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Analysis

5 things I learned working remotely — and the key takeaways for HR

Working from home — the employee’s perspective.

Yessi Bello-Perez

Leader

Photo by Mikey Harris on Unsplash

Unleash Your Workforce UNLEASH columnist Yessi Bello Perez shares her biggest lessons learned while working remotely during the pandemic and extracts the key takeaways for HR professionals.

If you’ve been here for a while you’ll know I’ve been working remotely for a few years — but UNLEASH is the first place I’ve worked where I haven’t met my colleagues in real life.

We’ve worked on several different projects, some shorter than others, and endured long, arduous weeks together, but we’ve not had the luxury of bonding outside of work. At least not for now.

Working from home during a pandemic is entirely different from doing so under normal circumstances. With that in mind, here are five things I learned while working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic and why there are important lessons for HR moving forwards.

1. Work is about purpose

I took this job because I believed in the mission. I was excited by the prospect of building an exciting editorial product and all that entailed.

Being able to get up every morning knowing that I was going to be doing meaningful work is a privilege I will never, ever, take for granted again.

Indeed, purpose and belonging have been dominated the narrative about work in 2020 and 2021. I’ve had countless conversations with HR leaders about the need to ensure work remains purpose-driven, meaningful, and inclusive well beyond the pandemic – and I know this will continue to be key when it comes to attracting and retaining talent in the future.

The biggest lesson for me has been the realization that I establish an emotional connection with the work I do. It’s a matter of personal pride; I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something, no matter how big or small, every day. I want to do stuff that matters, and not just get paid for simply showing up.

2. Work is about people

People matter. I’ve been inspired by my colleagues every day.

I’ve learned from them, have been inspired by them, and aside from the work I do, they are one of the best things about the job.

Working from home can be a lonely experience, but it can also help bring people closer together.

In other jobs, I was part of a minority of people who worked remotely — I missed out on the office experience, after-work socials, and often felt like an outsider. This hasn’t been the case during the pandemic.

Despite the Zoom and meeting fatigue, which are very very real, I’ve never felt closer to colleagues at work. Technology has helped break down barriers between complete strangers: I’ve had candid conversations about work and my personal life — and I’ve caught a glimpse into my colleagues’ lives outside of work, having seen their partners and pets in the background of calls.

Don’t underestimate the power of bonding online and equip your workforce with the right tools to ensure this can continue long after the pandemic.

3. Work is about balance

I’m going to be brave and speak on behalf of most employees by saying we also want work to be about balance and autonomy.

Trust plays a huge role in this — and I appreciate that every single individual within an organization needs to earn the trust of their employer and colleagues, but I also believe it’s then up to HR to ensure employees are given the opportunity to carve out their own hours.

I don’t have to go into details about why productivity is closely linked to being happy and fulfilled at work, nor do I need to share a bunch of stats about why presenteeism is bad, but I will say that being able to fit work around my life, and not the other way round, is life-changing.

I’ve managed teams and I’ve been managed, and the best work was always born from people feeling inspired and not tied down to an office or a laptop from 9 to 5.

If I were an HR leader in 2021, I’d make sure to take this seriously. Flexible working isn’t hype, it’s a necessity.

4. VIRTUAL RECRUITMENT IS HARD

If you’ve been tasked with hiring or growing teams during the pandemic, my proverbial hat goes off to you.

I was completely naïve about how difficult attracting and hiring in the virtual world would be.

Applicant tracking systems such as SmartRecruiters can of course help with sourcing and management, but I completely underestimated how challenging online interviews would be.

As a journalist, I’m no stranger to interviewing online, but when hiring, you have to work a little bit harder to ensure you sell yourself and the company a lot more.

On the other hand, the recruiter and candidate are exposed to a host of issues: intermittent internet connections, technology problems, sound issues, poor lighting, and nerves.

There’s no denying the pandemic has supercharged the HR technology space by several decades and I’m hopeful solutions entering the market in the near future will provide a better user experience and more seamlessly integrate with existing tech stacks used by talent acquisitions professionals.

5. You need to over-communicate

I’ve saved the most obvious lesson till last.

We all know communication at work is crucial, but when you’re dealing with a fully distributed workforce or looking to implement a hybrid working model, over-communicating is paramount — particularly if you’re in the leadership suite.

Workers, particularly junior staff members, will appreciate you taking the lead with transparency.

If you didn’t have a weekly HR memo before the pandemic, now is the time to think about implementing one. I know a lot of organizations have opted for a weekly meeting, but let’s face it: we all have too many meetings. So, if you can substitute a meeting with something that’s equally as effective, I strongly recommend you do so.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting an insight into the employee perspective. With many countries lifting restrictions and businesses now preparing to enter the future of work, the hard work is only just beginning, but I’m confident HR departments everywhere will be able to lead by example in the ‘new normal’.

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