Managing New Teleworking Employees Requires a Light Touch

Don’t let working-from-home status delay feedback discussions

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Handsome businessman having Video Conference at home
Handsome businessman having Video Conference at home

With so many employees now working remotely for the foreseeable future, managing their performance requires a fresh approach and extra sensitivity. A Robert Half International survey in the late spring found that 77% of Americans who normally work in office environments were working from home—more than three times the figure from just two years ago. That is a seismic shift in corporate culture.

We have seen Performance Management evolve over the years. Ratings systems have come and gone. Frequency of reviews has changed from annual to quarterly, all in an attempt to determine how to effectively assess team and individual performance.

While companies that already promoted teleworking in the pre-virus era will have a relatively easy transition, many others, for whom a distributed workforce is new, will find remote Performance Management truly challenging.

4 simple steps for improving remote Performance Management

There are a few basic considerations that will make managing performance easier for both the newly remote employees and their leaders.

  1. Share ownership of performance. More often than not, it is the manager who takes the lead in providing feedback to their employees. I believe there is so much power in the employee taking the initiative to talk about career aspirations, ask for feedback, and work along with their managers to make their team more effective. It becomes a team effort—an ongoing conversation versus a single event.
  2. Intentional, more frequent communication. With so much of the workforce telecommuting, we are missing fundamental day-to-day human interaction such as conversations over coffee and non-verbal cues to assess how we are doing. Managers need to be more intentional and transparent in providing ongoing feedback to their employees. They have to be factual, crisp and clear—but they must also listen. We should no longer wait for an event, such as the (sometimes dreaded) “annual review.” On the contrary, managers should take advantage of ongoing interactions with their employees to let them know how they are doing. Make it a dialogue, part of your regular one-to-one discussions, or even informal “catch up” calls.
  3. Ask your employees how they feel. We cannot underestimate how hard it is for employees to adapt to remote working. We are all adjusting in so many ways. Managers who care take the time to listen and help their teams collectively be more effective. As a result, they’ll also have a more engaged and higher performing workforce.
  4. Having those hard conversations. Let’s admit this. Performance conversations are tough regardless, but they become even more challenging when handled remotely. My simple recommendation is not to delay these conversations, even if the employee’s teleworking situation is temporary. It is often said, feedback is a gift, and I believe this is true. The sooner managers can discuss areas of opportunity or improvement with their employees, the better it is for everyone. As a manager, you are giving your employee the chance to address something of which they may not even be aware. And it gives the employee time for self-reflection.

Ultimately, I believe the more Performance Management becomes embedded in our everyday corporate culture, the more effective an organization will be. It starts with frequent, open, transparent communication—and this can be done regardless of our physical location.

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