managers and coworkers are the only ones that need to be involved with training. However, foregoing HR involvement in onboarding means missing opportunities for culture building and fostering company-wide cooperation. In the case of remote workers, forming a relationship with HR from the start can help new hires make connections beyond the people with whom they work directly, which in turn can bring them closer to the company as a whole.

3. Digital Engagement

Companies are no longer tied to the idea of location, which raises the question: what brings people together? It can be easy for people working remotely to lose sight of the company’s mission because they’re largely isolated from operations outside their own position. Being engaged in their work is important to both employee satisfaction and productivity, which means employee engagement is directly linked to business success.

Fostering engagement for remote workers is an area where HR services can really shine. One strategy is to keep everyone up-to-date on important events and milestones for the company. A newsletter or company bulletin that discusses business goals, new initiatives, and employee matters can help to make sure that employees are on roughly the same page, and depending on the content, could get people excited about the work they’re doing. Another strategy is regular performance reviews. While they might not sound engaging, the platform for regular feedback can help all employees – not just remote ones – feel more fulfilled.

4. Facilitating Communication

While remote workers may enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working from home, there are some downsides to being away from a central office. In a poll by Harvard Business Review, remote employees were far more likely than on-site employees to feel that their work is undervalued, that they are left out of project decisions, and even that their colleagues speak badly about them behind their backs.

This is not only damaging to morale, as poor employee experiences can have serious long-term implications for hiring and business success. Thankfully, HBR’s poll also provided a solution for remote employee isolation: regular and frequent communication. Their recommendations for managers, such as check-in often, use video conferencing when possible, and be available, are also useful for HR professionals who help to manage telecommuters. In addition, the poll respondents said that they valued managers who built relationships with them beyond work – something that can be extended beyond the direct report structure with company gatherings and online communication hubs.

5. Strategic Leadership

HR services have been evolving beyond the traditional roles of hiring, compliance, and compensation planning to become part of a strategic business leadership team within their companies.

Today, so much focus is placed on the employee experience and company image that any business goals that do not include a consideration of the people involved will most likely be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. In the world of the remote workforce, HR is being called upon to broaden their responsibilities beyond employee management to create companies where people want to work, no matter where they are.

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