Despite remote work, COVID-19 will not bring employee relations issues to a halt. In fact, it's actually creating new challenges employers must navigate.
It might be easy to assume that employee relations issues would reduce significantly where employees are working remotely. After all, with no physical interaction, it's difficult to engage in harassment, discrimination or other undesirable behaviour, right?As many organisations have shifted to a hybrid working model, with remote and in-office workers likely to be more prevalent, this will create increased challenges to manage employee relations in the future. We face new hurdles managing issues in a timely manner with our COVID-19 new work practices, many of which could be more easily managed in the office.
Perhaps. more than ever, it's important for organisations to ensure safe, fair treatment of employees and to do everything they can to minimise employee issues.
Here are six tips for managing employee relations in the new remote world of work
1. Reinforce policies: Crises like the pandemic can make people behave in ways you might never expect. After all, we are essentially being asked to treat one another as though we're all infected. Now is a good time to remind employees that your culture is inclusive, there are policies in place to protect everyone from unfair treatment and that it simply won't be tolerated. Make sure employees know how to report a discrimination incident and whom to contact if they do experience a confirmed positive or COVID-19 exposure.
2. Communicate changes effectively: With guidelines changing rapidly, keeping employees informed can be difficult under these circumstances - it's hard to cut through the clutter of emails, news and other "noise" with important, official company communication and urgent policy changes.
Consider leveraging purpose-built employee communications channels to ensure messages get through and that employees have a way to ask questions and get clarification if needed. This helps to isolate important communications onto a dedicated channel, to keep them from getting lost in the fray of an overwhelming email inbox, or specific questions accidentally getting forwarded or cc'd to the wrong individuals.
3. Explain documentation and tracking processes clearly: Ideally, you already have a dedicated technology platform for reporting, documenting and tracking ER issues. If not, now is an ideal time to implement one. With a dedicated tech platform, employees can report issues more efficiently and confidentially and have the confidence to know they'll be dealt with expediently and fairly.
For ER professionals, a platform can improve accuracy of documentation and tracking and provide transparency into the process for employees. You'll want to make sure employees understand how these processes work, especially if they are working remotely.
4. Provide ready access to telehealth and wellbeing advisory services: Employees across all industry sectors have a heightened level of concern about their health, and whether they should be going to work. They may be confused about your company policies and need quick access guidance.
At DHS we operate a 24x7 telehealth and wellbeing service for employers. In the last two weeks alone, we have seen a 50% increase in health concerns and COVID-19 specific enquiries because of more employees returning to the office. This is causing pockets of absenteeism spikes, and increased demands on internal HR resources.
Consider using a specialist telehealth hotline service to ensure your policies on return to work are clearly communicated, your workers have ready-access to health support around the clock, and that HR can obtain real-time insight into the concerns and health issues your workforce is reporting, without being inundated with COVID-19 specific HR issues.
5. Manage performance appropriately: Not everyone who works well in an office environment is cut out for working from home. It takes discipline and dedication to stay on task when there's no one proverbially looking over your shoulder, and there is the risk some may take advantage of the lack of supervision.
At the same time, many employees have the additional home pressure of managing child school requirements or other care responsibilities. It can all lead to added stress and anxiety impacting mental wellbeing and sense of control. While you certainly want to make sure employees are remaining as productive as possible, now is not the time to layer on the performance pressure.
Be flexible, with expectations, encourage daily/weekly performance goals, have daily check-ins between employees and their managers to make sure everyone's staying on task and consider delaying formal reviews. Recognise that work schedules may need to be flexible and remember that everyone is under a tremendous amount of stress already. Adding to it with unrealistic work demands will only lower employee morale.
6. Provide resources to help employees cope: This is unchartered territory for many of us, and by and large, employers want to do the right thing, to contribute to business continuity and get back to normal as quickly as possible. Understand that employees are worried - about their jobs, their health, their family's financial stability.
Promote access channels to your EAP provider, leverage their mental health and wellbeing support initiatives and access tips and training guides that will support employees working from home, address technology related issues and stay connected.
During these uncertain times, we're all looking for some sense of comfort and stability, and employers have a perfect opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to their employees' wellbeing.
For further information on how Direct Health Solutions and ERTrack Case Management software can help you with your employee relations please contact us today.
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