‘You can’t develop one strategy and expect everybody to be able to fit into that because everybody’s circumstances are different’
When it comes to remote workers, HR professionals should keep their sense of humour intact and stay flexible, according to one HR consultant.
That’s key to keeping those workers productive and engaged, says Janet Candido, principal at Candido Consulting Group in Toronto.
“You’re going to be in the video conference, and you’re going to have the kids running across the room or the toddler suddenly coming up to their mother or father who’s trying to conduct a business meeting or the dog deciding now’s a good time for a walk: you’re just going to have those things happen,” she says. “Just recognize that it’s stressful for the employee too.”
With many parents trying to figure out what to do when schools reopen, keeping them productive can be extremely challenging, says Candido.
“You can’t develop one strategy and expect everybody to be able to fit into that because everybody’s circumstances are different and accommodating them requires a different approach.”
Even if public health officials declare it safe to return to the office, only one in five Canadians said they would return, according to a recent survey, while another one found that 40 per cent of employers believe the majority of remote workers willl eventually come back.
While working out an accommodation plan for workers, it’s crucial to recognize that some employees have unrealistic expectations, says Candido.
“Employers can expect employees to be reasonable and to work with them to find a solution; [employees] also have to recognize that they need to be able to do the work for which they are being paid and, therefore, they need to be honest with their employers about what their situation is. Are they actually able to work from home? Do they have the facilities? Do they have the time?”
And, sometimes, all the accommodation efforts in the world can prove fruitless, says Candido.
“If the accommodation doesn’t make sense, if the accommodation is not possible, and the employee has a reasonable reason for not being able to do the work, then I’m advising employers to hold the job open and just ride it out with them. As long as you have worked with the employee, as long as you have been as open and honest and willing to listen and think about solutions, then I think the only other option is to say, ‘This is not going to work right now. We’re going to keep the job open for you, but let us know when your circumstances change.’”
Mental health considerations
Maintaining and promoting positive mental health is also something that needs to be constantly addressed and acknowledged by HR departments, she says.
“Be aware of the mental and emotional impact of this last few months on people: heightened anxiety, irritability, fear, just the stress levels; especially if they have young or school-aged children, [the] kids are going squirrely after a few months locked up.”
For employers that have made employee assistance programs (EAP)s available, it’s not enough to just publicize their existence, they must be reinforced regularly, says Candido.
“We would send out information every couple of weeks about something because you might not feel that you need it this week but in two or three weeks, it might strike home. We just kept reminding people these are the resources that are available.”
And sometimes it’s about providing “seemingly innocuous elements” that go beyond the usual links to the Canadian Mental Health Commission (CMHC), she says.
“It’s almost amusing but the one tip that we communicated to employees when we were starting to run out of ideas of what can we tell them to help them work through this [was] links to nutritious, family-friendly meals, different recipes,” she says. “That got the most positive reaction of anything,” says Candido.
“We heard from them that they loved caring about the recipes and how to get the family involved and how to make nutritious meals and I thought: ‘Oh great, so much for the other mental health support,’ but I still think all of those are important and it’s important to not just tell them you have an EAP and be done with it.”
Regular check-ins with employees are another good engagement tool, and it’s best not to restrict talks to what goes on at work, says Candido.
“You’re already isolated through the pandemic and now you’re isolated from your work colleagues so, where possible, get the webcams out so that you can see their faces and really engage in conversation and not just… ‘The deadline’s coming up, did you get it done?’ Expand that a little bit: ‘How are you doing? How are you finding everything? Is there anything else we need to do for you?’” she says.
“Employers need to put more effort into staying in touch with their employees, both the ones that are working from home and the ones who haven’t been able to work due to their own family situations, just to keep that connection.”