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If Your Business Is Struggling With Remote Work, Consider This Surprising Solution

Your HR team is ill-equipped to optimize remote work. Here's how to empower them.

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Remote work is here to stay, command-and-control leadership be damned. But let's be clear: Working remotely is clearly no panacea for the many big problems plaguing the workforce.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, The Great Resignation/Realignment is only getting started. With wave after wave of Covid-19, millions worldwide have questioned their life's purpose, found better alignment, started businesses and escaped their golden handcuffs. But equally heavy in the equation is a poor remote work experience.

Some companies, many of them in tech, including the MAANGs and remote-first veterans like Gitlab, have nailed the experience for remote employees, helping younger, less experienced workers thrive despite everything. For everyone else, remote work arrangements have been a mostly uphill battle trying to onboard effectively, design and implement a wide variety of systems that talk to each other and keep up to date with shifting laws and regulations, among other challenges.

Most or all of this has fallen in the lap of human resources (HR) over the last two years, with very mixed results. HR is surely changing, but far too slowly and with much too little commitment, on average. Remote work is still very much a work in progress to perfect. But it's also not some mysterious, dark art perfected with massive budgets and large teams.

Remote workforce best practices are not taught in "HR School" or covered from a design and architecture perspective in SHRM webinars. It's sink or swim for the majority of overstretched, under-funded HR teams in Corporate America. So, if you're a business owner or head of HR, where do you start?

Firstly — and perhaps most importantly — don't default to DIY. Hire an expert. No surprise, then, that the "head of remote" title has become a new "craze" for many companies with remote workers.

As a CHRO and head of remote who's run teams and scaled companies mostly in a remote work environment, I've been fortunate to bring my extensive expertise in operations and strategy and product management to building effective remote work infrastructures.

Even with a steep learning curve, I've learned a great deal from the remote work framework at GitLab.

Related: The Value of Flexible Management in the Age of Remote Work

Here are some of the most important things I've found as a head of remote for building a remote work infrastructure that actually works.

1. Personally direct all training and upskilling

Random video trainings or instructors without the specialized background will fail to create and enforce rules for effective remote workers. It's a hands-on exercise for the HR team and other executive leadership to get this right.

2. Work with internal teams to document all processes

The buck must stop with every team lead to produce documented processes. Barring that, everyone is flying blind as to his or her own work, not to mention that of other teams. This spells doom for remote employee engagement and retention because visibility means increased motivation and opportunity for constant improvement.

3. Evaluate existing tools and make sure they communicate with each other

Time to fire up those APIs and integrations to make things interoperable. Otherwise, employee frustration with poorly functioning systems with poor instructions will boil over into resignations and zombie work.

4. Manage expectations from leadership and employees

Everything starts with managing expectations for timelines and rollouts and for any product roadmap. If this process is managed poorly, leadership will likely scrap it and default back to command-and-control, setting the business back in talent competitiveness and employee engagement.

5. Carefully re-evaluate, update and restate company values through actions

No one cares about your mission and values above the office door. Everyone cares how you express your mission and values through daily actions.

6. Build an aligned, internally consistent and visible talent brand

Show me, don't tell me (top talent researching your company) about how you empower your people to thrive through actions great and small. Highlight your talent, especially DEI talent, if you want to attract the best.

Related: Remote Work Is Here to Stay: Are You Ready for the New Way of Life?

7. Celebrate small wins to avoid losing momentum

Stop to smell the roses and recognize all your amazing gardeners working hard to build and scale your company. It's part of an effective performance management strategy; cultivating a positive employee experience means higher job satisfaction and less turnover. If you don't ensure team members feel valued, they'll leave or perform zombie work until they quit.

8. Undertake a long-term remote cultural transformation

This may be the hardest part of all. Patience is generally short, and complaints are widespread. Don't leave HR managers to their own devices. Interoperable systems and effective internal communication will go a long way towards transforming the company culture into one that's well-adapted to the new remote reality.

9. Get crystal clear on the cadence, rules and templates for internal communication

There are lots of great templates out there for effective internal communication, both in-person and remote. Take the time to research and practice it and train your team leads to do the same so they can train their remote teams.

Naturally, different industries and business sizes and stages will demand their own level and nature of communication, resources, vision, values and buy-in. But with a dedicated head of remote to help bring together HR professionals with product, operations and strategy at the C-suite level, clarity, alignment, impact and success are all within reach.

Related: Remote Work Is Here to Stay. It's Time to Update the Way You Lead.

When people are clear from the start on the company's "why," what the rules are for remote work and how they're enforced, and how remote work can continue to jive well with their personal (not just professional) lives, employers are in a much better position to land, retain and develop top talent otherwise off to MAANG or the like. Sometimes, the most important investment you can make as a CEO or founder is in letting an architect draft the plans, then have the developer develop, the contractor contract and the plumber to fix the pipes.

If squeezing your HR department further just isn't working to fix your remote work and retention issues, consider bringing in an experienced head of remote. It could just save your business from an in-person faceplant.

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