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.       

 

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.

 

Technology and HR Revisited: Cease the Flexible Work and Collaboration Excuses

Technology and hr revisited- Flexible Work

Why does your entire workforce need to be seen in the flesh? Can you provide three reasons why you need to have your staff physically present themselves to work that doesn’t begin with “Our internal customers” and end with “need facetime”? Among the other excuses for why flexible work arrangements can’t happen are:

1) How will I know they are truly working?

2) If I allow one person to a flex work arrangement, everyone will want it.

3) I need my people here doing the work.

The Supply and Demand of Flex Work and Collaboration

According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com , 50% of the US workforce holds a position that is compatible with at least a partial telework arrangement. GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com goes on to report that 80-90% of US workers would like to telework or flex their schedules at least part-time to allow for concentrated work at home and in-person team collaboration via the office. Technology has made it so that we can be productive whether we are sitting in an office or at the doctor’s office. You need to check emails- our mobile devices make that possible on-the-go. Is there an online meeting coming up that you need your staff to attend? Most online meeting platforms have an or mobile optimized site for people who need to a join meetings from where ever they are. Many years ago, we could say “no” to telework, because the technology wasn’t there. Now that we have virtual workspaces, cloud storage, and video technology that allows us to collaborate and remain connected with our teams- what is the excuse?

The Telework and Flexwork Challenge

Image courtesy of Unsplash.com

If we are honest with one another, the nature of work is changing. It’s changing at an uncomfortable pace that appears to threaten our traditional way of doing things. Change is both uncomfortable and inevitable. However, the case of telework and flexible work arrangements seems clear. The workforce wants it, the technology is ripe for facilitating it- yet organizations are still relying on antiquated ways of thinking to approach this topic.

 

As Human Resources professionals, it is key that keep a pulse on what is needed by our workforce versus constantly campaigning for what the organization needs. No one wins when there isn’t some compromise. The issue around telework isn’t with the employees wanting it, but with our reluctance to evolve with the times.

Let’s be clear, not everyone in your workforce will want to work from home. Working from home requires discipline. There are employees that will naturally prefer to come to the office for a more structured environment. This puts to rest the idea that if you offer one employee a flex arrangement that suddenly a stampede of employees will be outside your door. For those that either need or want to telework or flex work, it is as simple as sitting down with them and figuring out a schedule that not only helps the employee, but compliments the needs of the business. After teleworking two days a week for two years at my previous company, I can tell you that my internal customers were well taken care of, interviews conducted and projects were on target. Granted, my then employer had me filling out work plans to show “proof” of my work from home; but they could never deny the fact that I was productive. Which brings me to the point of trust. Much of the challenge with managing a virtual or mobile workforce has to do with a lack of trust. There is a lack of trust with the collaboration tools and technology that make these arrangements possible and in some cases not semblance of faith in your employees. Think of it like this, if you are asking for a telework arrangement and you choose to abuse that privilege by not working as you would in the office- who loses? In some regard, the employer loses due to lack of productivity. However, most people who ask for flexibility need it more than it being a “want”. That said, the egg is on their face if they fail to work to standards and do what is expected of them.

What’s my Call-to-Action?

Cease the excuses for why telework and flexwork arrangements can’t happen. Instead, look at all of the instances where it is possible. Use a mix technology to keep your team engaged and connected. The need for face-to-face interaction isn’t going away yet. In the meantime, look at the endless possibilities on-demand video technology provides. Video not only makes it possible for teams in different parts of the world to meet and collaborate, it allows candidates to record an interview without missing a day of work and tipping off their current employer. I’m certain that some dedication to helping people work smarter and more flexibly can only help your talent management efforts. It’s all about adapting to what makes sense for your workforce while getting things done.

What will you do to kick the telework and flexwork excuses to the curb?

Want more? Click here to watch the latest “Ask Czarina” episode on this post on  “The Aristocracy of HR” You Tube Channel.

 

When Workforce Outsourcing Goes Wrong

 

Image courtesy of Flickr.com

Some time ago, my dad was unemployed and picking up contract work when it was made available to him. In order to procure this contract work, he had to sign up with a few security agencies. In doing so, he eventually landed a full-time gig supervising security guards and investigators for a major supermarket chain. The nature of his employment agreement with this chain was that he was technically employed by the security firm but assigned to the supermarket as a worker- so no company perks, benefits or official employer-employee relationship. This supermarket is well-known for their concepts around creating democratized workforces that enjoy their work, have a passion for what they do and are rewarded in innumerable ways for such efforts. I’ll let you ponder that one.

Despite the purported mindful leadership at the helm, my father had no direction of what was right or wrong- where it concerned his employment. What do I mean?  As a supervisor, his job was to watch the cameras for any potential for theft. He also supervised a staff of investigators and store detectives. In addition, he was required to walk the store to observe customer behavior ensuring the overall security of the premises. When the store closed at night, he was responsible for making sure all remaining customers exited in a timely fashion so he could continue his nightly closing procedure. At least weekly, there would be a customer that felt his presence was “harassing” when he would pleasantly ask the customer to proceed to the nearest register, because they decided to shop for food at 9:50 p.m. and the store was closing in ten minutes. There would be one or two customers who tried to steal goods under his watch and he would act accordingly. There were managers that would gossip about him saying he “had an attitude” because he didn’t spend time chatting with them on the floor. In light of all of this, no complaint was ever logged with the agency he was employed by  and so he continued on doing his job. Yet there were very different views and perceptions about whether he was doing his job,

Until…

One day, he is told don’t show up to his normal store. Manager X didn’t want him there any longer, so the agency pulled him- no questions asked. The agency’s response was “that’s a tough store to work in and lots of guys have had issues with that manager- we’ll just reassign you.”  He was reassigned to a new store, things were great there until some months in- he receives notice that another manager wrote to the regional head to say that: “a customer allegedly complained about him harassing them at closing- suggesting that he should not be employed by any of the supermarket’s other locations.” He was never called by the agency to find out his side of the story. He had to proactively seek out answers- which was met with the following answer “we have a lot of issues with the managers there- we’ll get you working with some other clients.”

The problem with this entire situation is the employee-whether my dad or someone else is always in limbo. The supermarket and the agency operated under separate and very different standards of operation- which was confusing to the people working for either of them. The agency signed and enforced a contract with this company that basically prevented them from defending their employees. Their unwillingness to get to the bottom of the alleged complaint against my dad (which affected his employment) told me that they were far more concerned about tarnishing the business relationship than retaining him as a contractor. They set the precedent that, anytime any alleged customer complaint was filed or if a manager disliked any contractor they sent- the worker could expect to be ousted from that location.

He who fails to plan, plans to fail…

The biggest mistake they made in this partnership was not planning for a collaboration that ensured the seamless integration of workers whether directly employed or via the agency. You cannot have a successful workforce outsourcing situation where the rules are different for how employees work and are treated because of the nature of their employment. Since this company was quite possibly the biggest account they had-therefore contributing to a large portion of their revenue; the agency was unwilling to stand up for their workers when these issues arose. In return, they also had a hard time retaining people with this account because of the treatment.

The terms of any workforce outsourcing agreement need to be true to how each entity operates, while also ensuring the fair and consistent treatment of employees. Each party has to be willing to be flexible in their terms-as the relationship continues, to allow for tweaks to the service level agreement in place. As a vendor, your primary focus cannot be the money you will make on the account. You also have to seriously consider your ability to hire and retain the talent you will need to sustain the account.

Here are some other items to consider when entering a workforce outsourcing contract:

1) Did you ask about the company culture? You need to. Understanding and deciding how your workforce will blend with the existing client workforce is an important consideration for how successful you will be.

2) Creating a conflict mediation practice. Just like the client values their employees, you do too (hopefully). If you do, it is important that anyone you hire knows how they can resolve an issue should one arise. There should also be a collective agreement between you and the client of how these issues will be resolved.

3) How do you socialize the onboarding of new staff? Will the client simply have people show up to work on Monday or will there be a formal meet and greet? Whether an employee is a contractor or directly employed by the company, it is important for management to communicate the acquisition of new talent and communicate the expectations for how everyone will work together.

4) What can you do to make “contractors” feel like they are a part of the company? Can you afford to offer contractors a discount or pro-rated benefits? Making people feel more like an employee even if the relationship is temporary, can increase productivity and improve their engagement in the business and operations.

Customers don’t care who employees work for when it comes to patronizing your business. They know that they expect to have a great experience and if something should go wrong- they will be provided with a consistent and speedy resolution. Spending time in the beginning to develop and incorporate some basic talent management practices into your workforce outsourcing agreement will help to assimilate these new people into the current workforce seamlessly.

Ready to develop or improve your talent management strategy for your business? Contact me.

Is Too Much Cross-Function Killing Your Business?

We have heard of and discussed the many jobs and/or industries that have been either lost or tremendously condensed since 2008. Let’s deal with the tremendously condensed jobs for a second. Due to the financial crisis of 2008, many businesses had to trim the headcount in their organizations. Essentially, the headcount was trimmed, but as expected the work didn’t go away. The result was lots of reorganization within companies and a redistribution of work in support of keeping business going as usual.

As an employee, you don’t want to be seen as not being a team player when asked if you can take on another job or function. It is usually proposed as something temporary and a great help to the organization. The problem is the redistribution continues in many companies and they keep batting their eyes and asking for more and as such employees are now doing the job of not one-but three people.

Boo-hoo-hoo you say…

Yes, it is great to get experience in different areas. It makes you more marketable. It allows you to contribute in many different ways. It may even lead to management seeing you in a new light and possibly considering you for a promotion. The  reality is that many are just stuck in a rut. There are no promotions coming their way that they know of. Are they marketable? Maybe to some company, but at the moment they are barely surviving each day trying to handle the multitude of work and demands that have come along with this hybrid role they are in. Contributing is an understatement, they are serving as staff member up to an including executive depending on the project and/or role they are focused on at the moment.

Consequently, sales may look good and dollar signs may make the CEO’s heart flutter, but there is major damage being done to the staff and business. Despite a society in love with doing the most, the truth is we can do only one thing well at a time. If one of your staff members is in charge of branding, recruiting, handling diversity and employee relations -how effective are they being? If they are effective, are they being compensated and rewarded appropriately for their efforts?

If they have been sold the typical- “we can’t raise your salary “bit, they are likely miserable, burnt out and searching for a new gig.

Consider this…

I did a job profile for someone to understand what they do and how they may be marketable within their industry. They happen to have a background in Accounting. However, due to downsizing this person not only handles accounts payable but handles receivables, does journal entries, can add and delete invoices all without any checks and balances. Her job is too cross-functional and she could be robbing the company blind- if she was not a standup citizen. This kind of job overlap with no checks and balances goes against every good accounting principle there is. The person that pays money shouldn’t also receive the money etc.

However, the owner of this business is gleaming, because the work gets done and he is saving on three salaries and maybe four when we consider her total compensation hasn’t been raised or adjusted since taking on this extra work.

I’m not suggesting that there be absolutely no cross-function. A healthy dose of cross-function or job sharing can be helpful in mitigating the impact of temporary or small permanent gaps. That said, anytime the extra work to be taken on amounts to more than 40% time equivalent it is time to hire another person.

Here are some tips to use in evaluating the potential for cross-function:

1) If you must downsize or terminate staff, evaluate the work they did and the time it took them to get it done before you start redistributing. Sometimes you will find unnecessary gaps in turnaround time for tasks and other times work is turned around within reasonable time limits.
2) If the people lost are tied to a significant amount of work, consider utilizing temp staff to pick up the slack even if it for just a few hours a week.
3) If your employees must become cross-functional, be sure there are no conflicts of interest from a legal or ethical standpoint between their current and new roles.
4) Keep communication open and honest. There are times when businesses have to cut back releasing burdens onto employees. If more work is coming and it is temporary, keep your employees informed about your timeline to resume normal operations.

Does this sound like your business? Let us help you put things in perspective? Contact us.

Translate »
Font Resize