Can HR support your remote workers through Covid-19, and beyond?

Date: 16 Apr 2020

Author: Chris Radley

Even without the dramatic impact of Covid-19, the numbers of people working from home (WFH) has been significantly rising for quite some time. In the U.S. alone, there’s been a 159% increase in the number of professionals telecommuting between 2005 and 2017. And since 2018, 70% of professionals around the world have been working remotely at least once a week.

According to Stats NZ, by 2018, New Zealand saw over 30% of Kiwis working from home at least some of the time. While the percentages vary greatly by the type of industry and occupation, most of our WFHomers are professionals (58%) and managers (57%).

Right now, in the middle of COVID-19, 77% of all workers in New Zealand and Australia are working from home, with just 12% continuing to work in an office.

But with this huge shift in how we work, in and out of times of crisis, comes the observation from Stats NZ that ‘working from home did not always correlate with an increased satisfaction with work-life balance. While most employees who had done work from home were satisfied with their work-life balance (69%), they were more likely to be dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied (12%), than those who did not work from home (6.9%).’

To quote Scott Ussher from Stats NZ; “So, for some people, working from home can be useful to help juggle their professional and personal life, but for others, it might intrude on their personal life and cause dissatisfaction with work-life balance.”

And that is the crux of the issue for HR teams around the world.

Man sitting alone and using a laptop

The problem with working at home, alone

In Buffer’s 2019 report, State of Remote Work, they summarised the issues that negatively impact WFHomers. Of the 2,500 remote workers they surveyed, 22% said unplugging from work was their biggest struggle, followed by loneliness at 19%, collaborating and/or comms at 17%, and the distractions of working at home at 10%. Other issues included staying motivated (8%).  

Harvard Business Review, in their A Guide to Managing Your (Newly) Remote Workers, say: “Loneliness is one of the most common complaints about remote work, with employees missing the informal social interaction of an office setting. It is thought that extraverts may suffer from isolation more in the short run, particularly if they do not have opportunities to connect with others in their remote-work environment. However, over a longer period of time, isolation can cause any employee to feel less “belonging” to their organization, and can even result in increased intention to leave the company.”

Perhaps most worrisome, is that nearly 40% of remote workers don’t seek help from HR when problems arise or they need resources.* So, given your mandate of keeping remote workers happy now, and post COVID-19, how will you keep your WFHomers engaged and happy to minimise the loss of valued resources?

 

It’s all about your HR platform

The capabilities of your HR platform play a critical role in bridging the loneliness gap. Here’s our WFH checklist:

  1. Is your platform accessible? It MUST be cloud-based to deliver value to a WFH workforce.
  2. Does it provide a way for your WFHomers to engage? With the business and one another? Does it provide a highly familiar social interaction and social media experience (think Facebook and LinkedIn)?
  3. Can you build online communities? If you can seamlessly align your employees’ at-work (from home) digital experience with their personal digital interaction expectations, it’s easier to involve and motivate them. Can your employees form social connections and build groups by logging their own special interests and discovering who in the business has similar hobbies, sports or passions?     
  4. Can you keep your finger on the pulse of workplace? Do you have AI sentiment monitoring, and real-time anonymised polls and surveys? By leveraging artificial intelligence you can make employee feedback and responses more accurate and meaningful – and act, not react, when you identify issues.
  5. Does your HR platform make it easier for your employees to contact you? And in a way that they’re most comfortable with? Can it acknowledge those messages, and prioritise those which are time sensitive? 

 

 WFH happiness

The benefits of WFH are considerable for both workers, and businesses. No travel time, no traffic, fewer going-to-work expenses, higher productivity and lower overheads.

But to make WFH a sustainable option for people who are essentially sociable and value and need the  companionship of others, HR needs new technologies and tools. The world we live in may take a long time to bounce back from COVID-19, if it ever truly does. So it’s essential we can identify those who are unhappy in their isolation, and build new ways to care, connect, communicate and listen.

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