Remote working one year on – the lessons for HR teams to follow in 2021
25 March 2021

Remote working one year on – the lessons for HR teams to follow in 2021

After one year of working remotely, what lessons have HR teams learnt? We look back on the impact of remote working which includes the rise of Zoom fatigue and changes to company culture


Maryam Munir

Maryam Munir

Maryam Munir worked as a content marketing writer at Ciphr from 2019 to 2021, specialising in topics related to HR systems, recruitment, payroll software, and learning and development.


Covid-19 pandemic Employee engagement Hybrid and remote work


Ciphr looks back on the impact of remote working which includes the rise of Zoom fatigue and changes to company culture

In March 2020, many of us left the office to work from home, thinking that we would only be working remotely for a few weeks. Now, one year on, a majority of us are still working remotely and are likely to continue this new way of working for the foreseeable future. After the pandemic, Salesforce, for instance, has said it would require only a small workforce to come into the office for four or five days per week, with around 65% of its employees expected to adopt the company’s “work from anywhere” strategy.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to us creating home offices in a short amount of time, and meant we had to quickly learn to juggle home and work priorities at the same time. We had to adjust to virtual team meetings and cope with not being able to socialise with others, but along the way, employees and HR teams have learnt valuable lessons about working from home.

Here, we take a look at the lessons HR teams have learnt over the course of the last year of remote working and explain what this means for the future of work.


Lesson 1: Zoom fatigue is real

Last year, we highlighted the importance of investing in the right work equipment, decorating your workspace and taking regular breaks to help productivity – these points remain relevant today for employees. However, we also mentioned that employees should maintain regular contact with colleagues.

During the year of remote working, HR teams have become aware of Zoom fatigue – which describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication – and the impact this can have on employees’ health.

Too much virtual contact has led to employees feeling exhausted and mentally drained, leading to a fall in productivity.

For HR teams, Zoom fatigue has meant that they have had to do more to look after employee’s health and let employees know that it’s okay to not spend the entire workday on virtual meetings.

Ciphr’s head of people, Gwenan West, says: “I think it has taken HR teams a while to actually pick up on zoom fatigue. We’re no longer getting cues that we would normally get when in the office to let us know that an employee may be busy or exhausted. So it’s up to HR teams now to get knowledge out to employees to respect that others might not want to turn their cameras on for regular video calls – we wouldn’t expect employees to fill their day with back-to-back meetings in the office so the same consideration should go towards virtual meetings as well.”

West adds: “The impact of remote working and Zoom fatigue has taught HR that we need to educate our people to be kinder to themselves when working remotely,” which, during these periods of job instability and change, can be a hard action for employees to implement.

Lesson 2: company culture doesn’t stop outside of the office

HR teams have learned that remote working can heavily impact the company culture.

Without Christmas parties, team lunches and without being able to socialise with colleagues in the office, how can you convey the company culture? HR teams have learnt that they need to encourage employees to socialise with colleagues even if they can’t see them in person – virtual team games and catch-ups over coffee have helped new starters and existing employees build their work relationships.

To maintain company culture outside of the office, HR teams are now relying more on different methods of communication.

“We’ve had to be clever with our communication,” says West. “So that means communicating with employees in mixed way so that it’s not through just one form of media. We’ve also had to be inventive in the way we communicate things out so that messages are easier for people to find. As a result, I think HR teams have had to become internal comms teams as well to make sure all employees are up to date with all company-related information.”

Lesson 3: processes have to change to ensure business continuity

To succeed during periods of change, organisations and HR teams have had to rely on technology to help ensure business continuity.

Employee documents which may have originally been stored in filing cabinets in the office have had to be moved online to ensure everyone has access to the documents they need outside of the office. Hosted HR software, as a result, is allowing HR teams to keep employee documents in a safe, secure system which can be accessed anywhere.

Face-to-face job interviews have been replaced by online interviews, and new starters are having to be onboarded virtually. For HR teams, this has meant investment in tools like Ciphr Onboarding and Ciphr iRecruit has been crucial to make sure the remote recruitment and onboarding process continues to run smoothly.

And these challenging times have meant employees want to feel safe in relation to their pay and want to be assured that they will be paid accurately and on time. As a result, HR have learnt that payroll technology and software and services can help them ease employee concerns about pay and keep the pay processes running smoothly.


Lesson 4: wellbeing needs to be top priority

A survey carried out earlier this year found that a third of employees (35%) reported that mental and physical wellbeing across their team was ‘not good’ or ‘not good at all’, showing that Covid-19 has heavily impacted employees’ wellbeing.

A lack of social interaction has increased feelings of loneliness, and since March 2020, HR teams have learnt that more needs to be done to improve employees physical and mental wellbeing even when they aren’t in the office.

Ben Binder, founder and director of The Fitness Works – a virtual wellbeing programme for remote teams, who Ciphr is also working with to improve employee wellbeing – says that organisations and HR teams have realised the importance of improving wellbeing, but more time and investment is still required.

“A lot of organisations are bringing in things to do with improving wellbeing but they’re expecting those programmes or platforms to be the answer to all of their problems while investing little time and money.

“Organisations need to realise that it takes time to change employees’ mindsets, habits and routine.”

In order to improve employee wellbeing for the long run, HR teams need to communicate with senior leadership and let them know that ongoing investment in wellbeing is needed if they really want to improve employee health, job satisfaction, and productivity.

As some organisations continue to work remotely, and others look to moving back into the office, Binder adds that a “hands-on approach” is needed, and “HR teams need to keep up to date with what employees want in terms of improving different areas of wellbeing.”

Lesson 5: employees want upskilling opportunities

While some employees have been placed on furlough, or been made redundant, others have had to take on new roles and responsibilities during the pandemic and have more opportunities to upskill.

“Employees are more proactive in their learning,” says West, who explains that HR teams have learnt that now is a perfect time to upskill existing employees and to motivate them to be in control of their own learning.

“At Ciphr, we moved employees around different areas of the business based on where more employees were needed, and this meant employees were able to learn more and gain new skills.”

The rise of online learning means HR teams should continue to work closely with L&D to ensure employees are motivated to learn and so that they continue to feel satisfied in their job.

Despite HR teams learning valuable lessons about company culture and wellbeing during a year of remote working, West says that the most important lesson for HR teams to take forward – as some organisations continue to work remotely – is “to not forget the quiet people.”

“The employees you don’t hear from probably sit into two camps. They’re either perfectly happy working from home and are getting on with their work, or they’re really struggling and don’t want to tell anybody. It’s up to managers and HR teams to identify which employees are struggling and to support them.”