SumTotal Blog

Sumtotal Blog (3 Posts)


When Remote Work Becomes Permanent: How to Fully Support Your Workforce

We are living through particularly strange times. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic and how we’ve responded to it have meant abrupt and substantial changes to how we all live and work.

Suddenly, many organizations have all or the vast majority of their employees working remotely from home. This mass departure from the workplace has surfaced a broad range of challenges, which we can bucket into three major categories – technology, remote collaboration, and employee well-being.

Adopt a more flexible working style

All employees and managers will have developed decided opinions on the pros and cons of this enforced remote experience. They may also consider how working from home might change once daycares, schools, care homes, and other support networks are fully operational again.

Your organization will evaluate how working remotely works for employees, managers, and the business as a whole. According to recent research, employees are more productive working from home even when facing sizable distractions such as juggling work and childcare.

Looking ahead, your organization may decide to embrace a more flexible working style – where employees work from home for some or all of the workweek. Ultimately, you’re looking at having a remote workforce in place for the foreseeable future, perhaps even permanently.

Ensure your employees have all the support they need to work remotely

Organizations need to be able to support employees so they can realize their full potential working at home instead of or with each other in the office. There are three main areas of support for you to review to make sure that your organization is doing all it can to assist remote working – technology, collaboration, and well-being.

1. Technology – The tools we use to work.

The first technology issue to resolve is whether or not your employees are properly set up to work remotely. Make sure that every remote employee has the hardware (computer and monitor, perhaps printer, and office furniture), software (secure access to all required applications), and connectivity (a robust, reliable, and secure environment) they need to work efficiently. Employees will need guidance on how to access IT support. You’ll want to ensure that they have a variety of options from self-diagnosis via a trusted IT forum and direct contact with a member of your technical support team. You might consider establishing a technology support unit dedicated to meeting the needs of remote workers and of having those IT team members conduct regular webinars and IT clinics targeted at those staff who are working from home.

Once your employees have all the technology they need to work effectively from home, they may require some additional training on how to become more familiar with some software, for instance, video conferencing, collaboration, and project management applications. As well as self-directed online training and access to an online community forum for specific applications, you might also want to offer some regular software clinics run by line-of-business staff. Some clinics could have an agenda to focus on one or two workflows or the needs of a specific role, while other clinics could be free-for-all Q&As on any issue remote employees are encountering.

2. Collaboration – How we can work effectively.

Some employees adapt quickly to working from home, particularly if they’re lucky enough not to have sizable distractions in the shape of young children to care for or other family members who are suddenly back at home. For other employees, trying to balance remote working with family can be very difficult, especially if they lack a dedicated workspace at home. You might encourage employees new to remote working to chat with their peers who’ve been successfully working at home for some time to gain some tips and tricks into how to work optimally.

Remote employees crave being able to set a structure for their workday where they have a say in their working hours and how they engage with each other. Your organization can collaborate with your employees to agree on a set of standards or best practices for remote workers, which everyone can access. These rules can act as guide rails for remote work. Two key areas to address are how your employees can indicate their availability and which collaboration applications to use when engaging with each other. In the same way that your organization provides a mix of modalities to your learners, think about offering a variety of ways to communicate and engage with your employees. Not every conversation needs to be a video call, nor should email be your sole means of communication.

3. Well-being – How we can thrive at work.

Working from home further blurs the line between what separates the workday from home life, with the potential risk that an employee may feel like they’re losing their work-life balance. It is important for organizations to prioritize employee well-being, particularly when so much remains uncertain in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time for organizations to be as timely and transparent as possible with employees about any business and organizational updates with communication being very much a two-way street.

Managers need to establish regular check-ins with remote workers on a daily or weekly basis to see how they are coping, what their concerns are, and whether they require any additional assistance. If not already on offer, your organization could look at making online well-being courses and webinars available to your employees, with the focus on self-care to improve diet, sleep, exercise, and overall resiliency. At the same time, encourage employees who might be underutilized to invest in their own career development by taking relevant courses of online study to help them in their current role or position them to take on new responsibilities. Make sure that remote workers continue to feel part of a community through more informal online get-togethers, such as a virtual coffee break, lunch or happy hour, whether simply to chat or to celebrate a life event or achievement.

Empathy is a key skill for everyone in your organization to develop an understanding that the remote working experience is different for every individual.

How are organizations like yours responding to change? Learn how PSAV realigned its learning and development approach.

Take a Holistic Approach to Employee Well-Being for an Optimal Return to the Workplace

In the wake of COVID-19, as organizations plan for the return of employees to the workplace, their focus is on how to help ensure the physical safety of their staff. However, many companies have yet to consider how to address other key elements of employee well-being.

“I’m doing more counseling of organizations on the mental and emotional side,” said Kevin Oakes, CEO and co-founder of the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp). “Psychological safety is going to be a topic that will be brought up a lot post-pandemic and post-return to the workplace.”

A leading HCM research firm, i4cp examines the people practices of high-performing organizations – firms which report better revenue growth, increased profitability, and greater market share than their competitors. While i4cp’s research captures best practices, the firm is most interested in providing organizations with next practices – those actions with a solid correlation to business performance, which most companies have yet to take.

Kevin was the guest speaker for the first episode of SumTotal’s series of conversations on The Future of Work: HR Strategies for a Changing World, hosted by Brent Colescott, senior director of business strategy & transformation at SumTotal.

Kevin was a natural choice to give a “State of the Union” address on how HR can lead the way during this complex time given his wealth of HR experience and the research-based insights he brings from his current role at i4cp..

Holistic Well-Being Benefits Employees and Organizations

In a recent survey of organizations, i4cp discovered that executive leadership typically focuses as much as 25% of its collective energy on return-to-the-workplace efforts, while some teams are devoting 50% or more of their time to that endeavor.

“A lot of leaders don’t like to admit that they really don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Kevin said. “We’re all in this for the first time.”

In talking with organizations, Kevin has learned that most companies have thought through the actions they need to take to help ensure the physical well-being of employees as they return to their office buildings. These considerations include policies on taking employees’ temperatures, the wearing and issuing of masks, elevator etiquette, and the reconfiguration of open-plan offices.

Kevin envisions that most organizations will adopt a phased approach to bringing employees back to the workplace, starting with a gentle suggestion, which becomes stronger over time, and finally becomes a requirement. At the same time, he urges empathy from organizations to employees’ different situations. This may include feeling uncomfortable or unsafe in the workplace due to COVID-19 or a home situation where an employees has had to take on the responsibility of childcare or elderly parents due to the closure of schools or nursing homes.

“One area I see as an opportunity for vendors out in the community is helping managers with the conversation with employees around their mental and emotional well-being,” Kevin said. “That’s normally been a taboo conversation.”

According to a recent i4cp research study, “Next Practices in Holistic Well Being: The Performance Advantage,” high-performing organizations are already paying attention not only to employees’ physical and mental well-being, but other elements of well-being, including financial, career, social, and relational well-being. That attention to all aspects of employee well-being also positively impacts the employer brand as employees feel the company cares about them, and the majority will then recommend their employer to their friends.

Move Ahead Cautiously and Empathetically

Kevin cautions CEOs and other senior executives against basing any corporate decisions on remote working purely on their observations of working from home full-time. “Organizations have to recognize that we’ve got a wide range of situations out there that we’ve got to be empathetic towards and try to be accommodating towards,” Kevin said. For instance, some employees may lack the space or quiet they need at home to work effectively.

“My advice is not to react too quickly,” he said. “Hold off making those decisions carte blanche because they affect people differently.”

The sudden shift managers have had to make during the pandemic into becoming comfortable operating in a largely virtual environment has revealed their leadership skills. “One CHRO told me ‘I don’t need to do any assessment of leaders inside my company. This pandemic has told me everything I need to know, and it’s shown me who has stepped up and who has not,’” Kevin said.

The leaders who have successfully stepped up during COVID-19 have done an excellent job of communicating with their direct reports and more broadly across their organizations. “They have shown empathy,” Kevin said. “They recognize that this isn’t all about work. We have to be very empathetic towards the balance between work and life because it’s blended more than ever before.”

Kevin expects organizations to discuss how the impact of the pandemic and their response to it has affected their culture. They can then determine what needs to change and what can be maintained.

“Another caution I’ve given to companies is to make sure you’re treating your employees correctly because that will have a huge impact on how consumers and your customers look at your company,” Kevin said. From an employer brand perspective, that behavior will also impact how prospective new hires will look at a company long term, he added.

At the same time, some companies are finding some unexpected benefits to the current situation, particularly with workforce education. “I had one prominent CLO tell me that this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when we think about this captive workforce that we’ve got, in terms of trying to leverage the programs they had envisioned rolling out,” Kevin said.

Some organizations have been escalating their employee education programs to take advantage of the current period, while others are encouraging user-generated content. “That’s something that I’ve always felt was under-utilized in organizations,” Kevin said. “Getting the workforce to create content for the benefit of the company is another aspect of what we’re seeing increase right now when we’re all working from home.”

What to Do Next

Tune in here for the complete lively and wide-ranging conversation between Kevin and Brent. As well as hearing Kevin’s advice for organizations contemplating their return to the workplace, you’ll also hear his description of SumTotal’s origin story.

Please join us for four more fascinating webcast discussions in the ‘The Future of Work: HR Strategies for a Changing World’ series coming up over the next few months or available on-demand.

4 Must-Have Elements for Succession Planning


Whether it’s a CEO or a frontline manager, no employee will stay in one role forever. People can leave on good terms, with plenty of notice, and will still leave an HR team scrambling to fill their role. Not having a plan to fill the position can cost an organization six to nine months of salary on recruiting/training expenses.

The goal is to get to the point where your organization has role continuity. Each critical role, regardless of level, should have an internal candidate being developed to take over that role, should the position become vacant.

The name of the game is succession planning—nurturing your existing pipeline of talent for roles your organization may need in the future. This helps safeguard an organization’s ability to have role continuity no matter the circumstance of a role becoming vacant. Even the largest organizations can have operations totally derailed if key roles aren’t filled.

In developing your succession strategy, consider these four must-have elements:

  1. Have a plan

First, you have to draft your overall plan. This involves identifying all critical roles—from first-line managers to the C suite—and determining the impact each role has on the company. For example, ask yourself:

  • What’s the day-to-day impact of X position on our organization?
  • If the person holding said position left, how would operations be affected?

The key is to develop adequate bench strength—i.e., the ability to adapt and pivot during times of change. Whether it’s a VP retiring or a sudden frontline manager departure, organizations will inevitably have vacant positions due to evolving business demands. By developing a succession plan, organizations discover where the gaps are, and which employees can help fill them.

  1. Identify prospects

You’ve identified the critical roles, the impact of each role, and the competencies required to perform the role. Now you need to identify internal prospects who could—with the right development—fill a critical role should it become vacant. Have managers across the organization provide the names of their top performers and create profiles for each individual’s skills, experiences, and career aspirations.

It is important to keep in mind that roles don’t always have to be filled from the ground up. Not every critical role has to have a successor who previously worked below the departing employee. As hierarchical business structures continue to flatten, more individuals are making lateral moves when it comes to changing roles.

It’s important to consider a prospect’s career goals. Though Jane might have the pre-requisite skills and experiences to fill in her boss’ role, that doesn’t mean she wants her boss’ role. If Jane is a high-caliber employee, find out what she is interested in and where she may want to go with her career. There might be other critical roles outside of her current functionality that she could potentially be a good fit for.

  1. Be transparent

When you actually meet with a prospect, be fully transparent about the opportunities. Prospects are not guaranteed these critical roles but can be guaranteed that the organization will help them discover what skills, competencies, and abilities they should develop in order to grow into roles, as they become vacant.

Organizations should communicate to all employees that they are always looking for talent, especially from within. Communicate that the organization is actively engaged with succession planning as a means to not only support business continuity but to invest in individuals’ professional growth with the organization. You need talent with the potential to stay for the long haul; vocalize commitment to growing the organization from within.

  1. Focus on skills development

After you have a roster of internal prospects with profiles for each, start to identify the skills gaps each prospect may have. Once this data is collected, find the commonalities, and use them to influence future learning initiatives, learning content purchases, and development plans.

This provides driven prospects opportunities to hone their current skills as well as reskill to new ones. It also gives your organization a broader view of what learning opportunities should be standard in your succession plan. For example, if communication is a common skill gap among prospects looking to grow into a leadership role, recommend and provide all prospects with resources for them to hone their communication skills.

Succession planning puts people at the heart of business continuity

Business continuity hinges on people. Individuals with talent agility drive organizations forward through disruption and that agility must be nurtured and developed. Organizations have a duty to invest in developing the skills of the next wave of leaders. When driven employees see how committed their organization is to help them develop their skills, that commitment is reciprocated and keeps talented prospects where you need them, at your organization.

This commitment drastically affects an organization’s ability to effectively carry out a successful succession plan. Succession planning is just a piece of overall business sustainability, but it certainly puts people at the center if business continuity in these disruptive times.

Kurt Jones, a Product Marketer at SumTotal