HR and virtual employees

Jan 03 2012 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Since this column focuses on managing people and project teams (and for the 187th time, there are more similarities than differences, folks) we often look at individual managers.

The challenge, though, is that we don't work in a vacuum. We have to work within the structure of our organizations, and that's where HR comes in. So in the spirit of clean starts and new years, let's spare a charitable moment for our brethren and sistren in Human Resources.

As a recent blog post on the Canadian HR Reporter pointed out, there are some serious issues that HR needs to address.

As Dave Crisp, the author, points out, most of the rules companies work under are badly outdated. They're based on the days when "remote employees" were one or two road warriors and most people were plugging away at the Mother Ship. Miss those days yet?

The other thing he points out , in an acknowledgement that most HR people have yet to state overtly, is that the new reality of the way we work kind of snuck up on companies, and they're scrambling to make sense of what's happened.

While I usually don't have a lot of time for the standard HR complaints about "not being at the table", it's impossible not to acknowledge that while IT was busy building tools (and empires) to cut costs and minimize travel, the discussions frequently didn't include HR beyond how much they could cut costs (and head count). This has led to some areas we all need to work together to address.

Among the challenges are:

  • How do companies measure effectiveness if you can't poke your head over the cubicle like a meerkat and see people working?
  • What are the expectations for managers and project teams to communicate? What about the 24/7, constantly connected world. If people are going to expected to respond 24/7 are we going to pay them for that? Yeah, that's what I thought.
  • What are the expectations for running (and attending) virtual meetings? Most managers have been left to figure that out for themselves, with the attendant mixed results.
  • Managers still need to see each other, argue (constructively and positively) things out and find ways to collaborate. But are we learning how to do this via technology or do we just get offended by the tone of someone's email and refuse to answer them for three days? You know that's going to end up on HR's desk at some point.

As often happens, HR is left to come in after the cow has run off and safe-proof the barn. How about we work with them to create policies and systems that actually let us get our work done while addressing the needs of the organization? We left most of the technology decisions up to IT, and where did that get us? We need to work with HR and maybe, just maybe, bring them in earlier next time.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.