Learning & Development

The New Role of HR in a Remote World

In the past, HR had the role of seeking candidates, being there for employees, developing company culture, and building a comprehensive onboarding program and employee guidelines. But how has that job evolved in the last few years, and what has impacted the changes? From COVID to increasing attention about bias, inequity, lack of diversity, and tolerance, the role of an HR executive or human capital leader has been forever altered.

As a human resource executive for a major global technology company with 100 percent remote teams in North America and EMEA and one R&D center in Israel—I can provide a personal perspective on the new role and correct many of the myths circulating about being in HR in a work-from-anywhere (WFA) environment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 60 percent of businesses that increased remote work during the pandemic plan to keep it that way post-pandemic. This shift means the new hats and responsibilities for HR are here to stay, and we need to navigate them appropriately to be successful and help our organizations be successful.

Debunking the Myths of a WFA Environment

WFA Means Less Productivity. Before the pandemic, there was a stigma that working remotely meant losing productivity. What many are finding is that it’s the opposite. Eighty-three percent say they are at the same productivity level or higher working from home compared to the office, according to The State of Remote Work 2021 report.

How people start their workday in traditional work settings matters, but it is significant for remote workers. WFA means employees start when they log in, not when they get in a car, bus, or train to commute to work.

The Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago found that working from home during the pandemic saved Americans 60 million hours of commute time per day. Most of that “saved time” became reallocated to their jobs.

WFA Saves Money. False. Companies can reduce overhead by letting go of some of their office space, which often costs a premium in major cities. Office vacancy rates in the U.S., for example, were at 12.3 percent in Q1 2022 compared to 9 percent in Q4 2019. Saving money with WFA will depend on your real estate cost and what you will spend on T&E to get your teams together.

To give you an idea, we let go of our San Jose headquarters and transitioned to 100 percent virtual for North America. Like many others, this change found us saving money and never missing a beat. But you may find, like us, that you reinvest the money you save on real estate into your teams in other ways.

WFA Will Dilute Company Culture. It doesn’t have to be that way. Since not everyone is cut out for working from anywhere, take steps to hire those who will thrive in a remote culture. Let prospective employees know your company culture, values, and expectations by discussing company expectations, like travel requirements, technology usage, self-motivated personalities, etc. 

WFA does not need to dilute your corporate culture. Corporate values shape company culture. If you stay true to your corporate values and make sure people understand what those values are, you will hire and cultivate team members who are the right fit.

It doesn’t matter if some team members don’t have experience with a WFA culture because it can be easy to adapt when you see how others embrace a remote-first culture. Some people will thrive, while others also need in-person interaction. The culture will follow when you set up the environment for success from the beginning.

Remote Employees Are Isolated & Social Connections Are Eliminated. If you are intentional, you can set WFA workers up for success with the right connections. We’re all familiar with what the first day looks like in a traditional office setting. There is typically ample support as a person gets their bearings in a new environment and meets new colleagues.

With a remote workforce, there are a lot of hidden challenges and extra responsibility for the HR team to help new hires navigate the day-to-day stuff at the company, ensure employees aren’t isolated and make the right social connections. Proactively scheduling newcomer meetings with key stakeholders and one-on-ones with peers can take more time on the part of HR, but it helps to build those initial relationships and trust that makes WFA work well.

New Roles for HR

Like any other function or division in a modern organization, HR has to reimagine how it works to support a new WFA culture.

Compensation And Benefits Should Match The Location. Hiring globally means compensation and benefits can look very different for similar jobs. As a rule of thumb, matching the compensation to where the employee lives is a good idea. Yet, best practices research has found a variety of approaches, with some companies having geographic cost zone policies to differentiate pay by geography and other companies paying the same rate regardless of location.

Whatever policy your company adopts, remember that you could lose some WFA workers based on how wages are calculated. Since the variables surrounding compensation and benefits can create a ripple effect, setting clear communications and expectations is key.

Interviews May Feel Different. It’s harder for people to be open over a video call. So, during the interview process, my HR colleagues and I typically spend more time with candidates to get to know them. This usually requires more small talk upfront to make candidates feel comfortable. It is important to remember that today’s online interviews are a two-way street, which also finds candidates evaluating the interviewers. Since today’s prospective employees have multiple options from which to choose, creating an amazing interview experience is vital. 

HR Needs To Be A Trusted Advisor and Partner. In a WFA culture, you don’t wait for problems to happen. Now more than ever, HR needs to be proactive in approaching others and approachable. Being available, transparent, and receptive to ideas without micromanaging will go a long way to building trust with a remote workforce.

The Digital Employee Experience is Key. You cannot just say, “We’re going to let people work from anywhere!” and that’s it. You need to invest in modern tools that help people stay productive remotely. A Gartner research study found that a positive digital experience is critical to overall employee satisfaction in today’s hybrid workplace.

The term “digital employee experience” was coined by Gartner to describe the business strategy that improves employees’ overall experience with technology while working digitally. That means enabling IT to support your WFA employees. It also means giving employees money for their home office, internet, cell phone, and more to help ensure a positive experience.

Of course, each team will find its way to use technology to its advantage. For example, some teams have a Zoom open all day, so it feels like they’re in the same room together.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate. Working from anywhere enables more real-time connection with people via technology, but it’s not always easy to gauge how people are doing online versus in an office environment. Team video calls, for example, can go sideways if you’re not careful (Zoom fatigue, anyone?)

Be vigilant and ensure people’s opinions and feelings are heard and understood. This starts with leadership training and open communication.

Being online presents new opportunities to build strong relationships (versus the old way of being behind an office door). For example, I have instant messaging and Slack open all day, so I constantly chat with employees. I help with everything from How do I get that custom Zoom background? to Who do I contact for this issue? I am getting to know my hires on an intimate level, and this builds trust.

It is also essential to schedule in-person events so that teams connect in person frequently. For example, our engineering team holds hackathons each quarter, where they get together for about five days to work on a feature. All-company events and executive retreats for leadership at desirable destinations bring everyone together to work, play, and strengthen communications.

HR Should Help Leaders Look at Business Through a New Lens. Everything looks different in a WFA business. HR needs to help leaders to rethink how to do things. For example, “always on” employees are not always on a 9-to-5 schedule, and spending money on team building is not a luxury item. In all cases, training on WFA for people at all levels should be encouraged.

Do What You Love, Reimagine How You Do It

When you create a WFA company, it’s not just about letting people work from home. It’s about taking all the important pieces of the business – the culture, the values, hiring and retention, employee engagement, and more – and reimagining them.

Dana Eisen Ezov is the Vice President of Human Resources for ControlUp. With over 18 years of HR experience mostly working in technology companies, she holds a MA from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Dana strives to improve and apply the latest concepts, methodologies, and technologies in the management of human resources, responsible for leading ControlUp’s human resource strategy, employee engagement, communications values, and compensation and benefits plans to meet the needs of ControlUp’s global workforce while building a work-from-anywhere culture.