he role of HR teams has drastically changed since COVID-19 caused massive disruption to the traditional workplace. The most obvious issue was that some employees (and managers!) struggled with their new remote work life. However, the lack of a physical location may have opened more doors than it closed. For example, remote teams might prompt more manager and employee discussions, and flexible teams might increase retention.

HR teams have needed to adapt to the new workplace, but some challenges will always be present. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at some of the biggest remote work collaboration challenges facing HR managers and leaders. Then, we’ll offer some HR-focused management best practices that can help you level up your employee productivity and retention.

Challenges with Managing Remote Teams

Talent can now be sourced and managed from across oceans and borders. Now that hiring is as easy as scheduling a virtual call, HR leaders can help managers find that perfect hire. Coordinating between time zones might get tricky, but the new perspective fresh employees can bring is transformative.

However, it can be a challenge to build positive team dynamics when the only face-time coworkers and managers get is through, well, screen-time. When employees start to feel disconnected from their workplace and coworkers, they become unengaged. This can lead to deadlines slipping or managers giving negative performance reviews. Even if your company is planning to return to the office, it’s important to explain and incentivize remote work collaboration to both new and experienced employees.

Remote work might be here to stay. So how can you help your organization adapt and keep focus?

The Society for Human Resource Management claimed, “Thirty-four percent of organizations are unsure when they will bring all employees back and 18 percent do not ever plan to have all employees return.”

One way you can solve employees losing motivation while at home is to help managers schedule check-ins at the 30, 60, and 90 day benchmarks. Open the floor for the employee to provide feedback on how they are managing their workload while remote. Ask how they are integrating with their new team, and what their manager can do better. Or, you can coordinate a weekly meeting so that managers and their teams can review any pressing tasks that need to be addressed.

Be sure to take their feedback into account, and this should help their engagement levels. More engaged, happy employees work harder and raise productivity levels despite their many distractions at home.

For a more casual approach to increasing engagement and positive team dynamics, you can introduce the fresh face during a planned virtual ‘coffee break.’ Putting faces to names, and even seeing the decorated wall behind them, can help make the new person feel more welcome. More connected employees work well together, which helps managers stay on top of projects.

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Challenges with Retention

With some office workers happy to go back into the office and some employees pushing to stay remote, key organization decision makers are worried about their retention rates. If one employee wants to stay remote permanently, they might look for an organization that enables them to do so. It doesn’t calm any nerves that a recent study published that 36% of millennial U.S. workers plan to leave their current jobs post-pandemic.

"The talent turnover tsunami is here. With vaccination rates climbing and workplaces re-opening, employees increasingly feel confident looking elsewhere for a job. And that is highly problematic for employers given the acute labor shortage."  
Melissa Jezior, President and CEO of Eagle Hill Consulting

So what can HR departments do to help departments retain their hard-working employees? Try to work with managers to see if remote work can be turned into a hybrid process, or give employees the choice between what they prefer.

An easy remote work collaboration best practice to alleviate this fear is to point out which employees are performing well to their managers. Then, work with the managers to review their task performance and provide valuable recognition. 40% of employed U.S. employees would try harder at their jobs if they received more recognition from their professional leaders and peers.

Recognition and rewards go hand in hand and directly impact retention rates. One study on motivation in the workplace by Positive Psychology claimed that, “Rewards should be given only after the task is completed, preferably as a surprise, varied in frequency, and alternated between tangible rewards and praise.” A manager can express their gratitude to an employee all day long, but if there is no tangible reward to accompany good performance reports, employees might lose their drive.

Productivity levels also increase when employees feel motivated. The tough part is actually getting that motivation ball rolling, and keeping it in motion. Talk with managers to set realistic goals. Workers will feel satisfied when they meet them, and are more likely to not look for a new job.

Challenges with Company Culture and Remote Worker Inclusion

HR teams are doing their best to stay up to date with inclusion issues and manage employee wellness, but as many companies are in the ‘new normal’ of hybrid workplaces, the process is chaotic. Company culture can be hard to measure and change when half the employees are in the office, and the other half are in their homes.

The yearly Job Seeker Nation report from mid-2020 claimed that “One-third (33%) of respondents report a somewhat increased stress level at work, while nearly one-quarter (22%) report a dramatic increase in stress.”

To help managers prevent burnout and stress levels from rising, HR teams can try to find collaborative technology to help alert managers when there are potential employee wellness issues. Or, if that technology is already acquired, HR can help managers understand how to manage these workers, such as how to proactively identify them, how to help their teams prioritize and manage work, and how to exchange tasks.

However, even if an employee has a high productivity level, they might feel neglected if their organization falters on inclusion efforts. With the stress of the past year still lingering, managers must focus even harder on promoting inclusion to support their hard-working remote employees.

For example, misunderstandings and doubt might sow into teams that only communicate via email. If someone is late for a virtual meeting, a manager might scoff and subconsciously think they need more oversight, which could cause the worker (who just had a bad internet connection) to feel micromanaged.

One helpful tip HR teams can share with managers is to schedule remote team-building exercises. It can be as relaxed as a Friday happy hour, or even a happy 30 minutes. Discussing hobbies, what their weekend plans are, and growing those interpersonal connections can help remote employees feel included and valued.

What Will Remote Work Collaboration Look Like in 2022?

Managers, HR or not, have had a tough past year and a half. Every day new company structures, technologies, and HR preventative strategies are changing. During a global pandemic, managers were challenged with improving their remote team’s communication, reducing turnover, and monitoring employee performance and mental health. By helping managers focus on these remote work collaboration best practices, HR teams will raise productivity and employee morale, and be better prepared for the curve balls 2022 will most likely throw.

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