The coronavirus pandemic risks remote-working employees sliding into declining performance if not managed properly. But while employers have the right to expect goals to be hit, they also have a responsibility to explain what they are in the first place.
It all started with the enticing prospect of employees regaining control – of being able to juggle their home and work lives without actually feeling like juggling at all.
But six months in, the reversal of government requests to return to the office later (plus the prospect of another six months of working from home), and the cracks are starting to show. In short, working from home isn’t always working. It’s not working from a wellbeing point of view (during a ten-day period in June, one-in-five home workers claimed to have experienced depression, source: ONS), but it’s also not working from a performance and productivity point of view. A third of workers recently polled by Digital.com admitted they were now less productive – with reasons cited including everything from less collaboration (33%), to less mental stimuli (29%), having anxiety (28%) to – not forgetting – experiencing less management oversight (18%).
Lack of oversight cannot be underestimated. Just because organisations need to be more compassionate, and reflective of people’s at-home situation doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to insist on proper performance. It’s why it’s never been more important that organisations are clear in their expectations of staff, including setting defined goals and targets and ensuring feedback is being given.
Pre-COVID, oversight that was informal, and took place naturally in the office, is now often absent altogether. But far from oversight being some Orwellian notion of control, scrutiny and surveillance, line manager supervision is something many employees actually crave; to make them feel they are meeting targets, meeting performance expectations, and contributing their part to a company's strategic aims. A recent Gallup poll found 26% of employees strongly agree the feedback they get helps them improve their work.
Lack of support and oversight on the other hand risks remote employees setting themselves unrealistic expectations, taking on too much responsibility and not being able to clearly delineate between what are working hours and non-working hours. This, plus lack of appropriately-timed intervention often starts the slippery slope towards too-late-to-avoid disciplinary action and even worse.
So, what can you do to improve staff performance remotely?
One way to combat this issue is by having regular employee performance reviews online. By using manager and employee self-assessment, 360 feedback from the team or customers, and keeping the entire process in one easy to use app, you can help your employees receive the feedback they need from their managers. Using an online employee performance module, as part of your HR software solution, can help your managers by using templated reviews for consistency, and keeps all of these in one area, accessible only by those who need to see it.
Proper goal setting technology eradicates legitimate performance confusion by spelling out exactly what’s expected, and allows for online collaboration of what everyone is doing. In doing so it prevents the potential for burnout – by spelling out only what’s important (and when) and seeing that other members of the team, or company, are also contributing to the success. But crucially, in doing so, it also creates better opportunities for earlier, and more constructive and remedial dialogue between staff and managers if performance dips, and goals are not met.
Vital during this pandemic are regular check-ins – for the reassurance they give, and the opportunity to discuss matters around performance that arise. Early communication will always help, rather than hinder engagement. It gives opportunities for both parties to reassess goals if they appear unachievable. Not only will updated performance expectations help staff maintain their focus, energy and purpose, it reinforces feelings that bosses are prepared to listen and adapt.
Unfortunate though they might be, if disciplinary procedures do have to ensue, it’s vital employers are able to prove they’ve had prior check-ins; that they have tried to adjust workloads accordingly, and done all they’ve done to accommodate a member of staffs’ needs. Using a Checklist feature in HR software gives managers in different offices the ability to ensure they’ve followed all the necessary steps before, or during, disciplinary processes.
It’s not a given that performance has to nose-dive during these unusual (but fast becoming usual) times. Proper preparation prevents poor performance – so the saying goes – and firms simply need to prepare their teams for the changed expectations that are now required of them. It won’t be employees’ fault if they don’t know what’s expected. Inform them though, and your staff will understand. Involve them in their goals and expectations will be shared. Support them and they will feel engaged. It’s always made sense before, and it makes even more sense now.