Six Tips for Cultivating a Healthy Online Work Environment

Creating a Healthy Online Work Environment

The need for a healthy and satisfying work environment is not up for discussion. Any enlightened manager knows its benefits. The same need extends to remote workgroups, and that is still something of a revelation to many leaders.

 Perhaps it’s because of the “environment”. The remote work environment is fleeting; all team members don’t work together. They cannot share the same jokes; they can’t feel each other’s challenges. At least not by default – that’s why building a culture of empathy and team spirit is critical.

 As the remote workforce grows bigger, there is a serious concern for remote employees to remain connected to the rest of the team. A vibrant work environment that meets the requirements of remote employees can help reduce that isolation.

What exactly constitutes a healthy online work environment?

 It’s a work environment where remote employees feel safe in their roles, an important part of the team and the company, and one where they have the opportunity to learn and grow.

 A healthy online work environment encourages unrestricted communication, open discussions, and collaborations. It supports remote employees with educational and technical resources to enable and empower them. It overcomes hurdles like different time zones or different work methods.

 A healthy work environment is one that promotes a healthy lifestyle, free of emotional strain. It is a place where employees feel that despite working remotely their work makes a difference, not only to the company’s bottom line but to the community as a whole.

 The edicts of a healthy online work environment mirror that of an in-house team.  Remote workers have the same need to feel safe and secure in their work. They still need to be challenged and held accountable for their actions. And they definitely need the support of colleagues to flourish in their roles.

 A healthy online work environment translates to happy employees. And what is the business decision that underlies employee happiness? Research has shown that happy employees are 12% more productive.

How to cultivate a healthy online work environment

  •         Trust and faith: Without trust no team will ever reach its full potential. That’s possibly truer for remote teams – who don’t always get to see the full picture and have to rely on other members to fulfill their roles. Likewise, having faith in a colleague, even when mistakes crop up, will go a long way in building an online work environment that is secure and reliable. Both trust and faith underpin the decision-making process and accountability – two qualities remote employees seek to feel part of the company.
  •         Peer-review and recognition: Sometimes feedback from peers is saved for occasional reviews. But it should be fluid enough to become a part of the daily routine so that remote employees can receive and share feedback without worrying about egos or hurting anyone. Open recognition of achievements is just as important to foster motivation and improve productivity. On the other hand, recognition of problems within the team and swiftly addressing them will also help promote a healthy remote work environment.
  •         Intellectual challenge and educational resources: Remote work often relies on tools and apps that new hires may not be familiar with. And on top of that, given the flexible nature of online work, help may not always be readily available. A healthy online work environment should have resources in place for employees to rely on not only to fulfill their roles but fire up their intellectual curiosities. Because an intellectually challenging role is one of the best motivators.
  •          Safety and security: “Remote” doesn’t take issues like discrimination and harassment off the table. In fact, these deadly problems have already migrated to the online work environment. The danger for remote employees is that if they don’t speak up, their pain and the existing problem will continue. Both team members and team leads should be wary of these issues. Victims should be able to speak up and get the support they deserve.
  •         Work impact and social responsibility: Knowing that their work matters not only to the company but to society is not a vague factor for employees. The new workforce, particularly Millennials, prefer working for companies that have a strong social responsibility program. Giving remote employees the opportunity to participate in a company’s CSR programs will tighten their bond with the company.
  •         Health and wealth: Companies can’t dictate good health measures to employees. Yet the effect of a healthy lifestyle on the employees’ work and the company’s profit is far from debatable. This is why managers are now actively reinforcing healthy habits. Remote employees shouldn’t miss out on the support of the management or colleagues because they don’t meet face to face. In addition, full-time remote employees have the same needs for time-offs that will help renew them for dedicated work.

Be it fun team-building activities or an open ear to a colleague’s troubles, measures that make the online work environment tangible despite being fleeting will help remote employees perform better, feel supported, and build relationships – and in turn make them feel like an important part of the company.

Perhaps a healthy online work environment is not measured in numbers. But lasting relationships, loyalty towards the company, and a remote employee’s pride in working for the firm is a good gauge for how conducive the environment is to dynamic remote work.

 

Guest Author Bio

Image courtesy of DistantJob.com

Image courtesy of DistantJob.com

 Sharon Koifman believes every company, from the biggest enterprise to the newly-launched garage startup, should have access to world’s top talent. That’s why he used over 10 years of experience in tech industry recruitment & HR to create DistantJob. His unique recruitment model allows DistantJob’s clients to get high-quality IT experts working remotely at a fraction of the usual cost – with no red tape and within two weeks.       

 

Giving a voice to the voiceless with technology

Image courtesy of Ultimate Software.

Image courtesy of Ultimate Software.

Campaign/FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored product review. I will receive compensation for this post. I only work with companies I feel have great products, services and offerings. In accordance with my blog disclosure statement, I will only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from.  I am not formally employed by Ultimate Software. All thoughts and viewpoints are created and written by me. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

In the HR industry, we spend a lot of time talking about the best ways to engage the people that work tirelessly for us. The thing that we often overlook in the engagement conversation is: “communication.” While that may seem broad, let’s explore a bit. How likely do you think your employees are to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns at work? You may be thinking: “I have an open-door policy” or “we periodically send out employee surveys.” All of this is a great start, but I would argue that between your open-door policy, employee surveys, town halls, and overall company culture lays a tremendous gap between what you think you know and what your employees truly feel.

Why the gap?

Understanding employee voice requires that you understand the various inputs and ways in which employees communicate. Encouraging your employees to speak up is admirable, but not nearly enough. If asked, many employees will describe a sense of fear around offering up ideas, thoughts, and concerns, whether solicited or unsolicited. While this sentiment is often based on unfounded perceptions of the consequences of communicating freely, it is just as often rooted in experiences where feedback led to negative outcomes such as low performance ratings, indifferent behavior by management, isolation, and even termination as illustrated in an HBR article, “Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely.”

Case and point, employees are fearful of speaking up. In turn, that fear presents a challenge for organizations that are desperate to thwart turnover and other organizational maladies to better retain their workforce. According to a 2016 survey by Xerox, 53% of employers cite retention of top talent as an “organizational priority” for 2017. In order to retain your people, you need to have some insight into their ideas, intentions, and behaviors. The pathway to rounding-up that information isn’t exactly a simple science without some heavy lifting by technology. The reason for this is: Much of your intelligence around what motivates your employees is likely lying dormant as unstructured data fueled by performance evaluations, pulse surveys, exit interviews, internal communication tools, etc.

While all of this information is lying dormant, organizations are left vulnerable and in a state of inaction. Without visibility for situations and actions brewing under your nose, many organizations will continue to wonder why they can’t get ahead where employee engagement and retention is concerned.

Luckily for the HR industry, one of my favorite HR Technology companies, Ultimate Software, has gotten into the data game specifically to assist companies illuminating the true feelings and emotions behind employee responses.

Ultimate Software has a new solution called UltiPro Perception™. They were kind enough to allow me to ask them some questions about their solution and how it can help you. Here’s the scoop:

Help me understand how UltiPro Perception captures employee sentiment.

UltiPro Perception uses advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to analyze open-ended responses within employee surveys. The solution’s sophisticated technology interprets text-based feedback to uncover the feelings and emotions behind employees’ responses. Leaders and managers can then assess the overall sentiment for individual employees, teams, or the organization as a whole. The solution also looks for repeated keywords to identify more than 70 workplace themes or topics, and over 100 emotions beneath the surface of employee answers.

Why is UltiPro Perception better than any other tool out there using sentiment analysis?

UltiPro Perception is uniquely built to analyze unstructured data and uncover not only what employees are saying, but also how they feel, about things like work environment, culture, and leadership. UltiPro provides managers with easy-to-understand, actionable insights that will have a true impact on improving employee retention and engagement.

Another key differentiator is that UltiPro Perception is part of UltiPro’s comprehensive HCM suite. Organizations can easily collect feedback from the right groups of employees based on location, supervisor, tenure, and more—essentially any data element within UltiPro. Most competitive tools have no or limited HRIS/HCM integration and lack enterprise-level requirements such as configurability options and proper role-based security. Other employee survey solutions typically require costly, manual processes or they rely solely on quantitative analytics, and therefore can’t give organizations a true understanding of employee sentiment before it’s too late to take meaningful action.

How does UltiPro Perception arm managers and organizations in being able to manage the Talent Management life cycle better (i.e. Recruitment through Succession)?

UltiPro Perception offers built-in survey templates to gather feedback throughout the employee lifecycle—from candidate, to new hire, engagement, post-learning, exit, and more. Surveys can be configured to automatically be sent once a specific work event occurs, such as a promotion or performance review.

Key driver analysis provides real-time, actionable metrics to help guide managers towards the most effective next steps. Combining these results with UltiPro’s predictive analytics tools and Leadership Actions, managers have powerful resources to support, coach, and retain their employees.

Regarding data and reporting, how simple is UltiPro Perception for HR practitioners new to sentiment analysis?

With UltiPro Perception, data collection, management, analysis, and the delivery of insights are all automated, with both standard and configurable reports available. Report-quality insights are delivered in plain English—no training required. UltiPro Perception’s easy-to-read, interactive reports are delivered immediately upon closing surveys, including the analysis of free-text responses. Reports are distributed based on the employee directory and can be tailored to individual managers or areas of the organization.

What are the long-term and short-term wins new customers can expect using this tool?

Short term—Organizations can immediately get a sense of how their employees currently feel about their work environment, leadership, and more. UltiPro Perception can uncover the organization’s strengths and key areas for improvement.

Long term—Organizations can utilize UltiPro’s workforce intelligence solutions, including UltiPro Perception, to uncover people challenges, predict outcomes, and recommend actions to drive better business results. Additionally, leaders can use historical benchmarking to assess how engagement scores are changing over time, in order to identify trends or patterns and determine long-term strategies to improve workplace culture and make better business and people decisions.

When will UltiPro Perception be available?

UltiPro Perception is currently available for purchase.

What is the approximate cost of the product?

UltiPro solutions are priced on a per employee, per month basis and costs various depending on a variety of factors, including company size.

Is there training or train-the-trainer opportunities available for organizations that need more?

Ultimate’s activation team guides all new customers through setup and configuration and Ultimate’s experts will also guide customers through executing and analyzing their first survey. UltiPro Perception is simple to configure and use, but if customers would like additional assistance Ultimate’s Services team will provide additional support to ensure customers are getting the most out of UltiPro Perception’s powerful survey and analytics capabilities. Ultimate also offers free learning resources for all organizations and their employees, including on-demand online training, webcasts, and more. Through Ultimate’s unique “People First” approach to customer service, all Ultimate’s customers have instant access to customer service experts, including a dedicated account manager and phone and online support.

You may be asking how you give a voice to the voiceless utilizing technology like UltiPro Perception. Here’s how you begin:

  • Audit your company culture to uncover both intended and unintended practices that may deter employees from openly sharing their feelings and thoughts.
  • Continue to find ways to include employees and their input in all aspects of your company’s operations
  • Ensure that there are simple and varied ways for your employees to connect and communicate with you.
  • Utilize sentiment analysis and machine learning technologies like UltiPro Perception to help you properly synthesize the valuable feedback you collect from your employees on a regular basis.
  • Make sure you are prepared to act upon the information you receive and make sure all levels of management do the same. It isn’t just about acquiring a solution like UltiPro Perception to help uncover this information. You actually have to be willing to make the necessary changes as needed to ensure your employees feel heard.

Organizations can no longer afford to ignore all of the data points available to them. Employees are communicating in a myriad of ways all the time. It’s time we start to listen to them.

Get a sneak peek of Perception via UltiPro’s product tour .

Also, Ultimate Software will be hosting a free webcast on April 25th for you to learn more about this product. To register, click here.

The Romper Room of Leadership

romper-room-leadership

Are we still at a point where leaders are unable to provide their employees with constructive feedback regarding their performance?

I’ve recently been made aware of several situations where there are clear deficits in performance from a team perspective in companies. In most instances, everyone on the team knows who is and isn’t pulling their weight and that includes the leaders.

You would think that this should be a slam-dunk scenario whereby the supervisor and/or leader – actively deals with the team members who are slacking off via performance discussions etc. I’m finding that this is not the case. Instead, leaders are opting to have general and redundant conversations with entire teams as an attempt to appear fair in how they delve out criticism.

I would argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. The impact of this approach is employees that are performing at and above expectations are unfairly being subjected to criticism that isn’t a reflection of their individual performance. Having to endure this criticism as a whole rather than individual performance being addressed makes employees feel as though they are working in a “romper-room” environment causing them to not only reject any pertinent criticism that follows; but also creates resentment among team members.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say I am a recruiter on a team of five recruiters for a manufacturing company. We all handle “easy-to-fill” positions, but requisition volume is high as is turnover organization-wide so we are in a constant state of active recruitment. There is an established number of hires each recruiter is required to upkeep on a monthly basis in order to ensure the plant has enough workers to absorb new work coming in via new contracts. In this scenario, the magic number is 30 new hires per recruiter. Three of the recruiters including myself meet and/or exceed the expected number of hires. The other two recruiters consistently hire between 15-18 people and claim they cannot possibly meet the established quota.

The three performers along with the leaders are aware that these two are the weakest links on the team and also recognize that their inability to meet the established number of hires has to do with a mix of poor work habits, slacking and a lack of urgency where they are concerned.

There are a few options in handling this situation:

  1. Continue treating the whole indifferently because parts of the team are not working in an optimal manner by imposing daily monitors of work completed on the entire team as well as threats of disciplinary actions.
  2. Have a performance discussion with the two recruiters who aren’t meeting the standard – while highlighting how they may work more efficiently. Additionally, recognize the recruiters who are consistently performing so they are aware that their efforts are appreciated and being seen.

Number #2 would be the most optimal solution to dealing with this situation. This scenario reminds me of grade school when there would be a student who misbehaved consistently during class. Teachers that had the better sense knew that it was far better to remove unwieldly students from the classroom in an effort of not robbing the other attentive students of quality instruction time.

The same is true here. It isn’t fair to your employees who are doing the right thing to be subject to rules, disciplinary actions or indifferent leadership because you refuse to deal with their co-workers’ performance issues .

Communicate, document, and/or cut ties with employees that aren’t meeting performance standards, if you need to. Just know that no grown adult wants to be treated like they are back in preschool, because you are incapable of addressing performance concerns head-on.

Beware Knowledge-Poaching Leaders

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Two years ago, I wrote an article about things I needed CHRO’s to know about what the organization needs from them. I wanted them to know what kind of leaders their employees deserve. I find myself wanting to have this discussion again after yet another anecdote about an ill-equipped CHRO.

I have often heard that leaders don’t need to be knowledgeable in every facet of their employees’ work to be effective. That may well be true in some scenarios. However, it is my belief that time spent in the trenches is valuable not only for the purpose of understanding what your employees go through – but also so you bring something other than a title to the table when you are called to it.

Some of the best leaders I have known have worked their way from the bottom to the C-Suite. I also know people that haven’t held every role on their way to the top, but are relentless about rolling up their sleeves and keeping themselves current on all things HR. As a business owner, I  know what I know and I know what I don’t know. As such, I seek out the people and resources that are needed to help me execute my tasks and business goals. I may not be an expert in everything, but I am willing to learn and/or I research what I don’t know so I can have an intelligent conversation about the work that needs to be done.

Here’s a thought…

Don’t become a leader , if you choose to be a figurehead rather than a team member. The world can use less people who look the part versus fitting the part. Personally, I have had enough of watching people in the C-Suite sitting in meetings and town halls completely oblivious to what is going on in their organizations. It isn’t becoming to not understand the basic tenets of your niche – when it is that very expertise that you got you hired for the job in the first place. It is equally uncool to take credit for your teams knowledge and expertise.

Experts often say you shouldn’t be working in your business day-to-day as a CEO. I both agree and disagree with this sentiment. I know that going forward I will need to delegate work so I can work on business development and other aspects of my business. Conversely, I have been all things in my business out of both necessity and utility. I now know what has to be done in all aspects of my business and how it should be done.  It would be impossible for me to provide the proper direction and vision to a future employee – without having experienced being in their shoes.

Additionally, if my team members bring something new or innovative to my work that was previously overlooked by me, I have a duty to give them the credit for their effort and ideas. Being a knowledge-poacher is not only disingenuous, it is a morale killer.

Put yourself in the place of one of your employees for a second. Think about how exhilarating  it is to think you have come up with a solution to an issue or to know that you created a unique program or initiative. Imagine the pride you would feel as an employee to hand the deliverable off to a manager or leader realizing its potential for recognition by the right people – only to have said leader take credit for your work. How would you feel?

As a leader, you don’t have to know it all or be everything to everyone. You do have a duty to ensure that your employees efforts and great ideas are recognized. You are not less of a leader, because your employees excel at things you don’t. If you are a knowledge-poaching leader take a good, long look at yourself.  Heed the following warnings because this is your plight:

1) Employees who are victims of knowledge-poaching leaders eventually move on to greener pastures where their talent can not be hidden (I am proof of this).  This likely means high turnover for your organization.

2) When the victims of your poaching do move on, everything will eventually crumble around you. It only takes that one key employee to leave for the weakest links to be exposed. This run of hiding behind other people’s talent never lasts indefinitely.

3) Your poaching affects all of your employees whether they are the ones being poached or not. In the case of one of my colleagues, he questions the ethical, moral, and organizational ramifications of not speaking-up in defense of a co-worker whose knowledge, expertise and efforts are being poached. 

True leaders aren’t insecure because their teams are strong. They celebrate the strength of the team with pride and acknowledgement.

Don’t be a knowledge-poaching leader!

 

Are you pushing the limits on your labor?

Pushing

One of the first things I learned in Industrial Psychology was the breakdown and distribution of labor. I learned what it meant to have a full-time equivalent (FTE), part-time, temporary and per-diem/on-call staff. Each of these components serves a different and essential purpose to your workforce planning.  In fact, you cannot actually get any work done without first deciding what work needs to be done, how much time it takes to get the work done and how many people you will need to do it.

There has been a shift                     

Over ten years since my first Industrial Psychology class, I see labor distribution and allocation looking very different and even nonsensical.

Let’s take per diem staff for an example. Traditionally, per diems were used as workforce fillers. They were a subset of the workforce that you kept handy to cover peak times, special projects, surplus or leaves. Per-Diem staff did not have regular schedules and were often paid a higher hourly rate for their ability to be flexible and/or be called in at the last minute. They were just-in-time labor and we never treated them as anything but.

Fast forward to now, there is something very different going on with per-diems.  Not only are they expected to be flexible as they have always been – they are also working the equivalent of full-time hours on a consistent basis.

I worked in Healthcare for 8 years. Many of my friends and colleagues are still in that field. One friend in particular has repeatedly worked as a per-diem nurse for various facilities. As a per-diem nurse, she has been expected to be flexible with her scheduling. She has also worked upwards of 40-50 hours per week in these roles.

Here’s the breakdown of labor:

  • 32 hours of actual on-the-job labor
  • An additional 8-10 hours off the clock answering phone calls, emails, and charting because of the insurmountable workload.

This schedule is consistent and is also considered what they call fee-for-service which means she gets paid for individual services provided to a patient. The issue is she has worked all of the hours above and is paid infrequently due to minor errors like an incorrect year being listed on the final chart. She uses her own car for this mobile position and although she was offered cases in close proximity to her home they consistently assign her an hour or more from her designated area. Even the expenses like her gas and the like have not been paid.

Why do I share this?

This company is pushing the limits on her labor. It is not reasonable for anyone to be classified as per-diem and be working as much or more than a full-time equivalent on a consistent basis. You can cite any rule you can find to support this from DOL – it makes no sense.

Secondly, if you are going to implement a point-of-service model for paying a subset of your workforce, you need to pay when the service is rendered – not when you choose or even when you get paid. There is absolutely no ROI on her working, because every time she thinks she is getting paid there is an issue pushing her payment further and further into the realm of unreasonableness. To date she is still waiting to be paid for three weeks worth of work. She’s basically working for free. The bills wait for no one.

Last but not least (and this applies to FTE’s, part-time, temp and per diem), there are reasonable and unreasonable limits for off-the-clock labor.  One call for clarification on something is reasonable. An expectation of your employees being on email at all times and/or requiring after-hours calls is unreasonable. She receives calls and emails all times of the day and night and when she returns the phone calls there is no one there to receive it. This turns into hours of calls and returned calls and emails on a day when she isn’t officially on-the-clock.

I have witnessed the abuse of labor both as a practitioner and now as a consultant. Businesses have gotten really good at utilizing the loopholes in what DOL provides and they are using it against the workers. If you are a new business owner, established business owner or work in HR, here are some suggestions:

1) Work needs to start and end. Just because you have penchant for working excessive hours and wear that as a badge of honor- doesn’t mean others should do the same. Establish reasonable start times for work and encourage your employees to end at a designated time. The only purpose for extra hours of work is when there are tight deadlines and surplus. You should be training your people to be efficient. not over-worked zombies.

2) Respect your employees time off-the-clock. You many think your question or issue is pressing, but did you really take a moment to decide if it is more important than what your employee may be doing on their day off. No one wants to be disturbed at dinner, in the middle of family time or while out running errands. Be sure that your concerns are worth the interruption of their life.

3) Be careful how you are classifying your people. As I illustrated above, there are many abuses of per-diem staff going on. If you have that much of a need for additional assistance with getting work done, these workers need to be re-classified and offered all of the benefits, compensation and perks that come with part-time and full-time status. You will decrease your risk as the employer and appease the employee who will understand that you value their time and efforts.

Our job in HR is to be the moral compass for the organization among other things. Over-extending your workforce not only leads to turnover, but to absenteeism and wellness issues. It’s time we stop trying to cut corners and be good to the people that keep the business humming.

 

A Perfect Union: Talent Management and Predictive Analytics

Image courtesy of Flickr.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Human Capital Institute on the HCI Podcast. The focus for our discussion was: The Future of Predictive Analytics in Talent Management. It’s interesting to think about the future of this union- yet it would seem that we are getting ahead of ourselves to be so forward-thinking. One of the things I hope came across in this podcast was that the adoption of predictive analytics, big data and the like doesn’t need to be complicated.

In recent weeks, I have discussed the perils of trying to keep up with every trend in business. The key to unlocking the potential of this perfect union between predictive analytics and talent management is starting with what you have – regardless of where you think you need to be on the data continuum. There’s no script anyone can write for how HR should be utilizing data. Every organization has to decide why the data they are collecting is important and how the answers they receive will help them improve something or reach an outcome.

It is my belief that talent management is one of the more useful places to start to use analytics. How many more times can your times can you meet to decide what referral sources garner your recruitment team the best candidates? This is a common discussion among recruitment teams that could be easily answered if you can get everyone to focus in on the data surrounding referral sources. If you know what’s working and what is not you can begin to document trends. When you start documenting trends, you can start being more predictive in modeling and forecasting your recruitment efforts against the data you have for referral sources. The same is true for using analytics for retention, development and succession planning.

Here’s a tip:

It doesn’t matter where you start looking within your talent management practices. Choose an area. Decide what you want to measure and then examine it consistently to discover trends. Those trends will help illuminate blindspots and areas of untapped opportunity. Once you know what those areas are, you start to take action. Additionally, your goal is to use the trends you find to forecast and model for the future – instead of operating and/or planning just-in-time.

Predictive Analytics isn’t about taking one giant leap or step. It is about the cascading of knowledge you derive from your data around talent management to make better decisions. Becoming data-driven requires an open mind, consistency, and action.

Listen to my podcast with HCI below to hear what else I had to say about this perfect union of predictive analytics and talent management.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nyi849ZMHF8

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