Ask an HR Expert: Adapting to Remote HR Work

In the Ask an HR Expert series, we chat with the HR pros who help make BambooHR a great place to work. In this article, Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR, explains how her team has adapted to remote HR work and helped the rest of the organization do the same. To see last month’s Ask an HR Expert article, click here.

Several weeks ago, we had to transition our whole organization to remote work in a matter of days. BambooHR is far from unique in this challenge, and we feel lucky to still be working in the first place; many of you are facing even greater challenges in your own organizations. But for those of us now working from home, we certainly aren’t alone: Gallup reported that the percentage of full-time employees working from home because of COVID-19 closures increased from 33 percent to 61 percent in just two weeks. This adjustment may be tough for employees who aren’t accustomed to working from home (we’ve offered some advice in this article), but I wanted to focus on what this adjustment looks like for HR teams.

Personally, I felt like I was treading water during the first few weeks after BambooHR shifted to fully remote work—my team and I had to rethink old processes, take on new responsibilities, and find answers to tough questions, all while keeping up with day-to-day HR operations. Now that we’ve settled into a new rhythm, I wanted to share some of our findings with you, so your team can continue to transition to a new normal as smoothly as possible.

What should HR prioritize as they transition to remote work?

Thanks to our software, many of our processes were already automated and running in the cloud. However, checking on tasks and projects was no longer as simple as walking over to someone’s desk; we still had to adjust to the physical distance and manage the stress of making the transition.

When you’re in crisis mode, it’s easy to focus on to-do lists and transactional tasks. That type of work seems very manageable, and it’s comforting to feel like you’re checking boxes. But it’s important for HR to take this opportunity to broaden their mindset. If there’s ever been a time to prioritize relationships and “people work,” it’s now. That’s not to say you shouldn’t tackle to-do lists and take care of your operational tasks—but take time for your people as you do. Recognize that you have the ability to influence someone’s day by how you work with them.

If you and your HR team take the lead on prioritizing people, then it will be easier for the rest of your organization to do the same.

How can HR run people-centric processes remotely, like hiring and onboarding?

Culture has always been a huge part of our hiring and onboarding processes here at BambooHR. We would take candidates on an office tour and introduce them to a few Bambooligans to help them learn about our culture; for new hires, we held face-to-face culture training and encouraged team welcome activities. So, when we moved to remote hiring and onboarding, we had to find a new way to infuse culture into our processes.

Obviously, our ATS and onboarding software have both been extremely helpful in keeping everyone in the loop as we’ve adjusted our process. But beyond that, we have made some additional changes:

The point of all of these adjustments is to help our candidates and new hires feel valued and excited, even if it’s from a distance.

Which features of BambooHR are most useful for a remote workforce?

I’ve already mentioned a handful of features and tools I’ve used to help our organization adjust to remote work, but there are several others that have been especially helpful. In fact, this situation has fundamentally changed how I use our software.

With the company announcements feature, including the mobile view, I have used BambooHR much more as a communication platform for our whole company. With things changing so rapidly, we need to communicate with our people clearly and consistently. This has taken the form of daily company announcements that get sent to every employee. We have also updated our company links on the Home screen to include resources that our employees need most—like our COVID-19 Update microsite and our Working from Home Guidelines.

Here are some other BambooHR features and tools you may find useful during this transition (I know I have):

What can HR do to stay in sync with team members and leadership?

Since moving to remote work, I’ve tried to identify what positive things existed in our previous in-office environment—things like chatting about the weekend or joking around––and I’ve tried to find ways to replicate these.

One example is our daily HR team standup. The last thing I wanted to do was add another meeting to everyone’s calendars if it wasn’t going to be useful. So, we’ve given the meetings a specific structure to ensure we’re using that time well: We start by asking how each team member is doing and a get-to-know-you question for fun, then we go over announcements from the leadership team, and wrap up by reviewing any other relevant updates or assignments. This video call will never replace being in the office all together, but it helps our team stay connected in the meantime.

To stay in sync with our leadership team, I frequently attend the daily standups and check in with our chief executives. I am constantly asking how the HR team can support them and the organization as a whole.

One area where HR teams can help leadership is in answering questions for the future. Eventually, this pandemic will pass and people will return to the workplace. What will that workplace look like? How will it be different? This is an opportunity for HR teams to innovate and help define that future.

How can HR teams manage all that is being asked of them right now?

Our job as HR professionals has never been easy, but with all that’s happening right now, it can start to feel overwhelming. For me, staying on top of it all comes down to three strategies:

We have a motto at BambooHR of “Choose, Focus, Finish, Repeat.” This is an effective way to tackle even the most daunting task list. Choose the one thing you can do right now, or the one thing that matters most, and then focus until it is finished. Staying focused on present actions is especially important as we face so many unknowns in the future; stressing about next week won’t help you accomplish anything today, so put your energy toward what you can do now.

As important as it is to focus, you must also be willing to delegate and ask for help when you need it. And you do need it. As I set out to prioritize my task list, I realized there were more projects that needed to happen than what I could do myself. So, I designated specific team members to lead various projects, such as adapting our onboarding process or managing internal communication. Putting someone in charge (rather than just talking about it as a group), ensured those projects would get done even if I couldn’t personally work on them.

The final strategy that has helped me and my team stay on track is exploring new ideas and initiatives. We have found ourselves in an odd position: sometimes we have too much to do, and other times not enough. For example, because we’ve slowed down on hiring for now, our recruiting team isn’t occupied with sourcing and screening candidates like before. We’ve been using this extra time to research new ideas we haven’t been able to focus on until now, such as building out training and development or designing a new employee referral program.

The most important thing to remember right now as an HR professional (and anybody, really) is to take good care of yourself. Your people are looking to HR for cues on how they should feel and what they should think during this period; whether you are stressed and exhausted or calm and optimistic, it will set the tone for the rest of your organization. So do what you need to stay healthy and happy, and remember—you’ve got a whole team of Bambooligans cheering you on!