An experienced manager will tell you that it’s always easy to manage a remote employee when they’re performing well.
But what about when they’re not? What do you do when a remote employee is underperforming?
Answering this can feel complicated. Given the uncertainty and fear during these times of COVID-19, some of our team members might be experiencing greater mental burden and emotional distress than usual. As leaders, we want to be sensitive and empathetic to the fact that these are indeed challenging times for us all, and yet at the same time, we have standards, expectations, and goals that we’re accountable to.
While your management will need to flex to the individual needs of your employees, here are the five most important things you can do to support those struggling with remote working.
Schedule one-on-one check-ins with each team member: By gauging how each employee is doing, leaders can evaluate how to meet the unique needs of each employee. Asking open-ended questions can allow employees to speak their minds. Leaders should focus on being good listeners and providing appropriate support.
Offer empathy, but avoid lowering expectations: Ensure that each employee knows they are a critical member of the team. Acknowledge their current struggles and create a plan to get back on track.
Challenge employees to make an impact: Consider how workload adjustments, including assignments that include problem-solving or experimentation may re-engage an employee who, though may be talented, is struggling in the current environment.
Meet individual needs, but don’t show favoritism: It can be a fine line between supporting individual needs and avoiding perceived favoritism that may cause others on your team to feel remorse. Consider how establishing team policies and expectations might benefit the whole group.
Offer support: A decrease in performance can be a failure of both the employee and leadership. Take accountability in the situation and offer solutions for how the employee can be better supported.
You think you know. Someone is underperforming because they have a hard time doing detailed work. Or someone is underperforming because they’re missing the in-person social interaction with their team.
Whatever the reason is, be wary of the assumptions you project. You don’t really know why someone is underperforming unless you ask precise questions that help you reveal this.
Ignore what your instincts might be telling you and carve out space to ask questions that help you understand: What is exactly causing this person to not perform up to standards?
Remember, each employee is unique. Some employees may adapt well to a remote environment, while others may need individual support to achieve a high level of performance and personal well-being. Every business is different, so there isn’t one right way to best lead remote employees. Create practices and expectations that work best for your team.