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Performing the Core Functions of HR Remotely

By Suzanne Lucas

A human resources department isn't just a team of experts who know how to manage people: it's a team of experts who know how to manage the people in their particular company. Although every successful HR team is unique, most HR folks use similar tried-and-true strategies for keeping things running smoothly. For example, many check in with employees regularly to discuss their goals and offer them development opportunities. Some gauge employee sentiment by observing behavior in the office, and some take managers out for coffee to discuss leadership or succession questions. Whatever strategies they employ, the HR activities that most successfully address problems share one common feature: interfacing with people.

As the business world continues to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, HR teams find themselves having to support employees they haven't seen in person in many months or - in the case of new hires who were onboarded virtually - even at all. Some HR functions, such as paperwork and reporting, can easily be done remotely. But the remote execution of some functions, such as problem solving, employee development, and succession planning, requires more creative thinking.

Understand Employees in Their New Work Environment

When colleagues don't have opportunities to run into each other in the hallway or in line at the cafeteria, it's difficult for them to become acquainted with each other. Under today's challenging conditions, it's more important than ever for HR professionals to get to know employees so they can support them in the new normal. In addition to dealing with work-related problems at the office, team members may also be facing challenges in their home lives. (For example, some employees might be missing work deadlines because they are helping their kids with their remote learning.)

Understanding employees means understanding the nature of their work and the culture of their respective teams. By getting to know employees as individuals, HR professionals can find the best ways to support them. Such support can follow established structural avenues, such as offering parental leave or a flexible schedule. Or it can take the form of smaller, informal actions, such as moving a deadline to a different day of the week.

Provide Learning Tools

On-the-job learning opportunities are always vital for employee development. But they are particularly crucial during this time of massive disruption, when soft skills (such as resilience, the ability to communicate, and productivity) give employees the tools they need to to learn and grow without day-to-day coaching from HR or their managers. By implementing a learning management system, HR can help employees set goals, guide their own development, and access learning materials when they need them. HR must still dedicate time to developing and deploying the appropriate learning content and resources, but centralizing this information and making it widely available can be game changing. Remote work doesn't absolve HR of the responsibility to facilitate employee growth, but technology can actually make that process easier.

Schedule Face-to-Face Time

At this point in the pandemic, everyone is exhausted and stressed by video conferencing.1 But because face-to-face interactions make it possible to get a clearer understanding of how people are doing, video calls are a necessary evil during this time of prolonged physical separation. In order to evaluate how employees are feeling (are they down? are they energetic and motivated?), HR must make use of video calls. Taking a break from the usual video call setup, however, might mitigate some of the stress related to those interactions. For example, instead of having everyone sit in front of their computers in their home offices, invite them to participate in a video chat while sitting in their backyards or walking in their neighborhoods.

Set Solid Boundaries

HR's work is never done. There will never be a time when every employee is thoroughly happy, every manager is exhaustively trained, every succession plan is completely written, and every job description is fully updated. When working remotely and always at home, HR professionals may find it hard to truly "go home for the day." But they cannot solve every problem, and they need time to relax. Therefore it's important that HR professionals establish their own boundaries by turning off their computers and putting their phones on "do not disturb" mode. By setting this example and encouraging their employees to follow suit, HR can help guide their companies, employees, and themselves to more successful outcomes.

1 Manyu Jiang. 2020. "The Reason Zoom Calls Drain Your Energy." BBC Worklife, April 22,

About the author:

This piece originally appeared on ReWork, a blog published by Cornerstone on Demand (

Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. A writer and speaker who focuses on helping people managers manage better and helping employees understand how to navigate the world of work, she can be reached via her blog,


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