HR Technology in a Remote Work Environment

Last year I spoke at the Garden State SHRM Conference on “Creating the New OnLine Experience for Your Workforce”, just months before the first COVID-19 case in China. Back then no one knew how the virus would significantly change the way we work and manage employment, making businesses’ on-line interactions more critical than ever.

Companies that had already moved their processes and communications on-line were better prepared for the transition to remote work that was required in the U.S. starting in March 2020. For other companies it was much more difficult. With the exception of healthcare providers and first responders, the virus shut down most in-person service delivery, forcing the majority of organizations to close company locations and transition to working virtually. Many organizations that could not work remotely and/or were impacted economically by the pandemic started layoffs, furloughs and reduced work hours, and face possible closure.

The past focus by HR Technology professionals to implement online HR service delivery and systems for talent and workforce management, better prepared organizations for today’s reality. From recruitment through retirement we’ve moved the paper-based personnel processes to HR systems for secure access anywhere and anytime. Meanwhile, the new online consumer experience (e.g., FaceBook, GrubHub, YouTube, Amazon, Venmo, Google Home, Yelp, etc.) has changed workers’ expectations for connecting with their organizations and HR interactions.

The Coronavirus required the shift from on-site to remote work to happen overnight. In person meetings have been moved to web conferencing; interviews are conducted by phone and video chats, and workplace conversations have moved from the over the cubicle to Skype or texts. Sharing paper and physical sign-off is now impossible, and so we rapidly implemented on-line replacements to any remaining manual processes.

In response to the virus, HR and IT needed to quickly orient their workforce to remote work. Many organizations started with blast notifications sent to home/work email addresses and phone numbers informing employees to not come into the office. HR advised all managers, setting expectations and instructions for managing their teams remotely. IT Service Desks provided support on how to connect from home and conduct all operations virtually.

Social distancing may be needed for many more months and remote work maybe years considering that on-site work cannot resume to ‘normal’ until there’s a vaccine, herd immunity, or sufficient and timely testing. Therefore, HR technology must expand on their support of their organizations during this crisis. Here are some solutions you can implement quickly, with many vendors now offering free apps and online resources to help organizations.

  • Move your remaining paper-based forms online. If your company doesn’t offer desktop PDF Editor software to you, there are many free PDF Editor apps available for online use (i.e., You can take any form you receive and print it to PDF (using Microsoft Print to PDF or another PDF software on your desktop). Then using the PDF Editor software type in any edits. If your forms require signatures, PandaDoc is now providing free unlimited documents and eSignatures for your organization’s sign-off processes. DigiSigner also offers a free solution. Many other vendors are offering free trials, such as DocuSign and eSign PDF.
  • Offer on-line training for remote workforce productivity. LinkedIn has 16 free on-demand courses for “Remote Working – Setting Yourself and Your Teams Up for Success”. For your HR team, Workable has an HR Toolkit on their site for how to manage the remote workforce during the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Support virtual collaboration within your company and with your teams. In addition to Zoom’s offering of a free service, there are many vendors opening their apps to the public at no costs.
    • This audio/video conferencing app has been free since 2001. With the COVID-19 pandemic they’re expanding their capacity and therefore appreciate customers contributing any amount for their service. Phone calls are provided with toll numbers; however, you can buy toll-free services.
    • Google Hangouts & Google Meet: As of April 29th, Google started rolling out Google Meet – their premium video conferencing product for free to anyone with a Google account. Google Hangouts continues to be free in the U.S. and Canada and also offers low international rates.
    • Microsoft Teams: Microsoft aims to keep teams connected while they work apart by making Microsoft Teams available (including a free version) to as many people as possible. Teams allows you to chat, meet, call, and collaborate all in one place. Microsoft is also offering academic organizations, student and teachers, and some non-profits Office 365 for free, which includes Teams.
  • Move recruiting activities out of the office and on-line. For organizations that have not implemented a hiring freeze, and those that need to hire essential workers their recruiting is mostly being conducted virtually.
    • Recruiting Daily is offering a resource page, which shares articles, press releases, and resources for effective recruiting practices during the pandemic.
    • HiringSolved for their desire to remove any barriers for those who are hiring the front-line responders to this pandemic, they’re offering their products including their sourcing tool Prophet, free of charge through the end of 2020 to organizations recruiting for COVID-19 related efforts.
    • Indeed has resources for employers at on navigating the world of remote work.
  • HR can manage employee issues related to the virus with web applications.
    • HR Acuity is providing free access to a limited version of their employee relations platform.
    • Humu, a company that specializes in encouraging productivity within remote workforces, is providing free nudges (short, scientifically backed email suggestions to help you work from home) during the coronavirus outbreak.
    • ServiceNow: ServiceNow is giving government agencies and customers free access to apps designed to help them respond to the coronavirus faster and more efficiently.
      • Emergency Self Report: Enable your employees to notify you of their changing health status.
      • Emergency Response Operations: Optimize resources and staff in critical locations; coordinate how to assign, schedule, and activate resources down to the employee, activity, and day.
      • Emergency Outreach: Enables employers to quickly notify employees of important information in the event of an emergency, such as COVID-19.
      • Emergency Exposure Management: Enables organizations to identify employees who may have been exposed to infectious diseases, such as the COVID-19 virus, by analyzing an impacted employee’s meetings and locations.
  • Workforce Management to report and monitor remote work: As employees no longer start and end their day in the office, the line between work and personal life is blurred. In addition, since management and staff are not in the same location, technology to monitor employees is needed. For employees paid by the hour, most Workforce/Time Management systems allow employees to ‘clock in/out’ from their computers, when an on-site time clock cannot be used. Many systems can be configured to only allow clocking from company devices within the organizations network.Connecting team communication software, such as Skype for Business or Microsoft Teams to your organizations Outlook or other email/calendar platform, allows managers and teams to better collaborate remotely. You’ll see when an employee is connected to their virtual workplace and when they’re in meetings. Managers can check-in with their staff and quickly arrange video chats or desktop sharing. Its also a great way for teams to work together and share information with IM’s.There are also several time-clock options available for free for remote workers to track their time from their own devices. For example Time Clock Wizard offers a free version for unlimited users with an app for IOS and Android operating systems. Clockify also provides a web or mobile device employee time clock app at no cost. It allows tracking by project and recording billable hours.

While there are so many challenges for employers during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s great to see vendors offering their free solutions to help us be successful with our remote work. This is just a short list, so keep searching the web to find ways vendors are offering to support you and your organization.

We must also think of the future of work, with the realization that the new normal even after the pandemic has passed, will be different than the mostly on-premises work of the past. Therefore, we need to invest in HR Technology that will allow virtual HR service delivery and workforce collaboration to provide competitive advantages to our organizations. This is a good time for HR Technologists to review their system roadmaps to focus on implementing solutions supporting the global virtual workplace. Remember, while we are practicing Social Distancing, we are all in this together!

Jessa Kilgore

Jessa Kilgore is an industry leader with more than 25 years of increasing Human Resources Information Systems contributions, advising businesses on the use of technology to enable business strategy and execution. She is a known leader in human capital management systems (HCMS) industry speaking nationally and published globally on industry trends. Jessa is the past chair and founding Board Director of the Professional Exchange of HR Solutions (PEHRS) and former Board Director for IHRIM, and now is the WSR’s Co-Managing Editor. In her career, she has worked as both an independent consultant, implementing HR and workforce systems, and as an in-house leader of HR systems and operations management. Currently, she manages the global HR technology environment for Orrick Herrington & Sutcliff LLP. She can be reached at [email protected].

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