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Stay Productive, Stay Competitive

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The employment landscape is shifting beneath our feet. Every day brings new challenges for HR professionals as we adjust to the new norm of living—and working—with COVID-19.

But two things have remained constant. We need to hire and retain the best workers and we need to support them in being as productive as possible.

Technology has provided many of the critical accommodations HR professionals are relying on to maintain business as usual in the most unusual times.

But as business people, we need to recognize that our current circumstances may well become forever circumstances.

For a variety of reasons, including employee preference and employers documenting productivity improvement, remote workforces, in some form, are here to stay.

So one question we should be asking ourselves is this: are you accessing—and sharpening—all of the arrows in your high-tech quiver to achieve your twin goals of remaining productive and competitive?

Keep Data Flowing Quickly

Few things can ruin a remote worker’s day like a pokey internet connection—or worse, one that goes down at the most inopportune moment. Now that everyone on your staff is relying on the internet, it behooves you to make sure they have the best possible internet service provider.

While you may not be accustomed to paying employees for business-related expenses, there is some question whether employers are responsible for supplying the “tools of the trade” employees must now rely on while working remotely. In some states, including Illinois, California, Montana, and the District of Columbia, reimbursement for such expenses is mandatory. Some companies, notably Google, are trying to offset the financial burdens newly-remoted employees are bearing now with home-office stipends.

Some internet service providers have also stepped up to the plate with enhanced enterprise solutions to help companies manage the switch to a remote workforce. How is your organization responding? Should you be looking at regulations in your state to remain compliant? Have you thought of seeking out a company-wide provider for internet access? Perhaps you should consider adding reimbursement for internet service to your list of benefits in order to maintain your loyal employees—the ones who are weathering this crisis with you—and attract top candidates.

IT Security Challenges Raised by COVID-19

Over the past several years, most people have gained an enhanced awareness of cybercrime and cybersecurity. But there’s a good chance your employees aren’t implementing the level of cybersecurity at home that your organization needs to protect itself from cyber threats.

HR professionals may want to collaborate on a survey of all remote employees to gain a sense of how great the risk is. Ideally, all employees should have access to a secure VPN connection. Consider, too, that the average business user has more than 60 passwords to keep track of.

By far the greatest number of cybersecurity breaches can be traced back to hacked passwords. You may want to consider mandating the use of password managers, which automatically practice good password hygiene on your employees’ behalf.

Short of that, a refresher on good password hygiene might be in order. The rules are pretty basic, though sometimes time-consuming to follow. Passwords should be long and complex. They should never re-used across accounts or repeated over time. They should be changed monthly and never shared.

Keep Track of People, Not Just Projects

Successful HR managers regularly take the pulse of company employees on a wide range of issues. While it’s true that project management software is the high-tech tool employees love to hate, they’re more critical than ever before. So listen carefully to what employees are saying about the system you use. You might find that employees are grateful for the structure these programs provide.

Alternatively, you may uncover a common sense of frustration with one or more aspects of your software package. The point is to find out whether your system is serving you well under the stress of the coronavirus.

While right in the middle of a pandemic may not be the best time to replace your software, it might be time to optimize the system you have. Are you taking advantage of the most recent upgrades to your system? Sometimes all that stands in the way of an employee thriving under the structure of PM software is a little education.

PM software companies are generally delighted to help employees learn the ins and outs of their systems. They’re more than willing to put in the time it takes to make experts out of users. Nowadays, by Zoom meeting, of course.

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Recruiting, Retaining, and Rewarding

Even with record unemployment rates troubling the nation, it’s still a competitive world out there. Smart employers are looking toward the future and positioning their organizations for success when the economy rebounds.

That means both attracting and keeping top-tier employees. Now might be time to focus on enhancing your recruitment practices. With wages expected to remain relatively stagnant, beefing up your employee benefits package in the ways that are most relevant to today’s employees may give you a leg up in the competition for premier talent.

Check Your Checker

The use of background checks is both necessary and nearly universal in today’s business world. The availability of online background checkers has been a boon, especially to large employers.

Typically, HR professionals look at background checkers from the perspective of their own companies’ safety. That’s certainly a legitimate way to use them. But background checkers differ in the type of experience they deliver to prospective employees. Do you know what kind of impression the background checker you use leaves on candidates? It’s worth investigating. Initial impressions can make or break a relationship.

The Benefits that Counts Right Now

The coronavirus is a threat not only to our physical health, but to our mental health. Researchers are reporting a greater incidence of anxiety and depression worldwide. Your employees, needless to say, aren’t immune to this trend.

The mental health profession has adapted to the coronavirus by finding innovative ways to deliver mental health services while maintaining social distancing. Online therapy, delivered via video, phone, text chat and email, which was once the domain of a small percentage of mental health practitioners, has become the norm as the pandemic has raged on. Many employee health plans, including some that once didn’t, now cover telemedicine. That makes sense, because in many cases, it’s the only medicine we have.

So it’s a good time to re-educate employees on their mental health benefits and let them know that they can access mental health resources even—and especially—during the pandemic.

Mental health professionals have long recognized financial stress as a common underlying cause of anxiety, depression, and even suicide. Facing coronavirus-driven downsizing and 401Ks devastated by the stock market crash, many employees are experiencing extreme financial uncertainty. While online therapy may help employees manage through their emotional stress, practical tools that allow them to take charge of their finances can knock the stress out at the source.

Financial wellness benefits are more germane than ever. Many employers are providing access to financial experts to help employees manage student loan and other debt, retirement savings, and more. Some employers have added robo advisors, investment advisors powered by artificial intelligence, to their list of financial wellness benefits.

Simple Things Mean More Now

From office baby showers to birthday cakes in the company kitchen to acknowledging work anniversaries, working remotely has curtailed many of the activities that used to bond teams outside the context of shared projects. But technology can help build a sense of connection even during these disconnected times. Consider scheduling Beer Friday as a Zoom meeting. Order a dozen cupcakes online and have them sent to a staff member marking a professional milestone. Even when it’s delivered digitally, the human touch still matters.

This article is written by Susan Doktor. She is a journalist and business strategist who hails from New York City. Susan writes, guest-, and ghost-blogs on a wide range of topics including finance, technology, human resources, and marketing communications. Follow her on Twitter @branddoktor. For any related queries, contact editor@vantagecircle.com