Small Business HR Tips for Remote Working Teams in 2020


by Jennifer C. Loftus

The year 2020 has been unpredictable for everyone. With a global pandemic discouraging non-essential in-person meetings, small businesses like yours have likely moved to a remote working situation in order to keep up with health and safety guidelines. This can bring up some unique challenges for small business leaders in terms of employee productivity and engagement.

Whether you’ve just started your small business or you’ve been in the game for a while, remote working is only really effective when there are established processes in place for employee communications and productivity. This has caused many businesses, especially smaller ones, to rethink their current human resources strategy and refine internal processes to keep up with the common challenges of remote work. 

It’s important to remember that HR plays many roles that affect your employees. A fully fleshed out and well-rounded HR strategy is a huge factor in ensuring stability and healthy growth for your business, especially in terms of employee engagement and retention. In times of hardship and uncertainty like now, refining your current HR plan is likely even more crucial to maintaining operations.

At Astron Solutions, they often help small organizations and nonprofits create human resources and compensation strategies that grow as they do. With more than 20 years of experience, they know how important HR is to the health of any business, and believe they can bring some insight to those now dealing with new challenges around remote work. Consider the following HR tips:

  1. Set expectations for communication.
  2. Establish internal reporting processes.
  3. Keep your team motivated to work.
  4. Educate yourself and employees on future impacts.

As the world experiences new disruptions every day, it’s important that your work environment (even a virtual one) continues to be productive and engaging. Prioritizing your HR strategy and taking actionable steps is key to mitigating the challenges of remote working. Let’s begin.

1. Set expectations for communication. 

With small businesses, there are fewer individuals to communicate with, making it easier to be familiar with each team player and for the entire workforce to be on the same page. Of course, one downside to remote working is the lack of face-to-face communication between team members. While email can be helpful, it’s hard to replace the ease of simply turning around or walking to the office next door to ask a question. 

One of HR’s biggest roles is to facilitate employee engagement. Engagement can be easily stunted when there’s a lack of active communication. Without the day-to-day conversations that come with being in-office, how can your HR strategy establish and maintain protocols to ensure that employees and managers continue to update each other on projects and new developments?

Before you send your team home to work remotely, it’s a good idea to set clear expectations for communications during this time. If you’ve already been working remotely for a while, it’s never too late to make some updates to your approach. 

Whether you decide to only use email or take advantage of other work from home tools to facilitate internal engagement, your expectations should include guidelines for how team members communicate with one another in certain situations. For instance, consider setting expectations for the following scenarios:

  • Send out mass emails to update relevant employees on new organization- or department-wide developments
  • Call team members if there is ever an urgent and time-sensitive issue
  • Have weekly video meetings with the whole team to keep them updated on overarching business issues and progress
  • Implement a response time-frame that team members must adhere to based on certain situations
  • Maintain a system for team members to get visibility into one another’s daily tasks, like a web-based project management system or even a running spreadsheet

Setting communication expectations like these provides employees with a clear understanding of how they should perform their roles and engage with each other while working remotely. This way, team members know exactly how they should communicate important developments and stay connected with others at your business.

2. Establish internal reporting processes.

Without being in the office every day, it can be difficult for managers to fully understand what employees accomplish during a workday. However, this can be mediated by establishing internal reporting processes for your employees.

Providing clear steps for how your team can report the tasks they’ve started and completed is important for understanding organizational progress.  In addition, goal achievement is an effective way for you to fairly compensate your team. Employee compensation is one of the most important elements that HR might handle in businesses of any size. Made up of both direct (salary and bonuses) and indirect compensation (benefits and company culture), your compensation strategy directly relates to how your business attracts, engages, retains, and develops your top team members. 

As your organization adapts to remote working and this new normal, it’s worth it to review your current incentive-based compensation programs if your business uses them. If you’ve recently set or already have established incentive programs, having a dedicated way for employees to report their progress is integral. For instance, you don’t want someone putting 150% effort and dedication into a project without you fully recognizing their effort. This leads to a negative work experience and can be detrimental to your employee retention rates. 

While incentive-based programs are a great way to motivate some employees and maximize the money your small business saves, they can also be challenging in times of economic downturn. For example, if the incentives are based on a number of sales made, this goal might not be as feasible now. 

Instead, prioritize activities that will actually make revenue amidst the coronavirus impacts, and put a pause on quota-based variable compensation plans. Head towards a more straightforward compensation model now to offset any of the negative variables due to economic downturns.

Throughout it all, having the resources to effectively report accomplishments is key to knowing everyone is getting compensated fairly, especially when working remotely. As a small business leader, establish daily check-ins with direct reports or set guidelines on how to record tasks within spreadsheets or through your management system. Effective time-tracking and progress reporting also is essential if your business is subject to specific overtime regulations.

Regardless of your business’s particular context, if your employees are hitting their goals and working hard, that effort needs to be recognized.

3. Keep your team motivated to work.

As you know, employee compensation is a huge component of your overall HR strategy. We already discussed the importance of direct compensation, but it can come with additional challenges due to tighter budgets and a lack of economic stability. With this in mind, consider taking a total rewards approach to your compensation plan.

A large managerial risk is to not focus enough on indirect compensation. While direct compensation does impact employees, it’s often the more indirect forms that ultimately drive your employees’ engagement and productivity. With a total rewards approach to compensation, you give equal attention to indirect forms, providing benefits like health care or a 401k, as well as other employee perks like company events and wellness programs.

These indirect compensation efforts are effective motivators for employees to continue their work and find value in it. For one thing, providing benefits like a health plan or a 401k plan show employees that your business is prepared to support them for the long haul. Further, other perks like an engaging company culture ensure individuals feel connected to both their job and other team members. 

What are some of the top ways you can emphasize your indirect forms of compensation? Consider these reliable strategies:

  • Implement an instant rewards program for those who show exemplary behavior and efforts. Consider non-cash rewards, like gift cards or extra vacation days to use on a future date.
  • Offer additional remote wellness benefits that make sense during this time. For example, resources for virtual yoga or workout sessions. 
  • Revise the overtime policy to ensure that those who do the extra work get recognized for that effort.
  • Provide flexible working hours. Now that everyone is working remotely, it might be a good idea to offer more flexible hours for them.
  • Offer corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. According to Double the Donation, many companies are actually expanding their CSR programs right now. Nonprofits and others will need more relief than ever. Supporting the causes your employees care about is a great way to boost engagement and strengthen your brand.

Revising or reviewing your compensation program in light of working remotely will likely be crucial to ensure that your employees find value in their work while still enjoying a healthy, ethical work-life balance. It’s hard to engage your team or host culture events when you’re not physically present, so implementing one or more of the strategies above can help keep your culture and engagement on track.

4. Educate yourself and employees on future impacts.

To truly prepare your business for managing employees working remotely, you need to fully understand exactly how COVID-19 will affect your HR practices going forward. With new legislation and health guidelines, you need to ensure that you’re staying updated and that any new HR decisions reflect those changes.

For instance, once it was clear that COVID-19 would have a large and detrimental impact on our global economy, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). In addition to those two acts, here are some other pieces of existing legislation that are most likely to affect small businesses and organizations like yours:

  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). As a part of the CARES Act, this was created to help smaller businesses through loans that cover salaries, health benefits, office rent, and utilities. While the initial rollout of this program had its challenges, the government is continuing to roll out different phases of the plan to continue to help those who didn’t receive aid in the first round. Stay on top of new developments around the PPP if this program sounds like a smart move for your business. 
  • Federal Paid Sick Leave. As part of the FFCRA, this was created to protect those who needed to take sick leave during this time and ensure they get compensated fairly. This could help your staff members who have to care for a sick family member or need to quarantine at home, and it reassures them that they’ll still receive benefits during this time.
  • Expanded FMLA Leave. Also a part of the FFCRA, this was created to help employees with underage children whose schools have been impacted by COVID-19. This will greatly relieve the stress of your workers who are parents.
  • WARN Act. This existing regulation protects those who might be affected by mass layoffs. Due to economic instability, many businesses have unfortunately had to layoff valuable employees to maintain operations. Even if such an outcome doesn’t seem likely for your own business, it’s still a good idea to review the WARN Act as well as relevant local laws to understand your responsibilities and protections as an employer.
  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This federal act was created to ensure that there’s a base standard for how employees should be compensated, including minimum wage guidelines and overtime qualifications. With a shift to remote work, there needs to be extra consideration to ensure that your workers are still being compensated fairly as well as taking normal work breaks, within the constraints of federal, state, and local laws. 

Having a clear understanding of the new and existing legislation that will affect your small business is crucial to best planning your HR strategy for the future. This way, you mitigate any risks and ensure that your workforce is fairly compensated and motivated to work.

For more in-depth help on how to approach your HR strategy amidst working remotely, consider working with an HR consulting firm. With aid from professionals, you can get personal insight on how to manage your remote working team and grow your business.

The transition to working remotely is difficult for businesses of all sizes, especially so for smaller ones. With challenges in employee communication and questions on fairly compensating workers, you likely have to revise your HR strategies in order to adapt to this new normal. Hopefully, our guide helped provide some guidance and gave you the insights needed to begin implementing process and policy changes as needed for your business. Good luck!

*Jennifer C. Loftus is a Founding Partner of and National Director for Astron Solutions, a compensation consulting firm. Jennifer has 23 years of experience garnered at organizations including the Hay Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Eagle Electric Manufacturing Company, and Harcourt General.

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