‘Businesses and workplaces should encourage their employees to work at home, wherever possible.’ This is the advice from the government to all UK business, in a bid to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 across the country.

For some companies, this is business as usual but for many this is a new approach and just like anything else that’s new, it comes with tricky challenges and questions.

A question we were asked recently was:

‘How can I manage under-performing staff remotely?’

Let’s face it, if you are a company who needs or wants its workforce to work from home from the get-go, you have the advantage of recruiting staff who you feel will best fit this role.

If you are not this type of company then you probably haven’t actively recruited staff with this skillset in mind. You may be a little dubious about the self-motivation of some of your workforce and you may have liked more time to have fully prepared and implemented a home-working policy and any training in advance but, in these times of crisis and rapidly changing circumstances, this level of preparation probably hasn’t happened. Fortunately, there are specific steps that managers can take to improve the engagement and productivity of remote employees, even when there is little time to prepare.

Many employers worry that, by working from home with less supervision, staff are exposed to more distraction than they would be in the place of work: TV, social media, people they live with, and that, as a result of this, they will not be able to or want to perform as they would otherwise.

Well, there’s got to be an element of trust. This may seem like a big ask, but in order to trust your employees, you need to shift from the belief that seeing someone sitting at a computer means that you know they’re working. You don’t.

The only way to really know if someone is contributing to the organisation is by their output and that’s just as easy to measure if they’re remote. In many ways it’s easier to measure as you don’t get distracted by other factors! Your staff will know that, too.

Your workforce may no longer be working under the same roof, but your current method of performance management can still be applied. Expectations regarding output, work ethic and conduct can all still be applied and monitored remotely. Performance management markers can still be triggered and reviews can take place, as they would in the working environment using face-to-face technology.

Monitor how you usually would: by the number of calls made, paperwork that’s been completed, emails that have been sent, designs that have been created, projects completed by deadlines, etc.

The most important thing to remember is to keep in touch! Employees will know exactly what they’re working on if you ‘meet’ regularly to discuss what is next and set the new agenda. Continue to set goals and celebrate successes.

It is important for managers to acknowledge stress, listen to employees’ anxieties and concerns, and empathise with their struggles. Your statutory duty of care is still in place so if employees are new to working from home, is clearly struggling but not communicating stress or anxiety, ask them how they’re doing. Once you ask the question, be sure to listen carefully to the response, and briefly restate it back to the employee, to ensure that you understood correctly. Offering support and encouragement in these new situations is imperative to a happy workforce.

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