COVID-19 has shown us that remote working, which often includes home working, can work; at least from a technical perspective and in the short term whilst responding to the pandemic. But what about how it works from the perspective of employee performance?

 

This article is accompanied by our webinar recording, which you can watch On Demand.

 

Challenges of home working

 

Remote working has many benefits for both the employer and employee, yet it also has its challenges.  If the challenges are not managed or managed correctly, they can impact on how the employee performs in their role.

 

Here are some challenges associated with remote working that can impact performance:

 

  • The employee may have technical or equipment issues
  • The employee may not be effective at managing their own schedule and time
  • There can be distractions, different to those typically seen in the workplace
  • There can be reduced supervision and direction, which can often be unintentional
  • Communication can become more ambiguous, unclear as the use of email, online platforms and text messaging becomes the norm over verbal and face to face communication
  • Social isolation can occur, which for some, could lead to disengagement
  • Creativity and idea sharing can become restricted as the debate, discussion and idea sharing gained from face to face, and spontaneous interactions are harder to conduct or even may no longer take place
  • The role may not be suited to working remotely simply because of job specific factors such as the role relying on face-to-face interactions, or personal relationships
  • If remote working is from the home, there can be a blurred line between work and personal life which can affect an employee’s wellbeing
  • Being out of the office can mean being out of the loop on office fun, team spirit and culture.

 

 

Managing performance as part of day-to-day line management

 

When managing a direct report who is remote working, then there are several steps that can be taken to help ensure performance is maintained and mitigate some of those challenges identified earlier:

 

Encourage boundaries and setting routines

It is vital for an employee’s wellbeing that they set their own boundaries and separate home from work.  It is therefore particularly important to set aside a dedicated space within the home where the employee works from which is also set up as a workspace. This helps in the separation of home and work life and helps to prevent distractions, especially if the workspace has been set up without access to a television or other items that may distract them.

 

Setting routines and having a structure to the working day is equally important for approaching the working day. Whilst working from home has advantages for giving greater flexibility for balancing home and work life, having a structured day provides that clarity around when an employee should be working and when they can spend time with their family or doing personal things.  Without structure it can be easy for the day to slide with not all tasks having been completed.  A structure also helps to ensure that long hours are prevented as the employee is aware of having completed a day’s work.

 

A line manager should encourage separation between home and work, and for those who are new to working from home, provide guidance on how best to develop structure.

 

Having an effective co-ordination of work tasks

If you are a line manager to many employees, and all or some may be working from home, then it can be challenging to ensure you have alignment amongst your team when it comes to departmental goals and objectives being met.  Managing a dispersed team requires effective organising and communication skills on the part of a line manager.

 

Acknowledge and agree that some tasks may still require face to face interaction

Home working is not always perfect and for some roles, departments, some tasks are better face to face, such as those that require creativity, brainstorming or problem solving.  Whilst working from home provides many benefits, there is one thing that you cannot replicate, and that is the spontaneous conversations and discussions that take place within the workplace.

 

Consider therefore, whether any of the tasks are better performed on site and face to face with colleagues.  It is important if you do believe some activities require on site presence, to discuss this with your employee, explaining your rationale and agreeing a way of working that can avoid performance issues that could arise through remote working.

 

Determine how you will be able to monitor performance remotely

This is perhaps one of the main concerns that line managers have; how can you ensure your employee is pulling their weight and doing the work? This is where effective line management skills and having clearly defined performance measures is vital.

 

Each job should have a job description and person specification so that clear roles, responsibilities, and expectations can be defined.  Each role will have performance measures or indicators of what constitutes an effective performance of that role.. 

 

Ensure you can build and maintain culture, social interaction, and team cohesion

When working remotely, it is important to ensure that the company’s culture, employee social interaction and team cohesion is maintained.  Having a disengaged employee can contribute towards under performance.

 

Line managers should also encourage and support the use of varied forms of communication tools to reduce and avoid fatigue from long online meetings.  Fatigue is another factor which can impact on performance.

Incorporating face to face contact within your team helps create team cohesion and organisational belonging, it helps the onboarding of new members of staff and cross team relationships.

 

Consider how learning and development can develop performance when working from home

Employee development remains crucial post COVID-19 as businesses rebuild.  For some employees, working from home was a brand-new experience.  It takes discipline and finding new ways of working to adapt to the new environment. 

 

Working in the workplace also brings informal learning, which you do not get in the same way when working remotely, such as the job work shadowing or debating of issues.  With home working consideration needs to be given as to how you can compensate for this lost informal learning.

 

 

Managing under performance

 

Through normal line management it will become apparent whether an employee is performing the role to the required standard and where they are not, you should have an idea as to why.  This is because effective line management involves providing support, guidance and using tools such as ‘example led’ constructive feedback.    

 

Remote working can bring about performance issues, such as those set out above, as well as challenges in how performance can be managed.  Regardless of where the employee operates from, a fair process continues to apply, albeit adaptations may need to be made to account for the remote working.  Here are some suggestions for how best to address under performance:

 

  • Ensure that regular 121s with your team member continue and if they cannot take place together on site, then at least use video conferencing. These informal catch ups are your opportunity to provide support, guidance, and set/re-enforce expectations.

 

  • Move to addressing the underperformance in line with your company policy and procedures. Where an employee fails to meet the minimum performance standards for reasons outside of their control, this is a capability issue.  For some organisations, their Disciplinary Policy also deals with capability and not just conduct matters, but for others, there may be a specific separate Performance Capability Policy in place.  So, it is important to check what is in place in your own workplace and manage the capability issues in line with that.

 

  • It is typical for there to be an informal stage to a capability process where an employee is set an informal performance improvement plan (PIP). This is different to the usual day to day informal line management because it is the pre stage to any formal stage and with it comes the requirement to forewarn the individual of the consequences of it not working, i.e., formal action and potential impact on their employment.  At this informal stage, the employer should explain how the performance capability process works in practice (whether it is part of the disciplinary policy, or under its own separate policy) and the consequences of passing or failing the various stages. So, in the event of being in the situation where you must consider dismissal, you will have at least ensured the employee has been made clear at every stage of the process as to what may happen if their performance may not improve.

 

  • So, within the informal PIP the employee will have SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) and detail of the support measures necessary to help them achieve them. The aim ultimately, is to improve performance and hope that the under performance can be corrected just at the informal stage.

 

  • However, where the under performance does not improve through the informal performance management stage, then it is necessary to move to the formal performance management process. The process is very similar to the informal stage; you continue to assess performance through a PIP, but this time, the meetings that take place to discuss the under performance are formal, and a formal sanction can be given if the PIP has not been adequately achieved.  This formal process repeats itself where under performance continues, meaning that an employer can progress through the formal warning stages until ultimately, where under performance is still occurring, all options have been explored to avoid any dismissal (such as redeployment), then a dismissal on the grounds of capability can take place (with notice).

 

Further HR Guidance