I feel sorry for HR people. They are responsible for the least predictable and most combustible resource a company has: human beings. They are often the last to be consulted when a business problem faces a company and the first to be called on for answers. This is true when it comes to setting remote work policy for your company.

We’ve said many times that remote work and virtual teams kind of snuck up on us. One day everyone’s coming dutifully into the office every day, the next half the desks are empty and people are working from home a couple of days a week. Enter the poor put-upon HR person who is expected to either adapt their existing policies for this new reality, or make them up in time for next Wednesday’s staff meeting.

It’s not an easy job. It’s even harder when you are assuming circumstances that aren’t necessarily true. Here are five common assumptions that HR people make when it comes to helping teleworkers and virtual team members, and why you need to check them.

People who choose to telework have chosen lifestyle over career.

When you ask people why they want to work from home, the answers are almost always personal: no commute, child care is easier, less stress in general, and so on. It seems sometimes as if long-term goals like promotion are no longer a priority. While this is true in some cases, many people work away from the office and then find they are shut out of development assignments, don’t hear about job openings, or just slip the manager’s mind.  While some companies do mandate that high-level managers must come into the office, every company should examine this for themselves, and make sure that these decisions are made for good reasons, and not simply due to inertia.

It’s difficult to make sure people are working.

It sure is.  It always has been, regardless of where people work. We all know that being at your desk with your computer on is no guarantee that you’re being productive. Draconian measures like monitoring keystrokes will backfire and result in turnover and low employee engagement. One of the most difficult—and critical—tasks HR has is to move from activity-based metrics to performance goals. 

People get more done when they’re away from the office, so let them have at it.

This is the flip side of #2, and equally problematic. Yes, studies show that most remote workers report their tasks get done at a higher rate than when they’re at the office constantly being interrupted. But without clear guidelines and metrics, what they are working on may not be what’s most important to the long-term goals of the team or the organization. Not only do performance metrics need to match the work outputs you really want, but managers must be coached and helped to assist.

The biggest challenges for managers come when the team is 100% remote.

This one isn’t even close to being true. If a team is entirely co-located, or everyone works elsewhere, policies tend to become clear, and everyone has the same opportunities and challenges. When you have some people working with the boss and others somewhere else, it often appears that the home team has an advantage when it comes to promotions, they hear news before anyone else, and they have unequal access to the manager when needed. Hybrid teams often suffer from a sense of inequality between co-located and remote members that can seriously damage productivity and team relationships, not to mention turnover and engagement.

HR is most involved at selection, hiring, and onboarding.

This is the most obvious role that HR plays. But it is becoming clear that remote workers are at a great risk for low engagement scores, productivity drops,  higher turnover, and other long-term challenges that impact the bottom line. By thinking that their job ends when the person is hired, HR may be doing themselves and remote employees a disservice.

It’s not that any of these things can’t be true—they often are. But assuming they are so, without doing some assessment and research may result in working really hard to solve the wrong problem.

So give your HR people some love and patience… the job ain’t easy.

If there’s one course I think would immediately help HR professionals working with remote teams, it would be our on-demand program, Remote Goal Setting and Accountability. Whether you’re a single HR professional or working with a group, this course can help solve a critical piece of the remote work puzzle.


Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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