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Talent Management in a Remote Work World


Talent Management in a Remote Work World

Jacqueline Kuhn, Executive Vice President, HCM Strategic Consulting Services, HRchitect

None of us had the year we expected, but the changes we’ve adapted to in 2020 have brought some real opportunity along the way. As a society, and within our organizations, we’ve learned a great deal about our collective resilience. We’ve also discovered new ways to collaborate, to connect, and to get things done. Through all that adaptation, we have also had to learn new ways to manage people as individuals and to manage talent as organizations.

From an HCM perspective, there are lessons learned to take forward and other lessons we have yet to unpack and operationalize as we try and answer the question that is on every HR leader’s mind, “What do we need to do differently to manage our talent now that a large percentage of our employee base is working remotely – and have discovered that they like and can be successful working remotely?”

Figure 1. PWC US Remote Work Survey (1,200 participants, June 2020)

Organizations concerned about employee health, wellbeing, productivity and retention are recognizing that – unless the position truly demands it – full-time, in-office work is largely a thing of the past. As businesses are returning to the office, the forward-thinking organizations are doing so with a high degree of flexibility. They are also making accommodations for employee preferences, including the option to work remotely at least part of the time.

That requires a shift for HCM leaders: treating employees equally must be replaced with treating employees fairly. Short of forcing everyone back to the office, policies and practices should accommodate worker preference and ensure worker productivity and success. How do we treat our workforce fairly, and make sure everyone is working at the level and capacity we need them to be? That requires us to rethink how people are working, how we assess their performance and what we require of them – all to the ultimate benefit of the company or organization.

Competencies & Skills that Matter Most Today

When we think about talent planning, we need to take a step back to consider what skills and competencies the new world of work post-pandemic demands. As an HR consultant and an employee of a company whose workforce has been fully remote for several years, I offer the following list of critical competencies for the current era:

Figure 2. HCM Technology Impacts

Integrity – doing what is right when no one is looking.

No one can see us when we are at home working.  Some companies may track whether your laptop is on and whether and when you’re signed in, but for the most part, no one is looking to see when we are working. Doing what is right, working on the right things, and behaving in the right way must be a core competency when we are not face to face.

Flexibility -- willingness to change or compromise.

The way we must adapt in this era is so different than it was before. Just a year ago, when scheduling a meeting, flexibility meant adapting when the meeting room was booked, and you had to go to another floor. Now it’s adapting to a child crying in the background, a school closing, and getting comfortable being on camera. Flexibility is not being judgmental when someone doesn’t look their best while participating on a Zoom call from home while dealing with lots of other stuff. Flexibility means the workday isn’t necessarily 8-5 anymore. Flexibility to work around the needs and availability of other people is paramount to success in this new world.

Adaptability – ability to adjust to new conditions.

We all had to adjust VERY quickly in March with very little notice, and since then we’ve been adapting, again and again, all year long. As we re-open offices around the world for some, while others remain remote, adapting to multiple ways of working is important. As leaders and managers, we must adapt to having new schedules, shift the way we think about meetings, and evolve the way we understand how we have to work. Adaptability is a critically important competency right now. Its absence can undermine the success of even the brightest of our employees.

Empathy – understanding others’ points of view or situation.

Empathy is foundational to our ability to be adaptable, flexible, and fair; it’s key to understanding where the other person is coming from. To treat people fairly and make sure everyone is getting a fair chance to excel, an understanding of others’ perspectives is key.  Of course, while it’s important to understand others’ situations, that doesn’t mean we are always going to acquiesce to their preferences. However, if we can understand it, discuss it, and work towards resolving it from an empathetic point of view, ultimately, everyone will be more successful.

Independence and being a self-starter – can accomplish tasks without constant supervision.

Someone who needs close supervision cannot be effective in a remote working job from the get-go. If you can’t be given a set of tasks, deadlines and manage your own time, you’re not going to succeed in this remote working world. Our challenge is to develop that skill set in people who don’t have this competency and make sure our people are in the right roles working at the right location under the right circumstances.

Self-awareness – knows one’s limits and strengths and can ask for help when needed.

Figure 3. HCM Technology Impacts

The need for this has increased ten-fold in 2020. When I’m working from home, I need to be aware of when I need help and willing to ask for it. In an office, you can go to lunch with people and talk in the hallway. People look out for each other and ask: “How are you doing? You look like you might be struggling with something.”  We tend to know when our teammates have challenges when we’re working together in person. As remote workers, the only people in a real position to pick up on our stress and struggle are family members or housemates who rarely even understand what we do. It is crucial to create a culture that allows people to grow in self-awareness and does not penalize when one admits to struggling and needing some help. 

As leaders and managers, we need to be able to track, develop, and monitor these competencies so our people and organizations can be more successful.

Several skills that complement those competencies are equally important. These critical skills you should prioritize developing in your workforce are:

Time management and prioritization – Can self-manage workload and assign proper prioritization with little supervision.

Written communication – Can write clear, concise and easily understandable emails that communicates the action needed with a proper signature line that communicates how to follow up. This is critical to productivity and minimizing frustration.

Organization – Knows how to create and maintain an organized work area at home. Now that we’re working from home, we need to make sure people know how to create and maintain an organized work area so they’re not tripping around looking for things. In an office environment with standard-issue file drawers, desks and equipment, this is largely done for you. At home, employees need to figure out an effective office set-up on their own. Providing tools and resources to equip our at-home workers is something we need to make top of mind because remote work is not going away. If employees are not organized, they’re simply not as productive as you need them to be.

Tech savvy – Can operate the various applications that facilitate communication, meetings, and work processes (with the ability to operate multiple of those applications simultaneously). Not everyone understands innately how all their applications and platforms work together, and that understanding is more critical now than ever.

Changes in Workforce Planning

While once our focus was “getting the right people in the right positions,” our challenge has now expanded to become “getting the right people in the right positions working at the right time with an optimal place to work and appropriate tools.” It’s a more challenging proposition, to be sure, but one leaders and managers must tackle for practical and strategic reasons.  

Figure 3. HCM Technology Impacts

From a practical standpoint, where people are working presents compliance considerations. There are sometimes tax implications when employees are working from home versus in a company building. Foreign qualification may be an issue if you have employees working in a state other than the state in which your corporation or LLC was formed. There may be tax implications for your employees and for your organization if the residence is in a state that is not registered as a state you work in. You may also need to review tax nexus rules if your business has a tax presence or is “doing business” in a state other than its primary physical location.

Some municipalities require that home-based workers obtain a home occupation permit</em >. As crazy as it sounds, some cities want their share of a business tax if employees are working from home or they want a permit, depending on the number of hours they work from home. This takes some effort, but it can be understood, documented, and overcome.

Our obligations to provide safe and appropriate work conditions don’t end with the four walls of our office building. We need to be prepared to assist with ergonomic considerations and accessibility in home offices, prepared to make ADA accommodations when needed.  Also, believe it or not, employees injured while working at home can also file workman’s compensation claims. Thus, it’s important to have some way to determine when they are actually working – even as we are flexible with working hours.

It’s also imperative that we ensure they have the tools they need to do their job well, even and perhaps especially at home. That begins with understanding what equipment and resources our people have, what their limitations are at home, and how we can bridge the gaps. At HRchitect, we give our employees a monthly home office allowance -- 1099 income they can use for whatever they need to make sure they have what they need in their home office. As we start thinking more broadly about permanent work from home situations, you may want to consider something like this as part of your total compensation packages. Certainly, we don’t want to keep a person from being successful because they don’t have the right tools or support in their home offices.

Changes in the Talent Acquisition Process

We figured out how to hire for cultural fit and do a good job of conveying and inculcating culture from the start. Now we must figure out how to do all of that… remotely?

Our videos of engaged employees in a shared workspace are no longer relevant for all jobs. So how do you convey the culture of working from home? How do you convey to a prospective employee the difference in working from home from YOUR organization versus another? What are you doing to foster your longtime culture for a dispersed workforce? Are you purposefully influencing the way your culture is evolving? If you’re not already having those conversations, it’s time to start.

We also need to re-evaluate pre-hire assessments and interview guides, based on the new skills and competencies needed for work from home. Also, can you execute a paperless hire? If not, you need to figure that out.

As part of that onboarding process, we now have to consider how to equip remote workers with the proper equipment, introduce them to the team, and help them build relationships within our organizations.

Changes in Total Rewards

If remote working truly is a new normal for your organization, you also need to revisit your total rewards programs. As employees’ needs and work/home situations become increasingly diverse, so should your benefits offerings. The opportunity is to provide hyper-personalized programs for rewards that make a difference. Consider the following examples:

  • Former commuter benefits are no longer beneficial for remote employees
  • Dependent care benefits can extend beyond FSAs, which are great for daycare situations, but what about a stipend for tutoring or school-from-home equipment?
  • Home office allowances
  • Home organization services
  • Personal trainer or virtual fitness class reimbursement in lieu of office-site gym access
  • Healthy food delivery services
  • Mobile phone/internet allowances

There’s also an opportunity here to rethink how we calculate the market rate for job positions. For remote workers, is it calculated based on the office location? Or their area of residence/work?


All of this, at it’s essence, is about answering the questions: “How can we succeed as a company in the new era of work? How can we best recruit, support, and retain our talent as we move beyond this season of forced change and into a new, more thoughtfully crafted reality?”  No matter how we answer those questions, flexibility and adaptability will undoubtedly be critical. Leaders and HCM professionals are positioned to chart the course to a more satisfied, more productive workforce than any we’ve cultivated before.



Jaqueline Kuhn

Jacqueline Kuhn

Jacqueline Kuhn is Executive Vice President of HCM Strategic Consulting Services at HRchitect.   Her 25 years of experience includes strategic planning, change management, service delivery and general human resources.  At HRchitect she leads the strategic services consulting practice that focuses around HR technology strategy, system evaluation and selection and change management.