In the wake of the new coronavirus pandemic, the White House issued recommendations March 16 urging Americans to avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Now companies that had been exploring or enhancing telework options must quickly make it a workplace protocol.
But introducing unfamiliar technologies to newly remote employees may expose digital gaps in the workplace. Based on data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development adult skills survey, there are "tens of millions of workers in this country who have very limited or no digital skills," Amanda Bergson-Shilcock, senior fellow at the National Skills Coalition, said during a panel discussion in February. And a new report from Peppercomm and Echo Research found that 39% of U.S., nonmanagerial employees surveyed said they aren’t getting the upskilling needed to meet technological advancements.
The future of work will demand constant upskilling and reskilling, but in light of the current circumstances, experts shared with HR Dive best practices to ensure new remote workers are well informed.
Provide transparency and a safe space
Employers need to welcome complete transparency — employees should not fear admitting what they don’t understand, Wesley Connor, vice president of global learning and development for Randstad Enterprise Group, told HR Dive.
"[Companies] should be direct and honest in communication and create a safe space for all employees to ask questions and admit if they don’t know how to use a certain technology," Connor said. "It’s all about establishing a culture that is conducive to learning." Transparency can also prevent ageism, he said. For example, millennials or Gen Zers are perceived as having more technical skills than baby boomer employees, research has shown.
There are fewer opportunities to recognize and rectify unclear goals in remote work.
Anita Williams Woolley
Associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business
When it comes to remote work etiquette, there should also be transparency when establishing work hours, internet usage parameters and goals for completing tasks, according to Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.
"It is going to be important that everyone understands and has the same goals and objectives," Woolley told HR Dive in an email. "Where goals are unclear or conflicting, productive collaborative work will be difficult whether it's co-located or remote, but there are fewer opportunities to recognize and rectify unclear goals in remote work." Determining what aspects of the work need to be done together, and what work can be divided up and completed independently, is also important, she said.
Choose user-friendly digital tools and centralized channels
When companies need to begin the process quickly, Gary Malhotra, vice president of product marketing at Whatfix, a software company, told HR Dive in an email, "employees of all ages experience a minimal learning curve adapting to remote user-friendly digital tools like Google Hangouts, Skype and Zoom." Technologies used to work remotely, such as video conferencing, don’t require a large amount of training for familiarity, Connor said.
Woolley even suggested audio conferences as a valuable tool as well. "My colleagues and I conducted a study in which we found that teams that communicated via audio only were just as collectively intelligent as teams that used video conference," she said.
After employees receive instruction from IT or a team leader, the information should always be accessible, Connor said. "Employers should create centralized channels of information where talent can easily access how-to guides and FAQs whenever and wherever they need," he said. Employees can look up the information on their own, "removing any level of embarrassment they may feel when speaking up in front of their more tech savvy colleagues," Connor said.
Centralized channels are also useful for managers uncomfortable asking questions, he added.
Looking forward, Malhorta said, "L&D organizations must develop upskilling and retraining programs that can successfully educate a broad audience and equip them with the skills to be productive using digital technologies."
Leading with social intelligence, strong collaboration
With a completely remote workplace, Woolley said it’s important that whomever leads the team "has a high level of social intelligence and strong collaboration skills." Social intelligence, the ability to build relationships, is considered a soft skill. It's also connected to emotional intelligence, defined as the ability to perceive, evaluate and respond to your own emotions and the emotions of others, according to a Jan. 9 LinkedIn Learning report. LinkedIn noted that emotional intelligence was a newcomer to its list, which "underscores the importance of effectively responding to and interacting with our colleagues."
Companies that place an emphasis on emotional intelligence report higher levels of productivity and better employee engagement than those that don't, a 2019 study by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services found. "A team that is well designed can handle pretty much any task remotely," Wolley said.