Remote teams have been growing in popularity for some time now and have never been more common than in 2020. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies were forced to shift to a remote working setup without the benefit of a transition period. As a result, many team leaders are managing remotely for the first time and are at a loss about dealing with performance issues in a remote team.
Though working from home has many advantages, managing a remote team can also be challenging. However, remote teams are likely here to stay – I work with people based in different places throughout the world!
So, it makes sense for managers to get used to managing the challenges. So how do you handle performance issues in a remote team? Read on to learn how to adapt your management style so your remote team can thrive and collaborate.
Why Might Performance Issues Arise in a Remote Team?
Many performance issues in remote teams stem from managers not having enough experience with managing people who don’t work in the same location.
Identifying and addressing performance issues in teams that work on-site can be challenging enough, but with fewer variables, it is generally easier to zero in on underperformance and identify the reasons for it.
Remote work adds additional complications, such as lack of in-person managerial oversight and the distractions of home. For companies that shifted to remote working quickly, the sudden change added an additional layer.
Performance problems can arise in any team. For remote workers – particularly newly remote workers – issues such as a lack of personal interaction, less-than-optimal working conditions, personal life difficulties, and a lack of boundaries between work and personal time can all play a role in causing or exacerbating performance problems.
But whatever the causes are, it’s important to know how to address them. It takes a change of management perspective to improve employee productivity levels in a remote setting, and that’s what we’re going to discuss next.
How to Handle Performance Issues Remotely
If you’ve identified a performance issue within your team, what’s the best way to handle it remotely? Fortunately, many of the techniques you learned from managing employees in person can be applied here with a little creative thinking.
Read on to learn a few strategies that will help you support your team to overcome performance issues and achieve their full potential.
Keep an open line of communication
When you work at an office, communication is as easy as standing up and walking across the office to the person you’d like to talk to. Unfortunately, remote teams don’t have that kind of convenience. This means you have to work harder to keep your communication lines open.
There is no shortage of communication tools at your disposal. You might already have a messaging app like Skype, a file-sharing app like Dropbox, and an online meeting app like ClickMeeting. Then, of course, there’s a good old-fashioned email.
It’s best to decide what your team will use and then create dedicated spaces for internal communication. Your company’s IT department might be able to suggest communication apps that comply with security and privacy standards. For example, you might have a team Slack channel where you can discuss work-related matters in real-time.
Build a culture of accountability
Micromanaging your team members is never a good idea. However, in a remote setting, it becomes almost impossible. It can also lead to lower productivity and higher employee attrition rates.
The only antidote to this is building a culture of accountability. This involves actively empowering your team members to take ownership of their role within the team. Simple fixes like using an employee timesheet app will allow your employees to plan their schedule and manage their time effectively. You can also use regular check-ins (more on that shortly) and team collaboration tools like Trello to keep everyone accountable for their roles in team projects.
Work with your team members to come up with a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) and define expectations, as well as make sure everyone understands the actions that will be taken if their performance falls short.
Accountability also includes trusting that your employees know what they’re doing and that they’re the subject-matter experts for the processes that they handle. If they feel trusted, they will feel empowered to take responsibility for their work.
Ask open questions
To deal with performance issues in a remote team, you’ll need to get to the bottom of the problem by conducting a root-cause analysis. That means going beyond questions that are answerable with a simple “Yes” or “No”. These questions tend to lead to dead ends and answers that don’t really solve anything.
Instead, ask open, probing questions, like “Why do you think this is happening?” Open questions allow the person to explain the issue to the best of their ability. Asking the right questions can also help encourage your team members self-diagnose their performance issues and learn from them. For example, you may ask, “How will this experience prepare you to do better moving forward?”
Open questions help you avoid micromanaging or “scolding” your employees, and instead make the process into a collaborative one. By asking for their input and helping your team members come up with the answer themselves, you encourage them to take ownership of the solution.
Be supportive, not punitive
Multiple studies have shown that a punishment-oriented approach to performance issues doesn’t increase employee productivity. In fact, it might even make the situation worse. Performance issues almost always have a reason behind them, and it is not usually that the employee doesn’t care. They might be feeling overwhelmed, be stuck on a task, and not know how to ask for help or be dealing with a personal issue.
That means, while you do need to address performance problems, you must do it in a way that does not discourage your employee or make them feel punished.
Once you’ve identified the cause of an employee’s poor performance, you need to reassure them that management will do everything they can to support them in improving it. This might involve a performance improvement plan, additional training, or extra one-to-one managerial support.
You can also work with HR to identify resources that could help the employee do their job better. These resources might even be helpful to the rest of the team!
Supporting employees through a performance issue benefits everyone. If your team sees you as a warm and supportive manager, they’ll be more inclined to raise problems early, heading off performance issues before they grow bigger.
Implement tools to help with performance
It is also possible that your team is underperforming because the tools they use are not optimized for remote working. If you’re working remotely for the first time, you might need to tweak your processes or try different tools.
Productivity apps can be fantastic for remote teams, especially those that are newly remote. They can help your employees manage their time, collaborate, and find the little productivity hacks that make a big difference. Choose tools that are easy to use and can be rolled out to your team without much of a learning curve. If you’re not sure what would work for your team, ask them!
Have a defined system of regular remote performance reviews
You might be working from home, but it doesn’t mean you no longer need to provide feedback to your employees. If you’re dealing with performance issues in your remote team, regular and consistent feedback is more important than ever. You’ll need a defined system that you can stick to.
How often you meet with your employees to give feedback is up to you. You might choose to do quarterly formal performance reviews and supplement them with short weekly one-to-ones. In other teams, monthly might make more sense. Figure out what works for you and your team.
A system of regular remote performance reviews will not only allow you to share feedback with your team members. It will also help you identify potential performance issues before they happen.
Performance reviews should focus on specific behaviors that affect performance and the steps the employee can take to address them. Be specific about what improvement you need to see, too. For example, don’t just tell your employee “you’re not performing well, and you need to improve”. That’s too vague. Instead, say something like, “I’d like to see the 10% increase in the number of marketing leads you’re generating each day”. You should also take the time to ask the employee if there is anything you can do to support them.
Feedback is a two-way street, and performance review meetings are a great way of learning more about how your team members feel about their work and the way the company treats them. Listen to your employees as much as you talk.
Handling performance issues in a remote team requires many of the same skills that you’d use if you were managing in person. You just need to adapt your approach slightly to account for your team’s reality.
In summary, here are my top tips:
- Keep communication lines open;
- Build a culture of ownership and accountability;
- Shift to an open-ended question style;
- Focus on providing support to underperforming employees, not punishing them;
- Implement the relevant productivity tools;
- Give regular feedback that focuses on specific behaviors.
Observing these practices will help you anticipate and address performance gaps in your remote team before they get out of hand.
Remote work has a lot of benefits, and it looks set to be here to stay. This means you’ll need to adjust your leadership style to continue supporting your team and achieving great results. And when you do deal with performance issues in a remote team, you can go a long way towards resolving them by fostering transparency, trust, and accountability.
Matt Diggity is a search engine optimization expert focused on affiliate marketing, client ranking, lead generation, and SEO services. He is the founder and CEO of Diggity Marketing, The Search Initiative, Authority Builders, LeadSpring LLC, and host of the Chiang Mai SEO Conference.