How to Manage Underperforming Homeworkers

how to manage underperforming homeworkersAcross the past year, one theme that has emerged is how powerless managers feel when it comes to managing someone remotely who they believe is underperforming. In this article, we will look at how to quickly recognise the employees that are underperforming and what steps you can take to resolve the issues.

What are the challenges?

If you can’t see them or see what they’re doing, are not privy to the internal and external conversations they are having, can’t see their body language which tells us so much about how people are feeling, including how engaged they are, then how on earth do you monitor, measure and of course, manage, their performance.

Managers might have an instinct that things are not as they should be, but how can managers begin poor performance discussions when there is nothing tangible.

Of course, you can move to a lazy managers tech performance management strategy, using endless intrusive tools such as screen monitors, key stroke monitors, motion sensors, web cam activity trackers, time recording systems etc. but of course that may damage the morale of your high performers. And whatever gadgets you use, you can be sure that:

  1. Smart employees will know where to find their own gadgets to beat the system.
  2. High flying employees will recognise it’s time to go somewhere they’re not treated like a faceless number.

Tech tools are not ideal if all you want to do is manage underperformers. A Hammer to crack a nut some might say!

So, if you rule out invasive and unpopular employee monitoring tools…

What you can do to manage and observe performance

Stay alert… be aware of…

Those who are not engaging e.g., cameras off, late to meetings, non-appearance at meetings, late submitted work, more errors, lower quality of work than expected, telephone ringing out, deteriorating relationships with manager and/or colleagues, ever increasing focus on task, not wider business engagement.

Often a warning sign is a loss of visibility. Who is slowly becoming invisible, disappearing and withdrawing from contact in your team? The lack of office or workplace visibility means that managers can no longer just see who is struggling or pick up those who are deliberately slouching off. Instead, managers now need to be constantly on the alert and watching for it.

This isn’t just about performance managing underperformers out through a formal disciplinary procedure. This is more often about picking up and supporting those who can still be saved through support, engagement and extra training.

To sum up here, you are watching out for changing levels of…

  • Accountability
  • Attendance
  • Quality
  • Communication
  • Relationships
  • Outputs

Why you should be making notes

If you pick up what is going on through ‘staying alert’ as we’ve set out above, then remember you need to make notes. Each time they’re late, sounding out of sorts, drop a ball etc. write down the what, the date, the time. You will build up a body of information over time and Your notes are the ‘evidence’ you need to manage under performance. In fact, it’s a courtesy and respect to your employee that you do have ‘evidence’ rather just hearsay to refer to or ‘I vaguely recall a few weeks back when you did x, y and z’.

These notes will often take less than a minute to write and can be just one line in a log you start. Don’t over complicate it.

E.g.;

  • ‘See email to client dated xxxx in which there are three typos’
  • ‘On x date had telecon with you about necessity of grammar and spelling check of all external Comms to clients’
  • ‘Email to me of xxxx said you would do xyz by close of play but you failed to deliver on time’
  • ‘Conversation with xyz at xyzzy concerning your refusal to support with project Q’
  • ‘Team meetings on x and x and x on each occasion you insisted your camera wasn’t working’
  • ‘You said you had Wi-Fi issues so couldn’t attend meetings or work on xx at x pm, xx at x am, xx at etc.’

Log it! And often it’s the accumulation of ‘evidence’ that indicates under performance, rather than a one-off event.

‘Given all this evidence, on balance of probabilities, I believe you are not performing to the necessary standard and our next steps are therefore 1,2,3. ‘

1, 2, 3… let’s look at what you do next!

Misconduct or poor performance?

Deliberate disengagement from work can be viewed and managed as misconduct. If they choose their behaviour, that is misconduct. If their behaviour is not a personal choice, or within their control then it is not misconduct. If you want to delve deeper into this read our misconduct or poor performance article.

There are of course formal procedures for the management of misconduct and managers should not shy away from this as there is only one way that misconduct goes if left unchecked and unmanaged and that is – from bad to worse!

So, we urge you to Manage misconduct promptly. Ignore it at your peril and in the knowledge that staff will identify you as a weak manager and the organisation as one that turns a blind eye to discipline. Unprofessional and weak.

From misconduct to underperformance…

But of course, most issues managers need to deal with are not about misconduct. More often it’s about poor performance, or the lesser form of it…under performance.

Under performance is when performance is not quite up to the required standard but is not yet so serious that you need to begin the formal poor performance disciplinary process.

In this case there are various options to consider…..these can be used in conjunction with each other:

  • Informal meeting/ line in sand meeting
  • Initiate formal poor performance process if you reflect and decide this is the most appropriate course of action
  • Bring in buddying or mentoring to support
  • Provide formal or informal training
  • Revisiting goals/targets and other deliverables, consider reducing time intervals to make them hourly, daily or weekly or chunking tasks down to bite size if you’re employee is struggling to focus
  • Book in daily check ins to discuss work and progress, making it easier to monitor what is being done. Be hot on it when check ins indicate under performance is continuing despite this or other interventions
  • Offer coaching
  • Address any wider team or wellbeing issues
  • Consider requiring an underperforming employee to return to office working

Most of these need no explanation here, but just a few pointers for any informal meetings you have.

At an informal meeting…

Discuss your concerns, provide evidence to back up those concerns, ask what support would be valued by the employee. Remind employee of standards required, put in place targets for change of behaviour, output, quality, communications etc. Check these are viewed as realistic and relevant by employee. Agree timing of next review.

Even an informal meeting with a manager is formal. Let’s not dress this up to be something it’s not! We’re not having a coffee and catching up on hobbies. We’re discussing performance and what needs to change. The topic is very serious indeed. An informal meeting is simply a meeting that is not held in line with your disciplinary process. No right to be accompanied, no formal approach to notes, no right to appeal etc. But it’s still deadly serious and notes can be taken…it’s still very formal!

Falling at the final hurdle…

Of course, many managers do a great job with supporting and managing under performance but fall at the final hurdle. I.e., they fail to move into formal performance or misconduct management when the employee’s performance does not turn around.

We have often advised…. don’t threaten formal performance management if you have no intention to ever enter that formal process. You can only threaten it a few times before your employees understand it’s just meaningless, empty threats.

Whether you threaten it or not, many employees know their manager won’t have the courage and determination to take this to the next stage if they don’t turn their performance around. They know their manager shies away from conflict and as a result they will be allowed to get away with it.

Often HR departments, to their shame, are complicit in this. At Jaluch we are not always proud of the industry we are in and its proclivity for ‘settling people out’ or ‘sticking head in the sand’ rather than addressing what needs to be addressed. Legal departments too need to recognise their role in this too.

To be clear…

A known management culture of ‘avoid conflict at all costs’ makes most performance interventions pretty meaningless.

As a reminder…

An employee who knows their manager never makes notes also will know that any serious performance management process is unlikely. As will any employee who knows their manager is too disorganised to ever follow up.

To reflect on…

The management of home workers in many ways requires far more of a manager than the management of someone who is within your sight line most days. Managers need to recognise this and change their management approach accordingly.

We encourage…

Businesses to step up the training for managers of remote workers and to step up to recognise and better support those managers. It’s a tough job. Let none of us be under any illusion about that!

And when you’re not sure how to progress an issue…. call us! We are here as a sounding board, to advise, to help you achieve your goals.

Some suggested 30-60 min training sessions for managers of remote staff:

  • Active listening online.
  • Note taking during formal online meetings.
  • ‘Connecting’ with people when you are online.
  • What empathy is and how to bring it online.
  • Self presentation – when you are online.
  • Motivating and engaging your team – online.
  • Leading an internal  meeting – strategies to ensure you both work through your agenda but also draw your team together – this is about leading, not managing, online.
  • Improved online collaboration tips and techniques.
  • Running meetings in a way that reduces ‘zoom fatigue’ for your team.
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