Brokerage Ops the Jan/Feb 2021 issue

The Remote Work Rulebook

Discover new rules for training, onboarding and team-building.
By Kirk Fleming Posted on January 6, 2021

Then came COVID-19. It hit hard and fast. Office workers’ jobs moved from the corner cubicle to the living room overnight, leaving HR leaders with a whole new set of hard questions. How do we effectively onboard new hires in a remote world? How do we prepare them for success? How do we help them achieve work/life integration during a time of added personal stress? And how do we keep our teams connected when we can’t be together physically?

Finding the answers isn’t easy. And most companies don’t have a ready-built infrastructure designed to support work operations for a global environment.

When it comes to onboarding new employees remotely, some parts of what works in person carry over to the remote world naturally. Other parts do not. That’s why HR leaders need a new rulebook.

New Rule No. 1: Establish a reliable technology infrastructure. In the past, most requests to work from home were viewed as exceptions for a few individual employees, so IT teams didn’t prioritize support for remote work. That’s why, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, few companies had the infrastructure to handle the complexity and scale of 100% remote work. This type of infrastructure is now a must-have. If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to evaluate the initial package of devices (desktops, laptops, monitors, printer/scanners) you provide to remote workers.

You’ll also need new employees to check with their internet providers and ensure they can get a connection fast enough for them to conduct business. New hires will need to test their devices to be sure key software programs and videoconferencing needs (microphones, speakers, etc.) function properly. And IT departments must be sure all devices used remotely follow a standard set of security protocols that protect both the overall network and the confidential data it contains.

New Rule No. 2: Create informal networking opportunities. Learning the nuances of a job comes naturally in an office setting, where new hires can grab coffee, chat about the ballgame, celebrate birthdays and interact in person. It’s more difficult virtually. That’s why great leaders today need to create these types of interactions for remote employees in a structured, purposeful way. Set up a “learn the team” scavenger hunt or bingo card that helps new hires reach out to team members and learn about each other. Assign mentors or coaches who can serve as the first point of contact when new hires have questions about the job itself or the workplace culture.

Whether they’re in the office or on the other side of a conference call, good managers listen with empathy, communicate well and offer honest feedback to employees.

New Rule No. 3: Restructure your feedback loop. Managers’ technical ability has little to do with their managerial ability. Whether they’re in the office or on the other side of a conference call, good managers listen with empathy, communicate well and offer honest feedback to employees. All of those things carry over to the remote work world, with one catch: you may want to do it more often. If you had team meetings once a week in the office, consider making them twice a week. If you have an operations meeting daily, consider having a second one later in the day from time to time.

Finding the right cadence brings many benefits in a virtual world. Since you’re not face to face in the office, your employees will want more feedback faster. Your daily meetings can help deliver that feedback in the right context, as opposed to sending it in an email or a Slack message that may make employees feel defensive. Frequent touchpoints also help keep a team more focused on its overall goals.

New Rule No. 4: Balance the professional and the personal. Some workers may have young children at home. This means it’s likely they’re balancing work with some form of child care and/or remote learning. Managers can help parents achieve a bit of balance. Quick tip: schedule your meetings for one hour, but set the agenda for just 45 minutes. Leave the last 15 minutes so employees can either ask final questions or care for their children’s needs (or other personal needs).

Employees may also turn to their managers to vent about COVID-19 related issues. Managers should listen but also know their limits. If an employee is suffering pandemic-related anxiety or depression and needs counseling or other help, ask them to find it—don’t try to counsel them on your own.

New Rule No. 5: Redefine team building. Those informal conversations co-workers had while walking the hallways of your office can’t easily be replicated. But you can help facilitate team building virtually. The best way to start is to ask each of your direct reports what matters most to them. Use that information to get creative.

One idea is to allow any employee to host a “virtual happy hour” at the end of a workday by videoconference, where teams can talk. The only rule: no work talk allowed. Host a virtual dinner where employees exchange recipes. Try virtual trivia games or even a virtual board game that can continue from week to week. These aren’t the same as in-person events, but they allow employees to connect and have fun.

New Rule No. 6: Shake up employee training. While the P&C industry continues to be certification-driven (where you absorb a great deal of information and then take a test to prove your mastery), the pandemic gives organizations an opportunity to rethink employee training. Employees are now more accepting of virtual classrooms due to the safety concerns of in-person learning. If you haven’t adopted an online learning structure for your workforce, now is a great time to do so. Don’t be seduced by providing large libraries of information and think that is adequate. Work with professional learning partners who design online training using best practices of microlearning. This will help staff absorb and use the information in ways that help them be more productive, not just knowledgeable.

And here’s one last new rule: don’t try to be perfect. If your organization didn’t start working remotely until the pandemic began, you can’t adopt these new rules overnight. But by taking some steps now to rethink your onboarding, training and team-building activities, you’ll be well prepared for whatever the future of work may look like.

Kirk Fleming is the vice president of talent development for ReSource Pro.

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