Over the past few years, the transition to part or full-time remote work accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While most companies have managed to navigate the shift quite well, they’ve done so without building up the institutional knowledge necessary to support a remote workforce over the long term. And the fear of future problems is now causing businesses to rethink their commitment to remote work going forward.
But in reality, the pandemic proved that the vast majority of issues stemming from remote work are surmountable. And that leaves business leaders with only a few serious issues they have to plan for in advance. One of them is how to develop plans for dealing with underperforming or problematic employees in a remote setting.
Unlike in an office setting, it’s much harder to spot trouble with an employee when they’re working from afar. And even once it’s clear that a problem exists, gathering the information necessary to do something about it isn’t easy, either. But there are ways that business leaders can develop effective procedures to handle such situations. Here’s what they can do.
Begin With Realistic Performance Expectations
The first thing business leaders have to do is redefine their idea of appropriate productivity to take the new reality of remote work into account. The reason is simple — plenty of businesses saw a huge boost in productivity when they first switched to all-remote work, but it was fleeting. That gave many executives unrealistic expectations regarding what to expect from their workers. They viewed the increased productivity as a performance level they could expect going forward if they could only press the right buttons.
But most experts agree that the temporary productivity boost was a result of workers pulling together to overcome the sudden disruption wrought by the pandemic. It’s not something a business can replicate. So, executives should redefine their expectations, using their pre-pandemic in-office productivity data as a starting point. From there, account for gains due to factors like a lack of a commute and any productivity technology that’s been added to the mix. In many cases, those adjusted expectations might make it clear that a seemingly underperforming employee is instead doing about as well as they should be.
Provide the Tools for Success
In the rush to stand up remote work accommodations, many businesses had to rush the deployment of digital tools their employees now depend on. And that could also be the source of certain types of remote employee performance problems. For example, an underperforming employee might simply lack appropriate training in using things like collaboration and communication platforms. So, businesses need to circle back and make certain their employees are up to speed on the new tools that remote work demands.
It’s also possible that the digital tools the business rushed to deploy weren’t the best choice in the first place. So, before pinning performance issues on any particular employee, it’s best to reevaluate their needs and be certain that they’re being provided with the right tools to do their job. After all, it’s hardly fair to blame an employee for struggling if you haven’t set them up to succeed in the first place.
Turn to New Ways to Track and Measure Performance
One of the challenges associated with remote work is a lack of visibility into how employees are handling their daily workload. That makes it hard for managers and executives to know what’s behind the issue when an employee’s struggling. There is a solution, however. By using an Insightful platform or a similar product, executives can collect and analyze granular employee performance data that might reveal the source of the problem.
From there, a manager or executive can develop an intervention plan to address the source of the issue. And, they can use the data to figure out how best to approach the employee to offer help in solving the problem. Knowing exactly how and where an employee’s struggling eliminates the kind of speculation that often exacerbates, rather than solves, the problem.
Create a Remediation Policy
Although engaging with an underperforming remote employee will often lead to a permanent solution, there will always be times when a single intervention isn’t enough. For those occasions, the business needs to have a remediation policy that spells out a clear sequence of next steps. Within the policy, it’s a good idea to have standardized language surrounding how to notify an employee that they’re not meeting expectations. Having such standardized language ready to go means no guesswork when the time comes to invoke the policy — and it saves executives from having to look for ways to unsend an email if they don’t choose their words carefully.
In addition, the policy should also set guidelines and consequences — in plain English — and include a mechanism for the employee to acknowledge it. This is an important thing to include because it goes toward eliminating certain kinds of liability if it’s necessary to terminate the employee at the end of the process.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, dealing with underperforming or problematic employees in a remote setting isn’t as difficult as many executives think it is. All it takes is some purposeful steps to give every employee the tools they need to thrive in their new work environment and to be realistic as to what to expect from them. From there, as long as the business tracks the right kind of performance data and has a clear set of steps prepared to try and correct performance problems, there’s no reason to fear a shift to all-remote work for the long term. And then the business can reap the benefits that come with the so-called new normal — which looks like it’s here to stay, like it or not.
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