What Does the Era of Global Remote Work Mean for HR?
Remote work was becoming more popular even before COVID-19 struck. Companies were hiring more independent contractors, and in-house employees would increasingly telecommute to work. While the trend was already underway, the pandemic accelerated that trend exponentially.
More recently, as vaccines rolled out and lockdowns lifted, some businesses have started returning to traditional work locations. But many other companies see benefits in maintaining permanently remote staffing. Some have even expanded remote hiring to include employees across the globe. As this happens, the human resource function will need to develop ways to support companies with employees worldwide.
Changes to Recruiting
In the past, recruiters in the U.S. might attend job fairs and networking events to look for candidates. They might diligently search LinkedIn and post job listings on sites like Indeed and Glassdoor. Not least, they’d review their application tracking system to look for potential hires who were contacting them.
However the searches were done, they were often limited to the local area because employees were expected to work in an office. While HR might conduct a national search for some high-level positions, successful candidates were typically expected to relocate.
When businesses abruptly shifted to work-from-home models during the pandemic, many observers realized a central office isn’t necessary to make work happen. As a result, some employees — especially in high-cost metropolitan areas — moved away for the duration of the pandemic. Many don’t plan to return to their previous locations for work.
In fact, some are contemplating moving further still. According to global payroll provider Remote’s Global Workforce Revolution Report, 81% of tech workers would move to a different state or country if they could do so without making career sacrifices.
The growth of remote work opens the door for recruiting from a much larger geographic area, even a global one. In the past, this practice has been limited to large employers. However, the pandemic has highlighted global remote work as an opportunity for small businesses as well. Human resource consulting agencies specializing in international operations will make this transition easier.
Recruiting doesn’t stop with selecting new employees, though. HR departments will need to update onboarding processes to welcome new, really remote employees. The pandemic jump-started this practice for companies. However, shifting permanently to remote work will require refining the process to make sure everyone becomes engaged.
This challenge will be significant in companies that have some staff in the office and others working remotely. It’s not a new challenge, but it will assume greater significance moving forward.
Challenges of Global Compliance
The last year and a half highlighted the different ways various cultures, countries, and states chose to deal with the COVID crisis. Prior to the pandemic, most businesses could streamline compliance practices to singular national, state, and local laws. Even larger companies with multiple locations had a limited number of location compliance processes to worry about.
As companies acquire a more dispersed workforce, they’ll be challenged to maintain compliance with employment laws. Human resource departments will need to lead their businesses in updating processes to meet multi-state and country requirements.
Compliance needs will include several factors. The first is equity and fairness in pay. Companies are already grappling with the challenge of pay for performance or location-based pay for high cost-of-living areas. As remote workforces include more international employees, HR will have to include country-specific pay and tax obligations as well.
Benefits compliance is an additional area HR will lead companies through. HR has always guided this function, but it will take a greater level of leadership to incorporate the complexity of international requirements.
Each country has unique standards for holidays (and related pay), health care benefits, and retirement systems. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be staying on top of changes in international laws, policies, and expectations.
Maintaining Engagement and Communication
Companies have long recognized that it’s harder to keep remote employees engaged. Often, these vital staff members have felt “shunned and left out.” HR leaders were responsible for giving managers the framework for keeping these employees involved. But that responsibility now has increased in importance.
Technically, managers have always been responsible for ensuring communication with remote employees. However, the burden often fell to the employee as a matter of job protection. Going forward, HR leaders will need to facilitate best practices to help keep communication open between employees and their managers (who may also be WFH). HR staff may find themselves distributing more employee newsletters or developing internal “social media” sites to enable this.
Many employees feel more engaged when they have a chance to share their personal lives and get to know co-workers in the same way. A work-only tunnel vision in communication is likely to erode engagement. HR must lead the way in facilitating personal connections, ensuring that company communications don’t become work-focused to the detriment of team-building.
Human resource departments may find it helpful to increase the pace of employee surveys. This tool has been around for a while, but in the past, company leaders would know things simply by seeing employees every day.
The shift to remote work will make it harder for leaders to gauge how employees feel and detect negative trends. Increasing the tempo of surveys (perhaps with tools like 15Five or Culture Amp) will help HR and leaders know when problems are developing. This forewarning will allow them to address those issues before they become crises.
The human resource department has traditionally been treated as an administrative function that takes care of employees. Senior HR leaders and professional organizations have been working hard to transform the function from an administrative role to that of a strategic partner. They have been successful in pockets.
However, as global remote work is accepted as a permanent norm, HR’s strategic role in shaping business will be critical. Businesses need HR staff to do more than implement processes and complete compliance items.
Instead, HR professionals will have to help drive company culture. Their role as strategic advisors will gain increased visibility as leaders strive to build company communities with people they only see via videoconferencing. If anything, the pandemic and shift to remote operations will continue to grow the HR function and make it more important than ever.