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Six HR Skillsets for the Remote Work Era (and How to Improve)

Ross Simons

Ross Simons

Director of Inbound Marketing

What are you planning on doing with your workforce post-COVID? Do you have the skillsets to manage this transition? Are you going to bring them all back into the office? Keep them all remote? Something in between?

PwC asked those questions in their recent survey, and here’s what they found:

    • 17% – Back to the office as soon as feasible. We’re at our best on site and in person.
    • 26% – Prefer limited remote schedules but people like it, including future talent.
    • 32% – Going with the flow. Business performance is not suffering. We’ll likely increase the level of remote work.
    • 11% – No turning back: Many of our office employees will work remotely a significant amount of their time.
    • 13% – It’s been great! We’re better off giving up on office space entirely.

To sum that up, nearly one-fourth of employers are considering a 100% remote model. And 56% plan on operating in at least a hybrid model.

Another 26% are willing to be flexible depending on if employees request it. (Which they will: 55% of workers want to work from home at least three days a week.)

HR professionals need to build new skillsets to keep pace. Here are six areas of growth.

The problems to solve with a remote workforce are similar—engagement, happiness, retention, onboarding, resolving conflicts, building culture, fostering relationships—but the approaches are different. A lot of these things can “take care of themselves” in an office environment because of proximity, natural collaboration, and informal communication. But it’s harder to accomplish remotely. Building new skillsets will be critical to succeed in this new normal workplace. Your ability to adapt and grow will set you apart, allow you to better attract and retain employees, and advance your career.

The best HR professionals will be…

Active and Collaborative

In an environment that inherently makes employees feel less connected and more invisible, passive HR management isn’t going to work. Before you realize it your culture will slip away, and so will your employees. This new phase demands active culture building, training and development, engagement, and collaboration.

How to improve:

    • Be present. Over time, you will begin to understand the right cadence for touchpoints with different employees—try to match their needs.
    • Watch out for slippery slopes. Has an employee been very responsive in the past, but their response time has declined in recent weeks? Time to check in.
    • Get off on the right foot. Onboarding is always critical to meeting productivity and retention goals…but it’s even more important with remote workforces. Onboarding, when done right, will avoid a lot of common problems before they even start.

Creative Communicators and Culture-Builders

There’s no water cooler in the world of Zoom, nor are there quick lunch collaboration meetings. HR professionals need to be creative with their methods of communication, and versatile, as different approaches will work for different folks. A Gen-X employee may prefer phone calls to any other method, whereas a Gen-Z employee may be mortified to even receive a phone call.

As HR looks to build culture, this communication creativity will be an essential skill. So much of active culture building relies on face time, and you simply can’t replace that with FaceTime for remote workers.

How to improve:

    • Be experimental. You’re going to need to try different types of events, different approaches, and see what works for your team. Looking for inspiration? Here are some ideas for engaging remote employees.
    • Survey, survey, survey. Ask people how they prefer to be communicated with, and then try to match their preferred style.
    • Consider a hackathon. Hackathons aren’t just for coders. A hackathon is a great way to generate a lot of creative ideas, quickly. How does it work? Get 6+ people in a room, peel back the layers of a specific problem (like remote onboarding), break out for 30 mins, then have everyone come back with their best ideas for improving remote onboarding. Whiteboard those ideas, evaluate, and make the decision to pursue at least a few of the best.

Content Creators or Curators

As we move to a more virtual model, communications content becomes a critical tool for helping employees meet their personal, professional, and team goals. You won’t be able to rely on a confused employee popping by your office to demystify a new policy, or showing up for the annual benefits fair. Think creatively about new assets such as videos, benefits showcase portals, training tutorials, checklists, and explainers to help better educate your teams.

Great HR professionals will be able to create this content, curate it, or both. A lot of employers are already ahead of the game here, hundreds of employers license Flimp’s HR video library which is filled with digestible and easy-to-understand animated videos around topics like HSA vs. FSA, HDHP plans, COVID-19 vaccinations, retirement planning, and more.

How to improve:

    • When you’re more of a curator. There is an immense amount of content out there, like videos, checklists, guides, infographics, glossaries, and more. The key is to understand what topics matter to your employees, then try to curate the best of the best. You may be able to find free resources, or you may want to use something like our HR Benefits Video Library.
    • When you’re more of a creator. It’s all about finding the right tools and templates. Which tools enable you to quickly build employee content around the topics that matter? You could use traditional creation tools like InDesign, Photoshop, PowerPoint, etc, or you may look to a specialty online tool like our employee content-communications platform, or Canva.
    • When you’re more of a project manager. If you don’t have the time or creative experience to create or curate content, you may want to find a partner to build content-driven employee communications campaigns.

Digitally savvy

HR has been asked to wear many new hats during the pandemic; technology liaison, consultant, and trainer. Creating communication and compliance policies help keep sensitive health and people data safe; mastering coronavirus-related tech tools, such as contact tracing apps and data dashboards; developing new virtual hiring and remote onboarding practices; and helping to train remote workers in the use of new technologies are just a few of the critical tasks that suddenly fell to HR pros during the COVID-19 crisis.

Couple those growing technology-support needs of virtual workers with the rising number of technology platforms used within HR, and experts say that technology acumen—once considered a subspecialty skillset in HR—has become a front-burner competency for business partners and generalists.

How to improve:

    • Know your learning style. Just like some employees will prefer video communications, guides, or checklists, you also have a preferred way to learn new information. Do you learn best by reading, hearing, seeing, doing, or teaching? Lean in to it.
    • But don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. At some point, you’re going to need practical working knowledge of a new piece of technology.
    • Join the implementation team. Companies often designate a smaller team to evaluate and implement a new piece of technology. Part of why people struggle to pick up new software is because the use cases and processes are being dictated to them. Joining the implementation team ensures you build understanding over time while being part of the planning stages.

Great at setting flex-pectations.

A movement to a remote culture requires a realignment in how you assess performance. The best organizations learn to score employee performance based on outcomes, not inputs. Remote employees often don’t work a strict 9-5, and that’s okay: after all, many employees achieve much better results when they are able to work in a way that best suits them.

But having more flexibility doesn’t mean that you can’t exert expectations. Creating ground rules that allow for flexibility, but you should still be able to make it clear how and when they should communicate, how quickly they should respond to coworker requests, and how you expect them to meet their obligations.

How to improve:

    • Focus on outcomes and extend grace. Work with managers to identify the outcomes they need, not the inputs they want. And when stuff happens, your employees will appreciate when you extend grace.
    • Explain why. When setting expectations, you shouldn’t only be clear on WHAT the expectation is, but WHY it’s in place. When your employees understand how they fit into the success of the organization, they’re more likely to follow through.
    • Consider creating common protocols and language. Merck established a glossary of communication expectations, like “Four Hour Response (4HR)” and No Need to Respond (NNTR”) that helped their teams set clear expectations with informal communication. This consistency sets a culture of communication and clarity that ripples out to all other areas.

E-motionally Intelligent

And last, but certainly not least: e-motional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a skill that every HR employee should already have, but translating that to the remote world becomes the challenge.

How can you practice self-awareness, self-regulation, motivate others, lead with empathy, resolve conflicts, match communication styles, and have tough conversations…over Zoom?

It can be done.

How to improve:

    • Lead with empathy. Not every employee will have a secluded home office, multiple screens, a live-in au pair, and infallible wi-fi. Sometimes the connection will drop, the mic won’t work, or their children will decide the best time to stop by for a visit is right in the middle of that Zoom meeting. Remember, few employees will be able to navigate remote work without ever feeling isolated, disconnected, or invisible.
    • Be approachable. Set Zoom office hours, be proactive and try to recreate that “my door is always open” vibe.
    • Learn what your employees are looking for. When your employees complain, know when to listen vs. when to solve their problems. (And when you figure this out, tell the husbands of the world.)

What did we miss?

These skills will take you a long way in building remote-work-friendly HR practices. But your’re the experts, living this every day. So tell us, what did we miss? What skills do you think will be critical in the coming years?


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