Struggling with a remote employee?

08/13/2020

Struggling with a remote employee?

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.

Struggling with a remote employee?

Ignore your instincts and ask outward and inward questions

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?

Here are some examples of outward questions you can ask…

  • How have you been feeling about your own performance lately? Where do you see opportunities to improve, if any?
  • How is the remote work environment currently hurting or helping you in making progress on your work?
  • What are you most enjoying about the work you’re doing? What part of the work is inspiring, motivating, and energizing, if any?
  • What part of the work do you feel stuck? What have you been trying the “crack the nut” on, but it feels like you’re banging your head?
  • What part of the work is “meh”? What tasks have you felt bored or ambivalent about?
  • When’s the last time you got to talk to or connect with a customer who benefited from the work you did? Would you like more opportunities to do that, and should make that happen?
  • Do you feel you’re playing to your strengths in your role? Where do you feel like there is a steep learning curve for you?
  • Would you say you’re feeling optimistic, pessimistic or somewhere in the middle about the company’s future?

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.