HR Directors are frequently leaned on for support on the ‘human’ issues in organisations and never more so than now. They are at the heart of the crisis we’re seeing today, supporting both managers and employees to navigate through unprecedented organisational working practices that are unrecognisable to our norm.
Today HR executives have very little time to waste and have to prioritise urgent over important in a time of crisis. With employees and leaders dispersed, there is less opportunity to interact on a human level and there is a reliance on HR to keep our businesses going through new working practices. HR Managers are being tasked with equipping their teams with everything they need to transition to a new way of working. Many managers have a hard job ahead of them as disruptors, innovators and agents for change in a new paradigm of working that includes remote and new ways of communication. Disconnections and confusion are hurting business, while disconnections between people typical of large organisations are magnified in a remote environment. Above all, those working in HR have found themselves responsible for the management of the human response to change.
As this crisis unfolds, we are beginning to see it fall to the Human Resources team to find a way through. This is putting increased pressure on us to come up with new ways to deal with a situation that is unfamiliar and stressful for everyone. From another perspective, we do now have the opportunity to lead the way by bringing humanity centre stage to our working practices, and perhaps to help each other find ways to bring our companies, our customers and our employees to a point of clarity and optimism about the future.
Humans at the centre
Bringing humanity back to the core purpose of HR has been talked about at length for the past couple of years. We were already seeing the workforce responding to outdated work practices and asking for more, with more and more people calling for a better approach to HR than those invented for an era long past. Change was on the horizon even before we came to this critical fork in the road.
We’ve never had a more compelling reason than now to embed the human elements of HR practices that will carry us forward. As many of us struggle with the new reality of working from home and being increasingly isolated from our colleagues, how can we help show our humanity at work, when that’s what is needed most?
At Tandem, our leadership team has spent the last 20 years learning how to manage the effects of change on the people it affects most. Our software gives us direct feedback on the human response to what it’s like to work in a large organisation, and how best to manage the interplay between so many people. Based on our data and our experience, we’ve compiled these recommendations for HR to manage the effects of change on employee performance. I hope that you find them useful at this difficult time.
1. Create a Community to Reduce Isolation
While working from home will have an early novelty value, over time this may have the impact of creating isolation, where colleagues may feel increasingly distant and removed from employers. The stress of homeschooling, concern about parents and the unpredictable nature of caring for loved ones brings emotional toil. Our employees need a sense of support and community now more than ever.
At Tandem we’re big believers in the power of constructive feedback but now is not the time to build on this. Instead, it’s the time for managers to show compassion, empathy and true leadership in the face of adversity.
Redirect feedback to building value and community. It’s never been a better time to value people for their contribution, positivity and proactivity shown. As people dealing with a lot of ambiguity, any time an employee who steps up should be acknowledged, recognised and rewarded with appreciation.
Find ways to formally appreciate great performers and stand out employees. Reward them with recognition and remember to magnify those achievements for the greater organisation as it’s not always obvious who is performing well in a remote environment. Celebrate wins together and never assume that everyone is aware of your success when it comes. Let them know.
As an example, we’ve built our software to include an additional library of appreciation tags to make it easier for managers to find the words to reach out and connect with their people and nudges can be sent as a means of maintaining the discipline and frequency to this outreach.
2. Encourage Discipline and Routine
People are feeling overwhelmed and many feel things are beyond their control. Believe it or not, at this time of great stress and change, a structure can help. Discipline and routine will provide reassurance and some frame of normality in a very abnormal situation. HR can be there to help people connect with each other and survive and thrive through all of this change. Here are some suggestions to support that:
- Check-in 1:1 regularly: As managers restructure work and reprioritise needs, it is essential to connect personally with each individual on your team as often as possible. Applying a simple structure to check-ins that direct the conversation and allows you to get the most out of your time together is key. Regular one to one check-ins give managers an opportunity to reprioritise goals, identify areas where the employee is challenged and to offer support and help where it’s needed.
- Regular morning huddles are a means to kick-off and bring focus and structure to the day: It’s an opportunity to check in with each other emotionally and connect on how everyone is doing, as well as a means of providing clarity on where the focus is. The general rule of thumb is to keep it light and tune into how people are doing rather than the to-do list of the day.
- Run a midweek ‘Request Feedback’ from the Manager to the team: Here we recommend that your Managers ask the team if there is any further support they need and how everyone is doing. Keep things simple and light-hearted (use emojis and gifs if necessary!), but this provides a means of connecting and checking in with everyone as the week progresses.
- A Friday virtual coffee: It’s natural that people will want some relief and those water-cooler moments are lost to us for now. Using technology such as Skype, Slack, Zoom or Teams just to check-in and have a virtual coffee together helps a lot. If the team is large, it can be more advantageous to create buddies, who can pair up to have coffee together. Mix up buddies over the weeks so that people can connect with everyone individually.
3. Reprioritise Workload and Work through Ambiguity
One of the biggest challenges facing all of us today is the ambiguity that comes with an unprecedented crisis. There is a general lack of clarity where before things were more certain and understood. It makes it difficult to define exactly what’s important when everything seems so extraordinarily insignificant in the face of the greater crisis. This means people are finding it harder to focus and to find meaning in their work.
While most organisations and teams will have established their goals earlier this year, it’s important to revisit those goals and find new ways to move forward in the context of our new reality.
Most businesses have been heavily impacted by these extraordinary events. Plan and update goals, targets, revenue forecasts and customers impacts. Decisions will need to be made fast and are likely to change and evolve week to week. Be flexible and open to new directions.
Sharing goals with your team and throughout your organisation is a way to open up a wider discussion of what is important and to share the load of finding the way forward. It gives everyone an opportunity to congratulate colleagues on fresh thinking, to empathise with those that need to cut back or reduce their output, and connect people in a way that allows them to help where it is needed and even excel. Simply, it’s nice to send a ‘well done’ to their colleague as they move through this.
4. Keep your finger on the pulse
It will be important for HR to stay close to the mood of the organisation and to show that they care. Pulse Surveys are a very effective way to ask just a few short questions that will give you a sense of how everyone is doing. We recommend keeping your surveys short but frequent. Weekly or bi-weekly Pulse Surveys focused on how the organisation can help will yield results and data that go beyond the conversations you’re having with your most immediate circle. Here are some recommended questions to get you started:
- On a scale of 0-10 how are you feeling today? (scales can be changed to emojis or other wording to suit)
- Do you have enough clarity on your priorities and goals?
- Are you receiving enough support from your organisation to help?
- Is there something you would like to see our organisation do to support you further at this time?
5. Embrace Uncertainty and Restore your Values
Employees are now in unfamiliar territory, unsure of what’s expected of them and of their ability to deliver. We are beginning to see the hard business side of employee engagement. If people feel disengaged and don’t buy into your mission, the friendships and water cooler conversations that used to sustain them are no longer available. In some organisations, there will be a lack of forgiveness for business practices that don’t tie into a company vision that everyone understands and believes in.
Now is the time to rebuild your organisation around the values you hold dear. Communicate your values clearly in the context of the actions you are taking and see if they still resonate. If not, it might be a good opportunity to revisit those values and consider adjusting them for a different time. Replace mundane tasks with no clear purpose with a fundamental shift toward purposeful work and the opportunity to help and serve your customers, clients and colleagues. Reward those who represent and champion your values most, and give people the opportunity to feedback into the organisation when they see those values being met by their colleagues. This is why continuous feedback works – it is a constant reminder of why we’re here, doing what we do, even when things are tough.
6. Make remote working easier
Managing employees remotely can be challenging if this is not yet an established practice. Providing tips and helpful support through this new means of working will be key to getting back to business. Here are some key tips for managing remote working in your organisation:
- Set clear priorities communicated on daily huddles. A short meeting to kick-off and keep people focused throughout the day
- Agree meeting agendas in advance of any meeting.
- Give team members clear boundaries for logging off as well as logging on. There can be a temptation to overwork when working from home.
- Agree upon routines and structure to ensure that people have clarity about what’s expected and to ensure that they are taking time for breaks and self-care.
- Clarify what tools you’ll be using to communicate and make sure everyone is comfortable using them. Having separate channels for chat and interaction can also be useful so you avoid email overload.
Finally, some tips for employees you can share…
For many employees, it may be a new experience to work from home. Sometimes it’s the very basic tips that can be helpful. Some of these tips may help your employees, so please feel free to share:
- Have a clear start and finish time to your day. It can even be useful to walk around your house at the start and end of your day just to signal the beginning and end of work, and the transition to normal home life.
- Create as much routine as feasible, institute break times and allow ‘switch off’ moments
- Try to find a dedicated, regular space that can be closed off at the end of day. If this isn’t possible, create a routine that indicates that the office is closed. This can be as simple as closing the laptop and putting it away on a shelf as a kind of ritual that says “I’m done. Good job!”.
- Encourage video communication instead of email. A 5-minute call over skype can eradicate 10-20 emails, which is especially true if the conversation is complex or involves some negative feedback that might otherwise be misunderstood – body language is so important.
- Sprint working can be useful. Working in one-hour sprints and then taking a break gives a focus and structure.
- Be clear about what you want to achieve with your day. Structure is vital. Plan your day on your calendar, blocking out the time that is for you to achieve things, releasing time for breaks or check-ins with your colleagues, and making room for the unexpected events of the day.
- Create a ‘To Don’t’ list to avoid the many distractions that can take over your day, but don’t be too hard on yourself – life happens and sometimes it can be outside of our control. If you do get distracted, just refocus, and start where you left off.
- Get some exercise. There can be a tendency to spend too much time at the desk and to lose structure from your day. Have a clear shut-off time that gets you out in fresh air or allows you to get some indoor exercise for relief.
- Check-in with family and friends. This is the most important tip of all. Talk often, and a lot.
If you’d like some help in making all of this easier, Tandem HR technology for managing the performance of a remote workforce and our team of expert advisors have helped thousands of people from the largest organisations in the world to navigate the changes that come from a new culture of continuous feedback and positive performance management.
Get in touch for a strategic consultation on the steps you need to take today.