Managing Underperformance Remotely

8 Minutes

Many organisations now have policies in place that allow employees to work from home some or...

Many organisations now have policies in place that allow employees to work from home some or all of the time, on an ongoing basis.

However, if an employee is not meeting expected standards of performance, it can be tempting as a manager to think that you need to get them back into the office full-time, to keep an eye on them. In some cases, this could be needed, but in others this may not be the best route. For starters, are you then going to have to give up on your working from home time so that you can be there to supervise the employee? Could the situation lead to resentment on both of your parts, which is not an ingredient for high performance? Have you assessed why they aren’t performing? In this blog, we look at how underperformance can be managed remotely. Can’t or won’t? When an employee is underperforming it is important to establish if this is a capability issue (where the employee can’t do what is required of them, e.g., because they lack skills) or a conduct issue (where the employee is capable but won’t do what is required). It can be easy to make assumptions (e.g., “they won’t do it because they are lazy”), but it is important to try and get to the root of the issue early so that you can address it in the right way from the start.

Asking questions is key to this, e.g. How do you feel when you are asked to do this activity? What barriers do you face to being able to complete this task? What do you find most difficult about using this equipment? What things impact on your ability to achieve your goals? Is there anything regarding your health or personal life you think I should be aware of? When undertaking a conversation about this virtually, it is important to schedule a good amount of time, and make clear to the employee that this is not a “quick chat”, but rather there is time to talk. Having the meeting with cameras on can also help you to read facial expressions and build a connection. If your organisation usually meets with cameras off, then notify the employee in advance that you would like this to be on camera so that they can be ready. Is working from home the issue? Many people thrive when working from home – no gruelling commute, pets sleeping at their feet as they work… But for some, the home can be full of distractions with no suitable dedicated workspace. It is ok to ask questions about how an employee finds working from home.

If you have any concerns about the workspace, it may be worth asking them to complete a DSE checklist to see if any concerns are identified such as this one. Some employees may feel that they are not able to go to the office (e.g., “Nobody else goes in on Fridays, so they won’t want to open the office just for me”), and so this may need to be explored, if access to the office would help their performance. Feedback As a manager if you are frustrated with somebody’s performance, it can be easy to assume that they must know how you perceive the situation. Surely, they know that if they don’t complete the output report every week it creates a problem for you? However, often employees are not aware of the level of frustration that you are experiencing, and if you do not say anything, they may assume that the report is not so important after all. This can unfortunately lead to a situation where the manager reaches the end of their tether and wants to dismiss an employee, and the employee didn’t realise there was a problem and hasn’t had a chance to improve. As such, it is important for managers to give clear feedback. This should include specific examples and be based in fact, and so managers will need to prepare carefully and gather relevant data and examples. Examples of helpful feedback: The output report is due each Friday, however, I have not received this for the last two weeks.

I am concerned that the output report contained a number of errors, including the widgets being missing and the total production hours not adding up correctly. Examples of unhelpful feedback: You are always late. I just don’t think you are trying hard enough. Goals Once an employee is aware of your concerns, it is important that they are set goals for improvement. As with feedback, specificity is important, to be clear and able to determine if the employee has met their goals. As such, telling people things like “I want you to try a bit harder” is not helpful – after two weeks, they will think they have tried, whereas you may not. Many managers will rely on the SMART acronym to help them to set effective goals, which you can read more about here, E.g. “To submit the output report on time (17:00 Friday) and without errors each week before our next review meeting (three weeks).” In this scenario the question is not how much time the employee has spent in the office, and do they look like they are working hard – the question is about the output report. As such, there is no reason why the achievement of this goal cannot be monitored remotely.

Support The employee may need support to achieve their goals. Do they know where to get the widget data? Would some tuition on Excel formulae be helpful? This should be explored at the same time as the discussion to set goals. In some circumstances, you may identify that in-person support may be beneficial. However, this may not be needed in all cases. E.g., the screen sharing functionality of platforms such as Teams and Zoom could be suitable for Excel tuition. Next steps Notes of all of the above discussions should be taken, for both parties to refer back to. If an employee’s performance improves, then it is important to give positive feedback to recognise this, and to set expectations for the future. However, if an employee’s performance does not improve, a formal procedure may be appropriate. In these circumstances, manages should consult their internal HR procedures and consider taking advice from an HR professional.

This week’s blog has been written by ViewHR. The ViewHR team are on hand to support employers with a wide range of HR matters, including performance management.

If you are an employer and would like support in this area, please contact a member of the ViewHR team today for an initial discussion: | +44(0)1425 205390 |

ViewHR are UK based and provide flexible HR support and guidance combined with employment law consultancy.