It’s hard to get a clear read on your organization’s culture in the best of times. It’s much harder now, as just about everyone is working from home.
HR professionals everywhere are struggling to take the temperature of their organizations and get a sense of how well employees are coping. A company may have an open-door policy, sure, but there are no more doors, open or otherwise. Employees can no longer slip into HR and discuss problems.
This is a significant issue. Where are the channels for workers who experience mistreatment or struggle with their well-being? How can they reach out and communicate what they’re going through and how they’re feeling?
One thing we do know: Just because more people are working remotely doesn’t mean issues don’t arise. In fact, employees often feel more free to behave inappropriately when their behavior is online. Add to this equation the isolation and loneliness many are feeling, and we have an environment in which employee well-being is potentially at greater peril than it has ever been before.
Studies have long suggested that working from home can feel unstructured and isolating. A 2019 survey of 2,500 remote workers by online brand-development agency Buffer found that 21% of respondents struggled with loneliness and disconnectedness. Today, such feelings are amplified exponentially, which is unsettling because workplace loneliness can make employees feel unproductive and lead to as much as a 21% drop in performance, according to research by Gallup.
So how can organizations effectively ensure a safe and productive workplace even when everyone is working from home? Here are four ways HR teams can gain better visibility into employee well-being in these trying times.
1. Don’t Assume You’re Immune
In the pre-COVID world, it was usually larger companies that struggled to take the pulse of their employees because those employees were more likely to be spread out around the region, the country, or the globe.
Now, as employees at smaller companies also work remotely, managers who once were tuned into their culture need to be just as mindful and work just as hard as managers at larger companies. Most organizations are in the same place these days, regardless of their size.
2. Keep Communication Channels Open
When a workplace is virtual, culture issues are harder to pick up on. There are no in-person interactions, so it’s more difficult for HR and leadership to be aware of every employee’s situation. This lack of awareness can make establishing and maintaining a positive culture much more challenging.
You might reasonably assume that when there are no in-person interactions, instances of mistreatment and harassment would go away. But this is not the case. Having an all-remote workforce actually means HR teams have to be more mindful of well-being issues and work harder to ensure employees feel safe and heard.
To make that job simpler, HR leadership should think about new ways to tap into employee sentiment, including new tools and new channels that allow employees to more easily and effectively share how they are feeling and what they are experiencing.
3. Consider Each Employee’s Unique Situation
You can’t make any assumptions about your employees anymore. Workers you thought were strong and self-sufficient may be struggling, too. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not just a certain type of employee who is being impacted—it’s everyone. Nobody has ever been through what we’re going through right now, so it’s impossible to know how particular employees are going to react.
What’s more, everybody is experiencing the situation differently. Some employees are completely alone and isolated, which can be very challenging. Others are surrounded by family members and/or young children, which is a completely different kind of challenge.
Workers can no longer step into the office and leave their personal problems or family issues behind. The two worlds have merged, which means HR teams must work extra hard to sustain a positive work culture.
4. Embrace Digital Solutions
Remote tools like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams are great for collaborating and communicating during this crisis. But these platforms were not designed to handle sensitive issues of mistreatment or well-being, and they’re less effective at ensuring workers have what they need to be well.
The good news is that there are purpose-built digital tools and cloud platforms that encourage employees to log their experiences in a very personal way and that provide management with visibility into employee sentiment and well-being, which is especially important now.
Your organization can benefit from the real-time data these platforms provide—data that enable you to track and analyze mistreatment, if any, as well as get a feel for your workforce’s frame of mind overall.
Critically, these platforms also offer the visibility that companies need to discern patterns and discover any systemic issues so the HR department can investigate and introduce solutions as required.
Our top priority right now should be to support each other the best we can. That’s why it’s vital to understand how your employees are feeling and coping every day. Gaining the proper visibility into employee well-being can help you create a healthy, happy, and productive workplace—even when everyone is working from home.
Jana Morrin is the CEO and Cofounder of Speakfully. Nandini Easwar is the Head of Engineering at Speakfully.