In this article, our Senior HR Advisor, Claire McGuinness, discusses managing performance whilst working remotely.
Covid-19 caused a massive personal reset on how we think about our lives, what’s important to us, what our priorities are, and how we can be as successful and satisfied (or perhaps more) by changing how we work. Prior to the pandemic, many employers were reluctant to allow working from home and other forms of flexible working. ‘How will we know what they’re doing’ and ‘they’ll just start doing the laundry instead of working’ were common responses.
Driven by the pandemic, homeworking and hybrid policies have given employers some serious re-evaluation to do. The last 16 months have demonstrated working remotely has proven to be very effective for millions of people. They have been more productive whilst working the same (or fewer) hours and have a better work-life balance. Plus, reducing travel costs is now a key argument for most businesses to consider working remotely more often and rely less on office face-time. In consequence, managers are now expected to lead virtual teams and remote reports almost as a matter of course, whether they like it or not. But…are they particularly good at it? As managing performance remotely is one of the key challenges for employers, here we will look at how with a shift in mindset employers can successfully manage performance remotely. It requires good management styles, true leadership, and trust.
Trust is a hugely important part of any relationship and a big part of why micromanaging can damage morale and reduce productivity. Trusting all of your employees is highly important but it is critical in maintaining a strong working relationship with those based remotely. Having this trust enables you as an employer to be a little more hands-off while giving your remote workers the freedom to do what they do best. This is likely to increase performance on the basis of boosted morale but also allows you to manage performance in an efficient way.
Micromanaging occurs when managers try to exert an excessive amount of control over the employees that report to them. It’s not necessarily malicious. It may in fact come from a place of good intentions, but it’s harmful nonetheless. Micromanaging has a dramatic impact on employee satisfaction. A huge 85 percent of survey respondents said their morale was worsened by the effects of micromanagement. Studies show lack of autonomy at work elevates stress hormones and can have other negative health effects. In the long term, it slows down the team’s performance. Micromanagement also leads to attrition, and retention issues are costly – when micromanagement rears its ugly head, it can prevent even your top players from hitting company targets.
What does remote work have to do with this? In the remote context, it can feel like you have no idea what your team members are doing if you’re not checking on them all the time. But overcompensating with policies that require excessive updates is not doing you or your team any favours. In fact, chances are you’re killing their productivity and morale.
Instead of turning to a “command and control” style, consider setting clear, fair communication expectations and trusting your team members until there is an issue. Recognise that you can’t monitor every aspect of a remote team member’s work – and nor should you need to. Experienced employees do not want to be micro-managed or feel like they are not trusted to do their jobs. Instead, employers should get comfortable with trusting rather than constantly observing. This doesn’t mean any monitoring and measuring of performance, but thinking differently about objectives and assessment. Most employees expect and some want a form of direction, so finding the balance is key.
Communication is one of the most important factors in a remote working relationship. However, it doesn’t need to be hourly or daily, as long as we are communicating what’s working well and what’s not. Finding the balance of how often you communicate with your remote team is crucial. Nobody wants to feel abandoned but the micro-manager will have more of a negative impact. It’s important, just as an employee in the office, that your remote team(s) understand the importance of their work, how it fits into the bigger picture, and critically what they do well and what can be improved.
It’s never a good idea to let performance concerns linger – such situations rarely resolve themselves. Remember that at the moment, as many employees are still coping with the challenges of working through a pandemic, some may not be able to perform at their usual levels. Especially if they have been unwell, bereaved, or have limited childcare. Don’t wait for a formal meeting or scheduled appraisal if you have concerns about performance. Instead, arrange a video call with your employee as quickly as possible. Remember to provide positive feedback and praise when it’s due. Doing so will keep up morale and help remote employees to feel as valued as those who are office-based.
Deadlines are such an important part of ongoing performance management as well as hard metrics to measure by when it comes to appraisals. In a remote working environment, without in-person reminders or face-to-face meetings, keeping on top of deadlines can be that much harder. Being clear in what you expect from your employees from the outset makes performance management much easier to handle for everyone. Clear expectations and deadlines also give you fantastic material to discuss when it comes to appraisals, evaluating, and understanding how to get the most out of your time working together.
Employers who during the pandemic may have switched from input to output appraisal, this means they measure employees’ productivity and the quality of work by looking at what they deliver and not at the number of hours they put in. The end product is what counts. Taking an output or results-based perspective on performance management inevitably leads to a much more flexible approach to work. With this method, employees may be able to decide how they want to do their work and when, but giving deadlines still enables them to work within the boundaries set by the remote leader. Within this approach, what matters most is that expectations are met and goals are reached.
Whether you operate online or paper-based, setting objectives is a key part of performance management for any employee. Those who work remotely will often need clearer objectives than those whose expectations and workloads can be managed in person. Goal-setting and clear objectives are directly linked to improved engagement, morale, and productivity. Without the structure of a day at the office, remote workers can benefit hugely from this added structure. Every employee needs to know what is expected of them and how their contribution will be assessed and reviewed. When the situation changes, the objective should too.
During these challenging times, take a step back and evaluate your management style and approach to dealing with remote workers. Don’t allow yourself to become what many employees consider to be their worst nightmare – a dreaded micromanager. By taking the steps we have outlined above, you can avoid this no-win situation.
It doesn’t have to be difficult to manage performance remotely. It’s predicted that in the future more people will want to work remotely, at least for some of the working week, so now is the time to adapt performance management processes to ensure success.
Building trust is therefore the cornerstone of our approach in effective remote performance management. One key explanation for increased employee productivity in remote teams is that employees feel the need to return the favour shown by their leader in trusting them to work well remotely.
If you have any further questions or queries about the content above or would like to request a demo for oneHR, please don’t hesitate to contact the oneHR team today.