Monday, April 26, 2010

Addressing Satellite Office Employees' Needs

Recently I obtained my Masters in Human Resource Management (the main reason why I've gone 2 months without a post), a far cry from being in IT for the past 10 years. When people ask me what I want to do, I tell them that my passion is in HR, inspired by events of my years as a part of the workforce, and that I want to use my education and the aforementioned passion to become a successful HR professional, an advocate for the employer as well as the employee. One preference I have as I look to transition is to find a position at a headquarters or an office that employs at least a few hundred people because the chances for growth and advancement far exceed those in satellite and small offices. Even more so, I want to avoid offices that don't manage some portion of the business and that don't show a history of retaining, developing, and promoting employees.

One may ask why I'm being so picky about this. Even though getting an offer from anywhere is a blessing, I desire to move beyond the honeymoon and into the marriage, advancing beyond the position that allowed me access to the company. I've been employed in a satellite, or branch, office for longer than I'd like to admit and have seen very few promotions; the opportunities just weren't available even though the employees performed very well.

For those who require opportunity, being employed in a large organization's main office far outweighs anything a satellite office can offer in career advancement, and if you, the reader, are in HR or management, perhaps this blog entry will be a guide on how to treat satellite offices which are bound to have employees that want to advance their careers.

The satellite office could almost be seen as a dead end professional street for many. Employees may get their start in an organization in one of these offices, but they then realize that, after a while, the organization offers little room, if any, for advancement. The "out of sight, out of mind" mentality can be a part of this as well as the desire to have all team members centrally located, but more often than not, the real reason, from my experience, is that a lack of advancement results from just not being where the bulk of the business occurs.

If the organization is concerned about high performers leaving, then HR must get involved. Satellite offices need to have an HR presence in some form, whether in-house full-time, part-time, or through monthly visits, and HR must have some indication of what is happening in these offices. Exit interviews and performance reviews that feature goals for the next review period are good places to start. Each one holds key pieces of information that can clue an organization into its employees' level of engagement. These tactics are not any different than what can happen in a main office, but the point to make here is that with fewer opportunities in the satellite offices, HR must take action to address employees' developmental needs.

Exit interviews are obviously reactive since the employee has already left, but they can work to prevent future employees from leaving if HR can convince managers to act upon the information. Goal review allows HR to see just what development challenges employees will undertake for the coming review period. If the tasks seem to indicate a lack of employee growth and enthusiasm towards the goals, HR can assume that engagement and performance will slip and turnover will increase. HR can then attempt to partner with line managers and employers to help create new goals and find ways to increase the opportunities for these offices.

New projects can breed life into satellite offices. Since many of these offices are seen as specialist offices doing routine tasks, shaking up the status quo with new projects can get people fired up to come to work. HR should talk to management about moving projects to these offices to utilize the talent, giving employees the opportunity to do something different, provided that the workforce is capable, willing, and in need of the challenge. The organization may find that moving projects to satellite offices can also create new opportunities for those employees in the main office who are now free to work on other projects that may require close supervision during the initial stages.

A couple other options are available for employees in these offices, and HR should help explore the feasibility of each. The first is the transfer to another office. This is probably the most common option for employees looking to advance their careers. HR should work with line managers to identify those employees ready for promotions. After this stage, HR and these employees should discuss the possibility of transferring to a different office and developing relocation programs to help employees acclimate to new cities and offices. It should be noted that this option isn't one that brings life to an office; it may be detrimental to the office if it loses a key employee who transfers elsewhere.

Another option is for the employee to work in multiple locations. The organization will have to incur some travel and lodging expenses during this time, but if the business the employee generates outweighs the costs of travel for this employee, it certainly seems worth considering. This employee can either be a part of something that stays in the headquarters or be the individual that brings the project to the satellite office.

The great advantage that organizations have today is in the form of technology. The Internet, web cams, and teleconferencing equipment make it possible to conduct business in a decentralized manner. Projects or divisions can operate thousands of miles away from a main office and still succeed, if the right pieces and culture are in place to make it happen. The culture is key because the willingness to make it work absolutely matters. Partial ownership at the main office and the satellite office create a shared responsibility so that no one wants to fail. The use of technology allows employees to move up without moving, and while at some point the employee may have to consider a location change, the goal for organizations should be to provide more options for employees in satellite offices while reducing the turnover of high-performing employees.

I haven't talked about it until now, but efforts to bring new life to satellite offices can also break the glass ceiling. Implementing changes increases opportunities for qualified women and minorities. This action can go a long way in proving that satellite offices are employing individuals in proportion to the qualified applicant pool of the surrounding area. The diverse workforce in these offices may also lead to new creative developments that the organization may not be able to generate at the headquarters.

I'm sure most employees want to feel like the sky is truly the limit, and addressing satellite office employee concerns may make this vision closer to becoming a reality. Underestimating the power of communication can stall any initiative for these employees. New hires need to know during the recruiting and selection process that opportunities beyond the current position exist, and current employees need to see this in action or be a part of the action. An organization with satellite employees should not overlook having an advancement culture, and communications to employees should detail individual success and new business that the office obtains.

Have you had any experience in this area? If so, I'd love to hear from you and learn from your experiences.

Thank you for reading.

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