9 tips for successful remote communications for HR professionals

Human resources is contending with an upheaval to the traditional way of doing things by conducting interviews and onboarding online, and managing the emotional and mental state of staff.

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Image: iStock/anyaberkut

For many Americans, there was work, and there was home (with a commute in between). When COVID-19 swept across the country starting in March last year, all of that changed when millions went from brick-and-mortar offices into remote, work-from-home situations. Issues of immediacy were relegated to IT, which dealt with Wi-Fi and firewall issues, prioritizing. Theirs was not an easy task, but one so topically critical the bulk of the changes were addressed within the first few weeks.

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Meanwhile, human resources, with the potential to hire and fire, had their own issues. “Since we’re all living at work, it’s a totally different dynamic as professionals,” said DeLisa Alexander, executive vice president and chief people officer at Red Hat. 

People had grown accustomed to the separation of work and home and even grew to rely on it. “Now it’s all intertwined,” said Alexander, who leads the global human resources team for the staff of more than 14,000 associates. 

SEE: CompTIA’s 10 trends for 2021. No. 1: There is no normal. (TechRepublic)

Alexander offers 9 tips for successful remote communications for HR pros:

No. 1: This has heralded a new era for human resources professionals, it’s a “really different way of existing as professionals. People need to be very much more empathetic. We have to give each other grace. We can’t all be perfect and professional all the time.”

No. 2: And it’s been more than a little challenging. As work has evolved in this time of COVID-19, with families working and e-learning from home, it feels like we don’t have “enough living space,” Alexander said, adding, “We’re really guiding our managers to think about” what everyone is dealing with right now. While some people may be able to “figure it all out,” a lot of people have “to build new muscles to make it make sense.”

As is often the case, communication is the basis for success. A key for Red Hat, she said, is “open leadership,” and “we expect everyone to be a leader. We’re leaning in on helping people understand how to navigate and be a creative in an open organization, while never having potentially met [everyone] in person.” 

No. 3: For employees who were hired during the pandemic, they were very likely hired through a virtual interview and welcomed with virtual onboarding. “New associates have not had time to develop that trust and rapport with their new manager in a way that they typically would have,” Alexander said. “Based upon cultural norms and preferences that may vary, but one thing that’s really, really important is to understand that having a one-on-one is not a one-time commitment.”

Rather, it needs to happen overtime so that a relationship can be developed, “happen and be fostered.” Through multiple conversations, managers and reports can get to know each other. “Part of this is being able to be more authentic and vulnerable,” grow more comfortable, “really sharing what’s going on in their life, so that the manager can support them best.”

No. 4: Many managers make the mistake of choosing a day and time and putting it into the staff member’s calendar. But, Alexander stressed, “you need to ask the associate if that’s a time they can actually sit down and have a conversation.” Feedback from associates indicates an area of great frustration is when those one-on-one meetings are rescheduled or even canceled at the last minute. “We actually had to say to our managers, ‘do your best not to do that.’ It’s a big deal to associates.”

No. 5: Even though the ultimate purpose of regular one-on-one meetings is checking in, she strongly recommends managers not treat this as a “status check” with a list. “Make sure things are moving, but make it safe so the associate can communicate, what’s overwhelming to them, what’s too complex, what’s getting in their way of success.” 

Be organized, but be “purposeful.” As an example, she says, instead of “how can I help?” so broad and open-ended and which many have a difficult time answering, managers can ask, “What’s getting in your way?” “How can I support you?,” and “Let me know what you need.” 

No. 6: It also helps to know at least a little bit about each of your reports, personalize the conversation, she said. And when the meeting commences, “Set expectations upfront, this is what we expect from one another.”

No. 7: Because of the pandemic, some managers have often been asked to consult with those dealing with grief and loss and, Alexander explained, “this life-altering chronic crisis we’re in right now.” 

Certainly, not everyone is equipped to deal with this (“We don’t expect our managers to be therapists”), and Alexander said Red Had has a discussion guide to be supportive, “figure out how to load balance on teams and determine what flexible scheduling needs to look like.” The company has recently implemented rapid-support programs and new benefits that include access to an app for access to counseling. “We hope this will actually take some of the burden off of managers.”

A speaker series, in which experts are brought in has also been added. “Now we have a grief and loss and resilience expert who meets with us once a month and takes questions,” she explained.

No. 8: Being a better manager. Alexander noted that Red Hat is “pretty agile” in its approach. “We have our core training. We have an in-depth manager series” that looks at “What does it take to be a good manager?”  

The company also has an open line of communication through an email series for both managers and associates. “It helps you to really realize that there are great people managers out there that can help one another.”

No. 9: The No. 1 issue managers hear from their associates, Alexander said is caregiving, whether for children or elderly parents. “This is in the world and COVID,” has been so disheartening to those who can’t help loved ones. “It’s dialed up so much more intensely.”

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