Telecommuting HR: Perks and Best Practices

Competencies for operating effectively in an interconnected, networked world

By Rasshmi Shankar Sep 7, 2016
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If you're a telecommuting HR professional, your commute has never been better. 

More and more HR professionals are taking advantage of flexible work schedules to do their jobs from home, for all or part of the week. The perks include spending the day in pajamas, saving money on gas and coffee, and taking time out to run to the post office or pick up the kids from school. But efficient telecommuting takes some fine-tuning, especially as to the key competencies of Communication and Global & Cultural Effectiveness. 

What does effective communication look like if you and your team members aren't in the office regularly? According to the SHRM Competency Model, HR professionals who are proficient in Communication translate the organization's vision and mission; describe new initiatives, goals and progress; engage in conversations with employees, stakeholders and senior leaders; and produce accurate reports and documents. How does that play out for someone working from home? And why is it so important? 

Proficiency in communication may require attending a slew of meetings via conference call, all the while making sure that the phone line is clear, the Internet connection works and there's no background noise. It means actively participating in and speaking up during those calls. Out of sight, out of mind is a real problem for HR professionals working remotely. Telecommuters must engage in essential conversations to ensure that the meeting participants' goals and HR's objectives are met. 

It's also important to stay up to date with what's happening at the office. You can do so by having frequent and relevant conversations with stakeholders at different levels of the organization. Set up times to both formally and casually meet and communicate via phone, e-mail or your organization's internal chat function. That way, you'll stay abreast of things considered common knowledge in the office, including ongoing initiatives and those in the pipeline. 

HR professionals must be able to produce concise and readily understood messages. This can be a challenge when communicating entirely through internal chat, e-mails, phone calls or videoconferencing. HR professionals must learn how to exchange succinct, accurate and clear messages that convey the appropriate tone and meaning through these tools. What's more, communications about the organization's mission, processes, legal matters and policies must be handled with the utmost discretion to ensure privacy and confidentiality and to avoid misunderstandings. 

For a lot of organizations operating in today's interconnected, networked world, global employees make up a part of their everyday teams. HR professionals, both in the office and working remotely, are often required to plan for calls and communications across time zones and cultural boundaries. Effective telecommuting for HR therefore also requires proficiency in Global & Cultural Effectiveness

According to the SHRM Competency Model, HR professionals proficient in this competency are able to respectfully and effectively interact with colleagues, customers, vendors and clients of varying ethnicities, backgrounds and cultures. How do telecommuting HR professionals demonstrate such proficiency from their sofas or backyards? 

Technology increases our ability to communicate with a diverse range of stakeholders in every location and culture. It has also increased the risk of being misunderstood. Now more than ever, HR professionals must develop their written and oral communication skills to be concise and clear. They must also conduct research into other cultures, and learn best practices for interacting with customers and co-workers from those cultures. HR professionals must fine-tune their language so that it is understandable to and respectful of the cultures of those receiving their messages. 

One best practice to consider is scheduling a series of conference calls in a rotating fashion, so that meetings with participants in various time zones are equally convenient—or inconvenient—for everyone, at least once. This can help ease the frustrations of those who are required to attend calls during the working hours of company headquarters, which can translate into any hour of the day or night for them. 

Complexities increase when communicating with culturally and ethnically diverse team members through conference calls or e-mails because the participants' body language can't be read. This lack of visual confirmation leaves messages open to misinterpretation. To counter this, the HR team leader might ask participants to prepare their messages in advance while keeping in mind the sensibilities of all members of their audience. Or, during the call, the HR professional might politely ask participants to restate their comments in different ways so that everyone clearly understands what is being said. These are best practices in Global & Cultural Effectiveness

In sum, the perks of telecommuting—yoga pants, time to walk the dog, greater flexibility and more—are great to have. But these benefits must be balanced with your obligation as a SHRM-certified HR professional to become more proficient in the Communication and Global & Cultural Effectiveness competencies. 

Rasshmi Shankar is an intern for HR competencies at SHRM.

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