Watch our full discussion on how to recruit and manage in a virtual environment.

The pandemic has profoundly disrupted workplace culture, forcing companies to manage and recruit employees remotely, sans the in-person communication long considered essential to running a healthy business.

As companies, now six months into the crisis, see that remote work can actually boost productivity, they’re honing the best practices of a virtual workplace that will stick around long after the pandemic has passed — from flexible schedules and task-based employee performance metrics, to diversity-driven recruitment, experts told Jeanette Mulvey, executive director of content for CO— during the ninth episode of CO— Blueprint, a video series dedicated to providing small businesses with the ideas and strategies they need to reopen their businesses successfully.

Here are five takeaways from the discussion.

Manage remote teams with flexibility, consistency and compliance

As many employees remain home-based just as companies move to hybrid virtual/in-person schedules, businesses must honor workers’ new pandemic-informed reality and “increase the amount of flexibility in processes and policies,” said Nick Schacht, chief global development officer for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Indeed, workers’ lives remain upended by the pandemic, juggling the demands of children now learning virtually at home, for one, among other challenges. So, it’s critical that businesses offer employees flexible policies and work hours that recognize individuals’ distinct needs and apply those practices consistently and equitably across their entire team, he said.

It’s about “helping [managers] understand the psycho-social elements that employees are dealing with and crafting an effective strategy for helping that employee cope with whatever situation they may be in,” said Alexander Alonso, Ph.D. and chief knowledge officer for SHRM.

What’s more, businesses should also ensure their compliance with the changing and expanding rules around workplace leave and flexibility based on state and national guidelines, Schacht said.

Measure employee productivity via tasks accomplished, not ‘presenteeism’

Businesses have traditionally equated employee productivity with time spent in the office. Now remote work culture has forced companies to rethink and revise traditional productivity metrics that were built on false assumptions, said Anna Greenwald, founder and CEO of corporate wellness company On the Goga.

“It’s easy to assume in an office that someone is being extra productive because they come in an hour early and leave an hour late, when in fact, presenteeism, which is being present but not necessarily productive at work, is a huge contributor to lost productivity,” she said.

Now amid the remote-work boom, research reveals that successful business cultures have shifted from time-based to task-based productivity metrics. Task-based productivity management defines the key performance indicators that mark success for an organization, team and an individual worker, “so that success for employee Nina, for example, looks like completing X task by Y date, and gauging productivity by tracking the completion of those tasks,” Greenwald said.

The lesson for managers is simple: “Think about the output,” SHRM’s Alonso said. “Who cares how we get there?”

The human element is the oil in the machine.

Anna Greenwald, founder and CEO, On the Goga

Tap human resources expertise and tools to streamline processes

Businesses navigating uncharted management territory should leverage human resources tools and expertise to streamline the process of leading remote teams, experts said.

SHRM, which provides that guidance to 1.6 million employers large and small, counts 70,000 sole practitioners among its members. “There are thousands of tools and templates to help human resources professionals accelerate their performance without having to reinvent the wheel,” offering small businesses an opportunity to master the basics of HR management, to organizational development tools, surveys and research, Schact said. These resources are integral to “engaging and retaining the workforce you want, and also staying out of trouble,” he said.

Incorporate hiring practices that foster a diverse and dynamic workforce

The evidence is clear: A diverse workplace breeds success. For ThreeSixtyEight, the pandemic has unwittingly hastened its vision to build a more inclusive workforce, in part by identifying more meaningful hiring criteria, said CEO and co-founder Kenny Nguyen.

The branding agency set out to ramp up hiring during the pandemic and also “challenge our biases while hiring,” he said.

But with its offices closed and staff working virtually, “you can’t test for chemistry” when interviewing job applicants, Nguyen said. So. the company pivoted, shifting focus to a candidate’s essence and core skill sets by asking, “What makes a truly a great hire for ThreeSixtyEight? What does a good person to hire now look like, and how will they evolve in the future?”

The team also underwent unconscious bias training and has incorporated that training into its recruitment process.

Just as the work-from-home movement means businesses can now pluck talent from far-flung places, the country’s reckoning around systemic racism marks a major opportunity to create a more diverse talent pool, said On the Goga’s Greenwald.

For its part, the corporate wellness firm enlisted a remote recruiting startup to cultivate a more diverse candidate pool from underrepresented communities, and the changes have been “hugely positive,” she said.

Prioritize worker well-being

Happy workers, including remote workers, are more successful workers — so make sure their well-being is priority number one, experts said.

That calls for businesses to cultivate emotionally intelligent leaders who understand what creates burnout and stress for remote employees, and can solve for it, Greenwald said. “The human element is the oil in the machine,” she said.

When it comes to onboarding new employees, for example, stressing the human element over a transactional exchange is key in the absence of an in-person connection. So, “schedule a virtual lunch with a new recruit, and don’t talk about work subjects,” Nguyen advised.

While the pandemic has forced businesses to pivot in “excruciating” ways, there’ve been tangible silver linings, Greenwald said. “It’s blown up unhelpful assumptions, biases and [exposed] systems that were not working pre-pandemic,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for organizations and leaders to hit the reset business.”