September 17, 2020

Engaging a Remote Workforce Throughout the Employee Lifecycle - Part 1

Effectively engaging a remote workforce flow chart.

A recent Harris poll indicated that 69% of employers said productivity has remained the same or increased with a remote staff, and 65% of remote employees feel more productive. Yes, there are many who miss camaraderie and in-person interactions, but in all likelihood remote work at some level is here to stay. To be a successful employer, you must have an engaged workforce and be an engaging employer.

Our two-part series discusses six critical touch points in the employee lifecycle and strategies to effectively manage your remote workforce at each of those points. This article addresses the first three.

Talent Acquisition

The war for talent is heating up. While unemployment is still high, employers are beginning to hire, and it’s a very competitive labor market. Attracting the best candidate for the position is still an essential factor – and should be a priority – for an organization’s success. So with this increased volume of available talent, how can employers identify the right fit and create a compelling reason for the best candidates to engage with the hiring process?

Millennials are the largest part of the workforce; they are comfortable with technology and they expect it. A solid place to start is with a mobile application process and mobile onboarding. When you introduce technology, you gain the ability to scale, meaning you can do much more with greater efficiency. However, this forces you to have a standardized and thorough process as there’s no face-to-face interaction to pick up something that could be missed. There must also be an increased focus on thorough and frequent communication, again, to make up for the lack of in-person interactions.

In this heightened war for talent, candidates are honed in on the value of the position. Traditionally, this has focused on compensation, but today’s market wants a company with a good culture, solid values, an excellent benefits package, financial and wellbeing tools, community involvement, social and environmental responsibility, and the like. Be sure to showcase those things as part of the value of the job.

Talent Acquisition Case Study: A health care organization came to us wanting to increase the win rate on qualified candidates. We identified a technology that combines the traditional offer letter with an interactive, customizable total compensation solution, building brand recognition and giving the candidates a complete picture of the job offer and total compensation, ultimately increasing engagement and acceptance rates. All of this was digitally integrated into the onboarding process, creating a seamless electronic workflow from offer to onboarding and subsequent benefit elections.

Get our guide, “5 Tips for Onboarding During COVID-19,” here.

Benefit Management

For years, employers have struggled to achieve engagement with telemedicine initiatives. However, the pandemic dramatically impacted adoption rates of this low-cost, high-quality health care tool. Savvy employers will lean into this technology and offer incentives to drive additional utilization.

There is also a significant uptick in the requests for financial wellness tools, EAPs, mental health benefits and other wellbeing concepts with virtual delivery models and value-add resources offered by insurance providers. To gauge the level of interest in these and other benefits, it is wise to leverage the multitude of technologies available to conduct employee surveys to ensure you are offering what employees truly value and incentivizing them in the most effective way.

For employers challenged by a substantial change in revenue, cash flow or fluctuations in employee headcount, cost-saving strategies, such as deductible financing, self funding, narrow networks, preference based pricing, pharmacy carve outs, integrated third-party care coordination and other solutions are wise options to explore.

Technology permeates these strategies, so employers need creative ways to engage employees in the annual open enrollment process, especially when there is change. One solution is a virtual benefit fair. Employees browse through the customized electronic exhibit, hall and trade booths to learn about benefit offerings from videos, documents, forms and other online information.

For more ideas, check out our 3-Part Webinar series – “Going Digital: The Secret to Impactful Employee Benefits Communication.”

Employers should also shift to online open enrollment. Success can be accomplished with third-party technology or integrated platforms. There are many administrative, communication and engagement advantages with this approach, with solutions ranging from no cost to a few dollars per employee per month. This will benefit your organization for many years to come, especially with remote workforces here to stay for many.

Benefit Management Case Study: A manufacturer’s representative was challenged with communicating a well-honed benefit message to a remote workforce. We identified a virtual benefits fair technology, which was integrated into the greater HCM ecosystem, providing employee/member education with a link back to the existing benefits module for enrollment.

Performance Management

As already mentioned, generally, productivity is up in the remote workforce. However, performance still must be carefully managed. So, how can employers manage employees to maximize their potential and grow in their careers? Feedback and reviews are critical. But those obviously must be done differently.

Employees should receive feedback via a common system – not just a random email text or phone call. Video is an excellent option. While it’s not in person, you’re still face to face and able to see some non-verbal cues.

Be sure to dedicate time to re-review some of the goals in what you would say is an acceptable standard. If you don’t have key performance indicators (KPIs), now is a great time to introduce them. If you do have KPIs, make sure they’re prominently posted and shared. Technology is an easy way to do this because you can measure goals and progress toward those goals. Further, having a shared a vision and a place where all can see what they’re working on and how it impacts the greater good of a larger goal facilitates engagement.

Do be aware that there are new emotions resulting from COVID-19 that increase the need for empathy. This could be anxiety about job and financial security, feelings of isolation in a remote work environment, stress from having to work while also home schooling, and much more. This means you could have had a top performer who is now struggling. COVID-19 has adjusted the metrics of acceptable standards for your employees. Your feedback should be adjusted accordingly.

As we approach fall and winter, explore if your current remote work environment will continue to work. Part of this evaluation should be obtaining feedback from your staff. A survey with open-ended questions typically doesn’t work well. One, you have to read and process every single response. Also, many aren’t comfortable typing how that truly feel. Create surveys with a simple yes or no answer, or a rating scale of 1 to 10. 360 feedback goes a step further and also asks peers and subordinates (if any) how they are performing. When you surround an employee with feedback from all directions, it gives them great input for coaching from their supervisor. Feedback from 360s can also assist with succession planning.

Lastly, as we know, compensation is often tied to performance. While your organization may not be able to offer increases at this time, it is still important to continue your cycle of performance reviews, even if you have to adjust your style or disconnect compensation from it temporarily. Be sure to find alternate ways to acknowledge positive contributions.

If you do have a restricted budget for wage increases, it is likely a challenge determining how that limited amount can be divvied up. With a smaller pool of dollars, make the determination scientific and objective; it needs to be based on data, not feeling. That's where technology comes in. Budgets can be calculated, for example, as a percentage of overall labor or by department or by manager, etc. on predicted performance in the future.

Performance Management Case Study – A professional services firm needed guidance on how to fairly and appropriately distribute their restricted budget for wage increases. We leveraged a systematic and scientific approach to applying limited funds based on performance, pay grades, cost centers and other criteria.

Be on the lookout for Part 2 of this series, which looks at the latter three touch points in the employee lifecycle – payroll, time and scheduling, and off boarding.

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