Previously a popular perk, working from home (WFH) has quickly become an essential business strategy for mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the advice of public health officials, companies big and small are facilitating social distancing by sending their staff home. Big Tech led the way, with Google, Microsoft, and Facebook all publicly encouraging remote work. Each day since, more and more companies have followed suit.
The companies quickest to implement WFH already had a plan in place. But not all businesses are prepared to suddenly support a work-from-home policy. In some cases, such as the healthcare, manufacturing and retail industries, it simply isn’t possible. For many others, it’s a matter of missing infrastructure.
With all of the other COVID-19 concerns to consider, hustling to establish a WFH policy where it didn’t previously exist can place a significant burden on HR. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to.
An incomplete WFH policy is inadequate
Beyond public health cautionary measures, the benefits of remote work are well-established. Yet while the number of companies supporting WFH flexibility has grown 40% since 2015, this still only represents 7% of all U.S. employers. And more than half of those companies (57%) don’t have a formal WFH policy in place.
When a global pandemic like COVID-19 makes social distancing a necessity, the scramble to accommodate work-from-home arrangements can lead to inadequate policies. Though acting quickly is important, these ad-hoc plans have the potential to create confusion and inconsistency, potentially eroding any benefits and disrupting business operations.
Business Talent Group co-founder and CEO Jody Greenstone Miller has written before about the importance of being deliberate when it comes to organizing and managing remote teams. She offers three fundamental principles for establishing a basic WFH policy:
- Set expectations and lead with trust. Focus on the quality of the work and let your employees determine how best to deliver it within the expected timeframe. Micromanagement only serves to bog down the process on both ends.
- Make technology a bridge, not a shackle. Technological tools can help bring the team together and foster communication. But during a global health epidemic, it’s important to consider that people might need additional flexibility to attend to other commitments, such as childcare or elder care. Forcing everyone to always be available during “normal” business hours might not be realistic.
- Encourage collaboration and assume positive intent. Right now, everyone is struggling to adapt to the rapidly evolving business and personal challenges related to COVID-19. A culture of collaboration helps people feel more connected. This, combined with the assumption of positive intent, helps minimize misunderstandings and promote collective success.
Filling expertise gaps with flexible HR support
These principles provide a high-level strategic framework for remote work policies, but the fact remains that there are still innumerable details to consider. Whether you have a team of 25 or 2,500, quick implementation of a program that won’t fall apart in a few days is a lot of pressure to place on in-house HR teams that are likely already stretched thin.
Plus, full plates are just part of the problem. The HR team might have a gap in expertise or experience that makes it difficult to properly develop an effective WFH program—regardless of time constraints. Companies looking to move quickly, decisively, and effectively are smart to seek outside support in these situations.
By bringing in highly skilled and fully vetted independent HR talent, companies can easily augment their existing teams while bringing the necessary level of detail to their WFH policies. Strategy becomes streamlined, and implementation is handled by an independent consultant who has designed and deployed similar programs before. All without placing additional burden on in-house teams.
BTG’s talent network comprises the world’s best independent HR consultants and executives, all of whom are thoroughly vetted before being carefully paired with appropriate projects. They combine on-the-ground executive experience with deep organizational expertise to provide flexible support when companies need it most—like right now.
Going beyond WFH to work better overall
Of course, with how quickly things are evolving, WFH process planning might just be a piece of the puzzle. Program implementation will likely benefit from enhanced employee communications or even a fresh look at how the company is organized. Executives have tapped our experts for a wide variety of HR and organization planning projects, from communications and interim executives to organizational design and development.
What’s more, highly skilled independent consulting talent isn’t limited to HR. With COVID-19 disrupting global supply chains in ways that affect virtually every industry from pharma to electronics, businesses around the world are working to overhaul sourcing strategies and plan for inevitable delays and shortages. These are other areas where it can be beneficial to have an expert on call.
Of course, the number one concern right now is health and safety, which is why WFH is dominating headlines. But eventually the pandemic will pass, and the businesses that establish a solid WFH policy now will likely come out the other side to find they’re not only more resilient as a result, but more efficient, too.
About the AuthorMore Content by Emily Slayton