A Few Considerations for Remote “Team Engagement”

remote work from home

Even as we grapple, globally, with the containment and fight of the pandemic, there are many lovely things happening as a result of the ‘Rona. One thing I’ve noticed is how my neighbors on Nextdoor are less passive-aggressive and actually being, well, neighborly! No doubt you’ve seen (or maybe even participated in) activities like:  

  • Group sing alongs in places ranging from balconies in Italy to neighborhoods in Philadelphia
  • Teddy Bear Hunts for the kids in the neighborhood
  • Kids writing letters/drawing pictures to send to residents in nursing homes

On the work front, of course, the deployment of numerous cubicle-dwellers to a new #WorkFromHome arrangement has resulted in:

  • Thousands upon thousands of blog posts and articles about how to “work from home”
  • Massive growth and usage for Zoom’s teleconferencing software and Microsoft’s cloud-computing solutions
  • Lots of snacking and day-drinking

There’s also been a lot of scrambling, by managers of these newly virtual workers, to find ways to maintain a sense of camaraderie and connection for their teams. Tips and hints are shared across social media channels as managers and HR leaders promote holding:

  • Group coffee chats and Happy Hours 
  • Scavenger Hunts (in the house)
  • Game night with trivia, bingo or “two truths and a lie
  • Group lunch gatherings 

The efforts to do these things are lovely and it’s wonderful that managers realize the importance of the human-to-human connection. However, a word of warning is in order.

Just as no one wants to have to be at the office (building) for extended hours, no one wants to have to be at the virtual office for hours on end. Even in the best of times it’s often a challenge for those who WFH to shut-it-down and draw a distinction between work time/home-time. And now, during this strange-new time when people have been sent to WFH, often with no preparation or planning, it’s more challenging than ever. I fear that for many the pressure to be “always available” is already strong, even while emanating from a place of good intentions, and will only increase as our #StayAtHome situation lingers. 

So here are a few tips for managers and HR leaders:

  • Rather than institute a group lunch (“let’s all bring our sandwich and get on a Zoom call together!”), allow your team members to take a REAL lunch break so they can get up from their work station. Encourage them to walk around the block, play with their dog, do a few stretching exercises, or take a power nap. 
  • Happy Hour is fun; for some. Just as when you gather for an in-person Happy Hour, not everyone may want to attend…and that’s….OK.  Make it acceptable for your team members to bow out, no explanations necessary.

Keeping your team connected is more important than ever…but a little team-distancing, just like social distancing, is OK.

*****

Note: the great folks at Workhuman have made their Life-Events and Conversations Products available to all organizations in response to COVID-19 crisis. Check it out here.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

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A New Normal (?) for the Employee Performance Review

Facebook has announced, via an internal memo, that Mark Zuckerberg sent to employees earlier this week, they would be paying a $1,000 bonus to every employee to help during the coronavirus outbreak. In addition, Zuckerberg also said the company will pay contractors in full even if they are unable to do their work from home.

In addition, the company said it would give all employees an “exceeds” rating for their first six-month review of 2020. At Facebook, as at other companies, these ratings tie directly to bonuses and, according to reports, could result in all full-time employees earning significant bonuses.

Kudos to Facebook; of course they have the money so can afford to do this. But it’s still affirming to see employers (of all sizes) that are doing what they can from a financial support perspective at this unprecedented time.  

To me however the most interesting aspect of this is the use of the performance review to “get cash in hand” to employees. While getting managers to do 9-Box grids and “performance feedback sessions” is the absolute last thing HR professionals are focusing on right-this-moment, it DOES raise questions for when we come out the other end of this.

Among other things, this maneuver brought to mind:

  • When the performance review is directly tied to compensation (and, apparently the only mechanism for determining bonus level) we now have a company outright acknowledging that ratings can be ‘manipulated’ to give an employee a desired raise or bonus.
  • In HR we have worked diligently over the years to fight manager bias (calibration meetings!). We’ve created convoluted programs and valiantly messaged to employees that everything is “fair.” Now, however, they can say “see! It IS easy to adjust the rating to give me a raise!” (or withhold one….)
  • Will 2020 be the year when no employee – at any company – around the world – has an official/documented performance review?  Who is going to have time for that crap? Companies are in survival mode right now and will be for the remainder of the year.
  • Will the evaluation of job performance shift towards the best-it-could-be out of necessity? Right now we have managers providing continuous, immediate, face-to-face (or camera to camera) feedback. No need for forms, checklists and laborious processes.
  • What creative finagling will HR professionals have to go through to adjust their 2020 performance review process one we hit the end of the year?   

The business exercise of annual (or quarterly or semi-annual) performance reviews is not, nor should it be, what we’re thinking about right now. But we will.

Maybe this really will be the death of the performance review.

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Realism vs. Idealism: Why HR Should Tilt at Windmills

I’ve worked in HR for decades and I want to tell you a secret.

For all our chatter about the transformation of HR, the new and elevated role of the HR leader, and the name change from CHRO to Chief People Officer, we are still, by and large, doing the same shit, in much the same way, that we did it (back at the dawn of time) when I took my first gig on an HR team. 

That’s a broad sweeping statement of course. Many of you will ridicule this sentiment and cry that it’s a bit of a generalization. “Take a look at the innovation happening amongst contemporary HR professionals!” you may say.  I don’t completely disagree with that viewpoint; there certainly ARE people and organizations moving HR forward as captured in this excellent Fast Company article by my friend Lars Schmidt – “7 Ways HR Looks Different in 2020.”  As he points out “HR is a spectrum. While the majority of the field is somewhere in the middle, the leading edge of HR is having a transformational impact on business.” He also acknowledges that modern people teams/practices are a “subset” of that spectrum.

It may appear as if the visionaries are tilting at windmills. Yet some of the enemies of progressive HR are all-too-real and not imaginary at all. I love it when HR professionals take a quixotic approach even though it’s usually not easy. Yet why do those who push for HR change struggle? What holds more from pushing conventional and outdated practices and thinking to the side? In my estimation there are 4 types of people who keep our shoes nailed to the floor:

Those who decide they “don’t need” HR  

You know these people and these organizations. It makes sense when a small business with less than 10 employees realizes they don’t require a full-time HR leader (the wise ones of course engage a consultant or tap into resources as needed). What’s a bit more mystifying though is when larger organizations opt out and decide that the people-driven side of the business is not worth any attention. Just the other week I had a conversation about a multi-state employer with 150+ employees and zero HR resources. They do not have one single dedicated HR staffer and the Controller “handles” HR.  So while I’m fairly certain (hopeful?) employees are getting their paychecks, with no proactive people strategies it’s probably not the greatest place to work. 

Those who “hire” HR

These are the folks who get the HR they desire – and deserve. They’re also the group that keeps the practice of HR about as relevant as it was circa 1985. You can usually tell when a job posting for an HR Leader has been devised by the CFO/COO/CEO; there’s a laundry list of “tasks” related to compliance, benefits and maybe even payroll – usually capped off with “responsible for employee engagement.” These are the business owners/C-Suite folks who believe the role of HR is to navigate the complexities of employees’ medical bills, host pizza parties and run an “employee of the month” program.  

Those who “direct” HR

There is no one who holds her team and organization back from modern workplace realities than the #LegacyHRLady. While she’s often a lovely person, Linda the HR Lady was trained how to practice HR 30 years ago and sees no reason to change. She’s fearful of technology, sees no need to automate or streamline outdated busy-work processes, and  firmly believes that “HR’s role is to protect the company.” She has long been convinced that every applicant, employee and manager is forever looking to “get away with” something nefarious so she adds policy after policy to her already voluminous Employee Handbook while simultaneously devising ways to “catch” employees breaking the rules.

Those who “do” HR 

Linda the HR Lady has, of course, trained others who have come behind her and so now Chad, Heather, Jason and Julie are “doing” HR in much the same way. Oh sure, they may be using a new-school ATS with automation, and they’re accustomed to being in touch via Slack throughout their workday (unlike Linda) but they still maintain a distorted view of the role (and value) of HR. Rather than viewing the possibilities the future brings, they quickly became entrenched into legacy HR work by inserting themselves into every EE performance discussion and monitoring the breakroom refrigerator. These are the folks who develop a great sense of self-importance when they assume the power of rejecting job applicants or insist on personally delivering an “employee write up” to Shanna in A/P because she came to work with purple hair.  

It’s like quicksand; continuing to suck us down. 

So for those of you mired in the cautious and sober world of hum-drum HR I encourage you to ponder:

  • “What would the ideal practice of HR look like?”
  • “If I strive to make things better (for HR) how can that also make my workplace, and the world, a better place?”
  • “Is this change I envision really impossible…or is it, in fact, possible?” 
  • “What’s holding me back from acting for change?”

The phrase “tilting at windmills” often infers that one is pursuing something foolishly impractical; on a quest for something unreachable.

But, my friends, isn’t a bit of tilting worth the effort? 

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‘Tis the Season – Company Holiday Party Memories

I love a good company party. And, at the risk of having my “strategic HR” card permanently revoked, I admit I even enjoy planning them. Over the years I’ve organized everything from sit down service awards galas to parties with DJs, bands and (one time) an improv troupe. I’ve planned picnics for the kids at parks and zoos with the requisite “Executive Dunk Tank” and I’ve coordinated my fair share of potlucks, catered lunches and boozy happy hours.

But nothing beats the company holiday party for, hands-down, the optimal environment for things to go slightly off-the-rails. Maybe it’s the fact that baby Jesus is omnipresent. Perhaps it’s the inevitability of numerous socially awkward staffers making “Santa only comes once a year” jokes. I dunno what it is but there’s something in the air.

So, in honor of the season, here are a few of the more memorable happenings from my company holiday parties over the years. Ho ho ho!

******

Boss: “What are we going to do if someone has too much to drink? We can’t afford to pay for taxis for people.”

Me: “We can have one of the nuns drive them home. Probably Sister Agnes though: Sister Mary Coletta likes her wine.”

******

By 11 pm the booze had been liberally flowing for several hours and people were sufficiently lubricated. Social norms of the office had been discarded and left on the burning trash heap of company protocol.

Jenny, a buxom young lass with a strapless cocktail dress, convinced the usually reserved male CEO to join a frolicking group on the dance floor.

She shimmied and slithered to the club remix of some Top of the Charts song as she repeatedly tossed her arms akimbo and positioned her posterior inches from the CEO for some good old fashioned twerking. With a flourishing twirl she turned to face him, arms over her head….and her dress down around her waist.

Dancing until the song ended some 60 seconds later (“this is my song !!!”) Jenny finally pulled up her dress, tucked in her ample assets, and headed for the bar.

The CEO remained in place on the dance floor in a state of abject confusion for a few moments. As he later confided to me … “I didn’t know where it was safe to look anymore.” 

******

… Overheard at the Employee Xmas Pot Luck …

Joe: “Who made this potato salad?”

Jane: “Karen from Accounting.”

Joe: “Oh hell no. I’m gonna pass. You’ve seen how disgusting and dirty her desk is; can you imagine her kitchen? We’ll all die of botulism.”

******

Setting: upscale venue, seated multi-course dinner, open bar, live band with dancing, suits and cocktail dresses. 6 PM cocktail hour/7 PM dinner/8 PM dancing and frivolity.

Time: approximately 10 PM

Employee: “Miss Robin – I think you need to know that Sally and Betty’s husbands are in the men’s room doing lines of coke” 

(Miss Robin, in full on HR lady mode after 4 hours of cocktailing, takes a quick and purposeful march into the men’s room interrupting not only the snorting party but also random-employee-Joe who is mid-stream at the urinal).

Me: “Guys; I’m glad you’re having fun and I could care less how you celebrate the holiday season but please knock that shit off and clean up this countertop before the big boss comes in here to take a pee.”

The Husbands: “Oops. Sorry. (finish it off). Merry Christmas.”

#LetItSnow

******

Employee (knocking on my office door with a folded slip of paper in her hand): 

“Um….. do you think you can go talk to my manager and tell him we need to redraw names for our department’s Secret Santa? I pulled Sharon’s name (shows me slip of paper) and there’s no way I’m buying her a gift. I hate that bitch.”

******

Employee: “Hey Robin; this is my daughter Trixie who I brought as my guest since my husband had to work”

Robin: “Nice to meet you Trixie; glad you could join us. Having a good time?” 

Trixie: “Yeah this is nice. But I’m in a little pain since I just had my clitoris pierced today.”

Robin: (guzzles martini)

****** 

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How a TYPO Reinforced Company Culture

Working in human resources means that one spends an inordinate amount of time writing and sending out “official” missives and documents to employees. Very important things like policies, handbooks, sternly worded admonishments, and memos about cleaning out the refrigerator.  And while an e-mail informing employees they are not to feed donuts to the alligator (yes; I’ve sent that one) can be cranked out in a minute, some of our HR tomes take considerably longer to complete.

Recently, our HR team has been working on a revision of the Employee Handbook; some additions, a few deletions, and a bit of clarification. You know the drill.

We finished writing and let it marinate for a few days. We did a spell check, several read-throughs and a bit of formatting in order to finally release this magnum opus to the in-boxes of our expectant and eager workforce.  Then, task completed, we settled in to await the satisfying “pings” signifying that acknowledging e-signatures were flooding in from our enthusiastic team members.

Hold the accolades though because (ruh-roh!) we got notification there was a typo. A decent typo too; not something that HR people spell wrong every day like FSLA (fat fingered typing), HIPPA (laziness) or Workman’s Comp (stuck in the 1970’s).

It wasn’t the f-word or anything (which would have really been epic!!) and the employee was not upset or offended by any stretch of one’s imagination. But, had this scenario played out at some of my previous organizations, it would have led to oodles of hyper-ventilating HR ladies running around clutching their pearls while TPTB screamed through the phone lines.

However, as none of our HR team members are particularly fond of pearls and we possess an actual sense of humor we had a better idea. Let’s run a contest!!

So below is what we immediately (well, after 30 minutes of non-stop laughter) sent to all employees: 

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Attention all employees!  

As you know, one of our company values is Embrace That Which is Unusual (meaning we like stuff that’s quirky, offbeat and, well, funny). Another value is Ubiquitous Uniqueness (in other words, the company is made up of HUMAN BEINGS).  

Because we’re human beings (and spell check doesn’t catch EVERYTHING) there’s a little typo in the just released Employee Handbook. And, because we found it hilarious (!), we’ve decided to run a contest:

THE GREAT WORD SEARCH CONTEST RULES

STEP 1: Search the document for the word that, according to the Urban Dictionary, is described thusly:

Synonyms:

1. Most swear words and obscenities.

2. Thrush, herpes, the clap, syphilis, and venereal diseases in general.

3. Anything worthy of the following descriptions: shit, minging, crap, etc.

Usages: 

1. OH xxxxxxx!

2. Oh dear, I think I caught the xxxxxx off old Bertha.

3. This is a pile of rotten xxxxxxx!

STEP 2: Send an email to HRLady1or HRLady2 (by Wednesday 9/25 at 8 AM CST) telling us:

  • The offending word
  • Page number

All entrants will go into a drawing and the winner will receive an Amazon gift card!

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To quote a member of our sales team: “[this is] the first time ever I’m excited to read an employee handbook. You have accomplished the impossible.”

#WinningHR

p.s. we sound fun don’t we? You want to hang out with us, don’t you? If you’re heading to the #HRTechConf in a few weeks, come meet us in person and enjoy a little “Afternoon Delight”

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