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How companies can use tech to ramp up remote work productivity

With the sudden spike of employees working from home, companies need to get creative in how they keep employees connected and productive. Here's advice on how to do just that.

A sudden and widespread work-from-home culture is challenging companies everywhere. Ensuring the right technology is in place is key to the success of this "new normal."

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, non-essential personnel have been asked to work from home, creating a new remote workforce that most companies weren't prepared for. And employees who are suddenly working from home -- often in challenging circumstances and without the right technology -- are likely to face social isolation and experience a drop in productivity.

Brian KroppBrian Kropp

In this Q&A, Brian Kropp, chief of research for Gartner HR, discusses how to ensure the success of this newly remote workforce by turning to new processes and using workplace communication tools.

What are some of HR's most pressing challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic?

Brian Kropp: We've worked through a couple of different phases during this time period. The first phase was protecting people's health and safety; get people out of the office and get them home. The second big thing is making sure people know how to work in a remote environment.

A lot of companies are really focusing on new communication strategies and trying to be really innovative about helping employees understand what's going on. And what we're finding is that they just can't send out more emails or put more stuff on company sites. People are overwhelmed by all that and not even looking at it anymore.

So [HR needs to] come up with interesting ways to communicate to employees.

How should HR and IT work together to facilitate remote work productivity? 

Kropp: There are a lot of interactions between HR and IT, especially early on, to understand the technology that employees have. The initial set of questions are really around assessment of basic capabilities.

So much has moved so fast, and [companies] feel like they have to buy all new software applications and technologies to actually be productive. HR and IT have to work incredibly closely at this point to make sure that the technology investment decisions, in terms of enabling remote work and monitoring employees, is actually able to be used in the industry in the right way.

There's a lot of companies that are trying to sell products to IT executives [that] can track and monitor employees that are working remote.

But if IT and HR aren't working through how to implement that technology, [and they] don't manage communication in the workforce correctly about that technology, you run the risk of spending a lot of money on it, alienating your workforce and not getting any benefits.

How should HR be working with managers to help newly remote employees beat isolation and stay productive?

Kropp: One of the important things that companies can do to really engage employees at this point in time is to focus on recognition. There's a lot of employees who feel like they're working really hard, but the manager doesn't realize it anymore. During periods of stress and disruption, the action of recognizing employees matters a lot. That is one of the most important things that you can do to help them become re-engaged and be as productive as possible.

How can workplace communication tools boost productivity and engagement?

Kropp: [Many] employees who work from home report feeling more socially isolated and feel like they've got fewer social connections. By [promoting the use of] certain communication tools -- and not just for work, but for friendship -- is a really important way to help drive employee engagement. Employees just started naturally using [workplace communication tools] for social things since [newly remote employees] aren't getting the chance to get a cup of coffee with someone or go grab lunch.

So [HR and IT] can really try to think about interesting ways from a communication perspective to try and build a social connection.

These workplace communication tools help employees actually do the work. It can create a social connection and give employers a better sense of what's actually going on with those employees and how they're feeling.

What specific workplace communication tools can help coworkers and teams connect when they are feeling isolated?

Kropp: Companies have been using communication tools like Slack and Teams and those have largely become the communication channels of choice for most organizations.

Are these tools enough to keep employees productive?

Knopp: The problem is a lot of these online tools are really designed for communication, not work. So what [HR] needs to be thinking about, because it certainly appears that we're going to be in this situation potentially for months, is [finding tools to] enable better peer-to-peer interactions and better team-based work, because those types of tools are going to be the most important to get people to work together.

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