Dear HR Executive:

The pandemic has already radically changed the workforce in the U.S. Nearly 40% of all employees are working remotely at the moment. There seems to be little doubt that there will be a continued shift towards working outside of the office, even after the pandemic subsides to a tolerable level.

This change necessitates a need to develop new skills. Managing virtual employees, teams and projects, is not a skill set that has been widespread with HR in most industries. However, the times require that you embrace the unfamiliar and incorporate new kinds of employee training and engagement.

The most challenging aspect of the new virtual workplace will be the collaborative process. Its success will likely have the greatest impact in the short term. If your employees fail to work together even while they’re physically apart, then essentially everything else will grind to a halt.

To frame it another way, while individuals may believe they benefit from working remotely, teams and projects will likely not benefit. The work place has not been designed for the proposed percentage of people that may no longer come into the office. The office rituals and nuances that have become part of the success of firms and their work flows will need to be rethought.

However, that redesign will likely occur after there is a breakdown. Then, only after the breakdown, will new processes be brought into play and they will likely require time to evolve, all impacting efficiencies and effecting top and bottom line. That is, unless you anticipate the potential breakdown, and act accordingly.

New hiring initiatives may also include a closer examination of the WAHQ (Work-At-Home-Quotient) as individuals and teams are examined for their likely ability to be wired to work effectively in a virtual environment. Assessing a prospective employee can be done in a number of ways, including references, interviews (virtual, of course) and aptitude tests that measure social skills and empathy levels. Equally important is looking at the career trajectory and goals that prospective employees have for themselves as well.

Changing the playing field is going to change the learning curve. Does being remote from “corporate” mean being out of the circle of influence? Individuals who took non-salaried positions and contract work in the past, found this to be one of the challenges to their career advancement.

How will employees be mentored virtually and who will be able to do it? Mentoring from afar takes more time and deliberate scheduling versus the on-the-job mentoring which can occur in real time.

However, the first step is recognizing the challenge. I’ll have more thoughts on solutions to the problems of remote working in the coming weeks.