HR tech has witnessed a phenomenal growth spree in the last ten years. Be it performance management, OKRs, pulse surveys, learning and development, or employee experience, there have been some amazing products, HR tech companies, and tech HR conferences. Organizations and teams have finally started to realize the benefits of investing in their people and culture.
Then came Covid 19.
While the entire world struggled with this deadly pandemic, companies and teams were overnight required to adopt a style of working that was till now mainly viewed as a perk in some "Bay Area tech companies."
Remote work. And after a while, when Covid 19 started to recede, hybrid work.
Teams, leaders, and managers who had so far only worked in the same offices were suddenly working from home, having frequent Zoom calls to take decisions, hiring remote teams without ever seeing them, and battling The Great Resignation more recently.
This is a BIG change. It takes conscious and targeted effort for teams to adapt to remote work (or hybrid work). And this is here to stay. Over 11000 remote and hybrid companies have been founded in the past year alone! Estimating an average size of even 20 people per company, that's 220000 new people working in remote teams or hybrid teams in 1 year.
While remote and hybrid teams get to enjoy greater flexibility, avoid the rush hour traffic, and spend time with their loved ones, they also struggle big time on managing collaboration, on-the-job & social learning, onboarding new joiners, managing performance, creating authentic connections, motivating teams, and a lot more. Sumit Neogi, Director HR for Lubrizol Asia Pacific and the Middle East says "Remote work comes with its own set of challenges. When people don't get to see each other and build connections, teamwork suffers greatly."
But why is existing HR tech not able to address these challenges? And more importantly, how can you and your teams step up to get past these obstacles?
The existing HR tech landscape is largely divided into HRMS platforms that handle the transactional activities of HR (attendance, payroll, leaves management, etc.) and vertically focused platforms (performance management, upskilling, employee experience, etc.).
But most of these platforms share one thing in common: they were all built for in-office teams.
The existing HR tech products have their roots much before the pandemic and the way they are designed reflects the working styles of the pre-pandemic time. They are simply not built to address the challenges remote and hybrid teams are facing today because well, these challenges did not exist at such a scale even a couple of years back.
So it's not only about a lack of features, more importantly, it's about a lack of perspective.
We all know and see how work has changed in general. But there have been even more fundamental shifts in how teams and organizations operate at the base level.
In-office teams rely entirely on visual cues (you see how a person is behaving or reacting to you), body language (their body language tells you more about what they are thinking rather than their words), and frequent in-person communication (you quickly go over to your colleague's cubicle or to the break room to discuss about projects, informal banter and so on).
In the absence of all 3, collaboration, communication, and performance are breaking down or worse, leading to mass burnouts. Leaders and managers are getting more frustrated when they are trying to replicate in-office practices in their remote teams and realizing it's just not going to work.
Let's take a simple example of performance management. A typical PMS platform works on the assumptions that people will set or cascade their goals, work together in teams, log in their results from time to time, and then get reviewed/ calibrated by their managers.
But the 2nd biggest problem remote and hybrid teams are facing today in performance management is giving visibility of work and updates to each other. Managers can't just stroll up and ask for updates anymore. They have to either call, text, or set up a meeting. All 3, after a point of time, seem overbearing and akin to micromanagement. Team members start resenting these frequent check-ins while managers end up with no visibility.
Enter HR tech 2021. The HR tech companies and products founded in 2020 and 2021 have started focusing on these shifts rather than simply adding new features to existing HR tech.
Be it Murmur who is looking into informal employee agreements about acceptable practices in remote teams or Klaar which helps remote and hybrid teams to develop stronger bonds, these products have gradually started to address the fundamental shifts in behavior. While selecting your HR Tech stack, the 3 questions you should definitely ask are
Was this product at all built for remote and hybrid teams? Does it address the fundamental differences in the ways of working between remote, hybrid teams and teams in offices?
Similar to the performance management example, a lot of products that were built for in-office teams have tried to replicate the in-office workflows for remote and hybrid teams. Does it take into account that remote teams don't have the luxury of visual inputs, might be working asynchronously, and have a much more difficult time to experience a sense of belonging?
Remote and hybrid teams spend almost all of their working hours in front of their laptops. The screen is an additional interface that teams in offices are not subjected to all the time. Because of this, remote and hybrid teams have a lower threshold for platforms that they don't enjoy using as compared to teams in offices. Take a trial if possible and do try to figure out how comfortable your teams are in using it. The success of your people initiatives is heavily dependent on how quickly your remote, hybrid teams start using the platform and how frequently are they using it.
On top of this, you can take 3 additional steps to ensure that your hybrid and remote teams are able to give their best every single day.
Bonds are first formed through informal interactions. They strengthen when we find people who have had shared experiences and beliefs. To build and manage a high-performing team, it is essential that your team feels attached to the organization, each other and the goals themselves. There is no better way to do that than informal connects where your team members get to know you and each other better.
Nobody feels great with limited visibility. And this problem is even more pronounced in remote teams. As a people manager, leader, you need to make conscious efforts to help people show how their work is making an impact on you, the team, function and the organization. We have heard from over 300 people how this access to meaning immediately generates ownership and a greater sense of belief and attachment towards the organization. Here’s how you can lead with purpose.
One of the biggest pain points of hybrid teams is that people who are not in office start feeling overlooked and maybe even marginalized. This is a surefire way of fostering negative emotions within the team which would ultimately rear its ugly head in affecting performance. You need to consciously ensure that people get access to the same opportunities irrespective of where they are working from; be it access to part time projects, full time roles, mentors, upskilling opportunities and so on. Your team needs to view you as a just leader who does not differentiate between working from anywhere and working from office.
The last few months have shown just how rapid and harmful burnouts can be for employee morale and overall performance. It is time for leaders to invest in tools which address the root causes of burnout and the change in working style of hybrid and remote teams. Even if it means moving away from legacy tools or taking the pains to change an already existing system, this is the cornerstone of your teams’ present and future success.