by Shayne Thomas
19 Feb 2021
How to Handle Performance Issues for Remote Workers
5 tips for addressing performance challenges effectively in a remote working world
If you feel we’ve been talking about issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic for a long time now, you wouldn’t be wrong in making that assumption. The entire world continues to feel the ongoing ripple effect of this global crisis. And in a business environment, all of the standard rules of engagement have had to change in the face of entire workforces now working remotely.
Everyone within an organization—from business leaders all the way down to rank-and-file employees—have been impacted by this pandemic in a number of ways. This has been especially challenging for managers. Not only have they had to adapt to the unique challenges of a remote work environment themselves, but they’ve also had the rather thankless task of propping up the morale and productivity of their teams. Of course, the latter is part of a manager’s job. However, managing that experience when teams are dispersed and only connected via technology is a lot different than all being together in person.
One of the biggest challenges managers have likely faced over the past year is how they confront performance issues with their remote workers. So today, we’d like to share a few tips around how managers can turn this into a beneficial experience that drives positive change.
Addressing an employee’s performance issues is never easy
Sharing feedback about what’s not working is never easy, whether this conversation takes place in a face-to-face or computer-to-computer setting. It’s a delicate situation that, if handled improperly, can quickly leave employees feeling dejected and unmotivated.
But these conversations come with an added challenge in the remote world: Because teams are not together, it’s impossible to know what happens when you hang up a Zoom call—even when things are going incredibly well. A remote working environment makes it that much harder for managers to keep a pulse on their employees’ day-to-day life. This also makes it tough to spot the warning signs early on when things start to go south.
We recently hosted a webinar entitled, “A Manager’s Guide to Confronting Performance Issues” (if you missed it, be sure to watch it on replay!). To make sure we covered the topics weighing most on peoples’ minds, we invited attendees to submit their questions in advance. We were blown away by the consistency of the responses. The most asked question was: “How do I handle underperforming employees in a remote work situation?”
While the same general best practices around providing feedback and addressing performance issues apply in both the real and virtual worlds, there are a few slight, yet important nuances to keep in mind when doing this in a remote team setting.
1. Set clear expectations around what success looks like
Before confronting a struggling employee, as a manager, it’s important you take a step back and ask yourself, “Have I made our team’s goals, objectives, and priorities crystal clear?” This is a critical first step because if your employees don’t know what they’re working towards as well as what role they each play in achieving specific goals, it becomes a lot harder to have conversations around not meeting performance expectations.
As a best practice, be sure to set those benchmarks at all times, but especially if you see your team’s performance starting to falter. A tried-and-true way to course-correct performance issues is to make it abundantly clear what employees are on the hook for. Also, by continuously communicating your needs, priorities, and expectations, you create more opportunities to connect with your team and ensure that everyone is on the same page at all times.
Finally, be sure to tie this all back to your company’s mission. Your company has specific goals. Your team plays a role in achieving those goals. Piecing this all together clearly for your employees will help reinforce the importance of their work in achieving broader company goals.
2. Consider doing away with “ratings”
Right now, people are feeling a lot of pain—emotional, physical, psychological, and beyond. Being disconnected from their colleagues and, in some cases, life in general, has been really tough. So the last thing anyone needs right now is to feel like a failure.
Reaching clear and attainable goals, benchmarks, and KPIs is completely doable in a remote working environment. It’s an objective way to measure what success looks like. Providing ongoing feedback in a constructive, supportive, and helpful way can amplify this.
However, approaching a performance conversation through the lens of less-than-favorable “ratings,” based on a standard performance rubric, can feel like a personal attack—much less at a time when people are already at their wit’s end with the ongoing pandemic-related stresses. Doing so could ultimately have your well-intentioned efforts backfire because, as we well know, as humans, when we get attacked, our defense mechanisms go up. And when that happens, it’ll be even more tough to motivate an employee to succeed.
3. Use the right tools to monitor performance and manage feedback
If there’s ever been a time to invest in a talent management solution, the time is now. Teams today need a central place to communicate KPIs, set team and employee goals, manage employee performance, record feedback, assign training and learning, and so much more. Especially in a remote working environment, it’s ineffective to manage this manually via spreadsheets or emails or inconsistently across various disconnected tools and platforms. Having a reference point where you and your team can go regularly to track progress is absolutely critical. If you’ve struggled during the pandemic to keep all of this information in order, it’s worth checking out Cornerstone’s full suite of talent management solutions.
4. Lean into learning to fuel employee development and growth
There are a lot of reasons why employees may encounter performance issues during their tenure within an organization. One common reason we see play out often is that they don’t necessarily have the right skills to do their job effectively. Or that they simply don’t feel set up for success by their employer (not necessarily their manager).
As a manager, however, it’s important for you to keep in mind that learning might be your strongest ally in turning an employee’s performance issues around. By adding tools like Cornerstone Learning to your talent management solution, you can become much more proactive in identifying skills gaps, assigning relevant learning to close those gaps, monitoring completion rates, and then measure its impact on performance down the road.
Of course, there are times when learning may be just a bandaid to a more serious performance issue. At least, with a learning and development tool in place, you will have objective evidence to decide the best course of action—even if it ultimately means having to let an employee go.
5. Lead with empathy and compassion
The world is not an easy place today. Everyone’s going through it in their own unique way. While this is certainly not an excuse for poor performance, we nonetheless can’t let goals, priorities, KPIs, and all of that other objective and measurable stuff get in the way of our humanity. Of course, when you see performance issues arise, you need to nip it in the bud. Just be sure to start those conversations from a place of empathy and compassion. Not only will it lead to a more productive conversation, but it will signal to your employees that you’re there to support them and help them work their way back up to success. A little caring can go a long way!
Now, you can address performance issues with confidence
We get it, being a manager in a remote work environment—in the midst of a pandemic—is no easy feat. And unfortunately, there will most likely come a time when you have to confront the occasional performance issues of your remote workers head on. The tips above are a great way to make these conversations much more productive and results-oriented. But if you need a little extra help or realize that now’s the time to invest in a proper talent management solution, always know that the Cornerstone team is here to support you. Contact us today!