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What HR Departments Should Focus on When Managing a Remote Workforce

Chris Porteous
Chris Porteous

Any way you look at it, the challenges that HR departments face in the age of the all-remote workforce are immense.

Over the past six months, businesses everywhere have gotten a crash course in managing large remote workforces. For some, the transition has gone smoother than they could have hoped. For others, adapting standard practices to account for a decentralized workforce is still presenting problems.

But in almost every case, human resources departments continue to struggle as they try and take care of employees while also keeping company goals and needs at the fore. Many of their problems stem from the fact that traditional HR procedures revolve around the structured environment of in-office work. And now HR professionals find themselves facing the same responsibilities, but without a clear understanding of how to execute sound policies in the new normal.

To help, here is an overview of the five most critical things HR departments have to focus on as they navigate a profoundly different work environment that may be here to stay.

Enforcing office policies

One of the most difficult things about a mass transition to remote work is the fact that employees often respond to the change with a relaxed attitude they'd never have while working in the office. Dress codes tend to go by the wayside, communications standards start to slip, and workers begin blurring the lines between their work and leisure time.

To a certain extent, this is natural and unavoidable. However, HR still has a responsibility to enforce office standards to keep things professional. This begins by letting all remote workers know that all in-office policies still apply to them while they work from home. This is best accomplished by designing and holding a refresher course (via video chat, of course) to review the employee handbook and answer any questions employees have about how the standard rules now apply.

Managing and logging work hours

One of the great benefits that come with remote work is a greater amount of schedule flexibility for workers. But for HR, that flexibility can become a management nightmare. For example, tracking time for workers in an office is as simple as installing a time clock. They can punch in and punch out as needed, and the system does the rest.

But in a remote environment, that's not so simple. While employers can opt for digital time clock software designed for remote workers, they have to put some thought into scheduling policies for employees to follow. For example, will salaried employees be required to log their work hours, or will a performance threshold policy suffice? And, will hourly employees have the freedom to choose the hours they work or will they have to follow a traditional schedule?

It can take some time to work out time tracking and scheduling policies that cover every situation, but leaving things to chance is not a viable option. Doing so will lead to inevitable payroll disputes and other issues that can bloom into legal threats to the business.

Ensuring worker safety

Although it may seem like worker safety isn't much of a business issue with an all-remote workforce, it's still something HR departments need to worry about. That is because employers are still responsible for their workers' safety, even if they never set foot in a company-owned office. And although there's less direct liability involved, it's not a responsibility that any company can afford to take lightly.

To start with, HR departments have to try and limit their liability by providing workers with some standards for their home workspaces and getting them to attest to their compliance. Then, they should also provide guidance on what the workers can do to keep themselves safe as they carry out their job functions from home. And on top of all of that, HR departments should work with their facilities teams to provide workers with items they need to outfit their home offices. Things like desk lamps, comfortable chairs, and ergonomic office equipment is a small investment to make to keep remote workers safe, healthy, and working efficiently.

In a standard office environment, HR departments already face a challenge in keeping their businesses in compliance with all local labor and tax laws. But in an all-remote environment, they also have to account for the fact that some employees could be working from different jurisdictions. That could mean that they – and the business – are subject to multiple sets of different local regulations. And it doesn't take long for that to create a compliance nightmare.

At a minimum, this requires HR to conduct thorough research to understand the compliance picture for each remote employee. It's a situation that's akin to hiring across state lines or even bringing on workers based in different countries. On top of that, HR should also work with the business's accounting department to understand what the tax implications are for both the business and the individual employees. Making the right changes now will reduce the likelihood of nasty tax season surprises for all involved.

Managing worker health and wellbeing

Over the course of the past decade, it has become clearer than ever to HR departments everywhere that their role in helping workers to stay healthy and happy has a direct impact on their business's bottom line. After all, happy, healthy workers are productive ones. They're also less prone to absenteeism and less costly to insure. For that reason, HR has evolved myriad programs aimed at improving worker health and wellbeing, but there's a problem – most of them are focused on in-office activities, and the ones that aren't don't work very well with workers confined to their homes.

For that reason, HR has to come up with a whole new set of protocols and systems to manage the health and wellbeing of their newly-remote workforces. Fortunately, there's already beenvolumes written on the subject to provide them with some good places to start. And, businesses that are already partnered with 3rd-party worker wellness programs can reach out to them to create new options for their staff members. Either way, this is a change that HR needs to make right away. Given the high-stress environment that the pandemic has created, employees are apt to be more prone to burnout and other wellness issues than they would be in ordinary times.

The challenges that HR departments face in the age of the all-remote workforce are huge. And that's just considering the issues that are easy to foresee. The good news is that keeping the above five factors in mind and taking steps to deal with them early should help HR professionals to tame the chaos – somewhat.

But the truth is that this is only the beginning. For those businesses that are considering making the shift to an all-remote workforce permanent, there are bound to be more challenges ahead. And as HR departments everywhere confront those challenges, an industry-wide consensus on best practices and some broadly-applicable approaches should start to come together. And as they always have, HR professionals will do their best to keep the employees and businesses they serve operating at peak efficiency – whether their co-workers are down the hall or on the other side of the globe.

Image Credit: nensuria/Getty Images
Chris Porteous
Chris Porteous
business.com Member
I'm a serial entrepreneur and owner of three internet ventures, including My SEO Sucks. A contributor to ZeroHedge, Entrepreneur.com, Forbes, Inc.com, and dozens of other media outlets, I believe in SEO as a product. I developed a proprietary technology fueling the #1 rankings of My SEO Sucks clients. In guest speaking ventures across North American, I advocate for organic search traffic as the backbone of any comprehensive digital marketing strategy.