Many things about the workplace have changed this year but the need to get the best from employees has not. Below are some suggestions how to do that remotely.

Many leaders are managing their teams remotely for the foreseeable future. For those managers used to sneaking the occasional glance at employees’ screens to make sure they really are working learning to trust that employees have got things covered will be paramount. When trust isn’t there, employees don’t perform as well remotely. Trusting employees to manage their own time might be the first step, but there are other things to consider to ensure remote performance management runs smoothly.

Input vs output
When setting goals with your newly remote workforce, keep in mind that progress should be tracked by output rather than input. The biggest challenge managers have in the current environment is that in many cases they can’t see their employees. So the big risk is that we revert back to inputs – how long someone is logged into their computer for. We’ve got to get better at checking in and gathering data about the contributions employees are making.

It’s easy to get off track when teams are dispersed, so it’s important to ensure that what employees are working on continues to align with the organisation’s overall mission. It’s important to be transparent and cascade organisational goals from the top when it comes to setting KPIs (key performance indicators) in a remote setting – so that every individual’s OKR (objectives and key results) is aligned with the company’s.

Keep it regular
When employees are working remotely, regular check-ins and transparency will ensure they are kept in the loop about how they’re performing. Most organisations will continue to have their formal performance management process, but managers should be checking in regularly so that when it comes time for the performance review, it’s never a surprise conversation.

Be flexible
Course correction is key when it comes to remote performance management. If priorities change, the last thing you want is employees still focusing on the old ones. Performance is more likely to be derailed when people are focusing on the wrong things rather than underperforming. COVID-19 has highlighted that it’s difficult to set goals 12 months in advance that are still going to be relevant.

When an employee’s performance has started to decline since working remotely, it’s important to change tack and separate the performance from the person i.e underperformance vs. the underperformer. There could be many factors contributing to the reduced performance, especially in the uncertain circumstances we now find ourselves, so managers should take a diagnostic approach and consider:

The differences. Have things changed within the organisation or has the employee been suffering personal difficulties? Working remotely can be technically challenging and not everyone is capable of self-management.

Organisational issues. Working remotely can highlight the weak spots in your organisation – whether that be outdated processes and technologies or a secretive culture. Managers should identify the organisational performance issues that are impacting the individual’s performance before pointing the finger.

Fact over emotion. Try to separate emotions such as anxiety, anger and frustration from fact before entering into a discussion with the underperformer. 

Taking responsibility. Consider whether you have been clear in your expectations from the employee and if you have provided adequate resources, coaching and feedback. Once the issue has been identified, engage the underperformer by asking what they might improve or any lessons that can be learned. Reassure them that missteps are okay when corrected and reiterate that you’re there for guidance.

Reward and recognition
Regular recognition and reward of performances essential when managing a remote workforce. Rather than reserving positive feedback for reviews, you want to be doing this on a daily basis through a technology platform. Value champions awards which have a monetary value associated with them when employees have really gone above and beyond to live or display a company value. This is called out on the platform to all employees.

The annual review
It’s likely much has changed since these goals were set, and employees may be dreading their review as their goals no longer apply. A focus on employee contribution rather than traditional performance measures may be warranted. We need to shift the focus to how our employees have behaved, how they have reacted to what we’ve thrown at them, what they’ve contributed, not just to the organisation, but to their peers and colleagues.

The performance review is also a wonderful opportunity to say, ‘what do you need, how are you going, how are you finding the balance of work and life, do you have everything you require to get your work done, is there any clarity that should be provided on what should be focussed on?’