Managing employee performance during Covid

Managing employee performance from a distance

A YEAR on from the start of lockdown, around a quarter of all employees in the UK are currently working remotely. For most, the benefits and limitations of working from home have become clear; even when employees do begin to return to the workplace, surveys indicate that hybrid models of working are here to stay.

Remote working has presented a number of challenges for both employees and employers. Training has been delivered remotely, team meetings conducted online and new starters onboarded via video conference. Workers have had to find a suitable (and preferably warm!) workspace while in many cases balancing their to-do list with home schooling.

It’s widely acknowledged that effective leadership has never been more crucial to a company’s success than during the pandemic, with managers needing to adapt swiftly to new ways of managing their teams.

One of the biggest challenges has been how to effectively manage people when you can’t talk to them face-to-face. Just because teams are out of sight, they must not be out of mind when it comes to employee performance management, even if managers are reluctant to raise issues for fear of impacting on an employee’s mental health.

Don’t be afraid to step in

Even when an entire team is working remotely, that doesn’t mean that the issue of under-performance can’t be tackled.

The first step is to assess performance and to understand whether an employee is under-performing or if they’re just doing enough.

It’s important to remember that for now, the water cooler chat, or even just stopping off for a quick word with a colleague on your way out to lunch, are on hold. This means that while working at home, most people are simply doing more. Some may be doing more than others, but the question is whether someone is still doing enough to fulfil their role.

And if it’s clear that an employee is simply not doing enough, don’t be afraid to tackle it. Managers may feel unsure about how to raise the issue of employee performance, particularly if the individual in question has the added pressure of home schooling.

Line managers have shied away from tackling under performance during lockdown, largely as a result of not wanting to impact on people’s mental health. Which is all very well, but if a member isn’t performing as they should be, that impacts on the work load and wellbeing of the others in the team – not to mention the line managers themselves. It’s a chain reaction, with implications for the entire team as inevitably someone else will need to pick up the work not being completed.

Follow the process

The first step is to talk to the individual and find out how they are doing and how they are coping with their workload. There appears to be an issue but there may be a straightforward way around it. If, for instance, the kids are home schooling or isolation, adjusting the hours of their working day could be a solution.

Good performance management includes finding solutions and this could be adapting working hours so they fit in around the school day. It may be that if it’s impossible for them to complete their tasks as they are looking after children or other dependents, they can be placed on furlough.

If no obvious solution can be found, then follow the formal process for managing under performance. Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean the issue has to be avoided. Have a couple of informal chats, warn the individual that the next step is to go through a disciplinary process and instigate that procedure if necessary. Even though you’re operating remotely, the process exists for a reason and it’s there to ensure fairness.

If you do have to go down the disciplinary route, it’s still fine to do this via video conference. The only times a meeting in person is vital is for a dismissal or redundancy – we’re all human and it’s a common courtesy.

Never underestimate the power of communication

To improve management of teams remotely, don’t underestimate the power of talking and having a catch-up with individuals. There’s nothing more disheartening than talking to a circle with someone’s initials in it, so encourage everyone to leave their cameras on!

It’s not about how you look or what’s in the background, face to face – albeit via a computer or smartphone – is far more powerful than a phone call. Never underestimate the impact of a face to face conversation, even if it’s only a 10-minute catch-up on a morning. If you were in the office, you’d be saying hello, making a cup of tea and so on, so make time to replicate this.

It’s an essential part of generating team cohesion and improving communication – something that’s easy to lose and difficult to recreate. You don’t even have to talk about work, just set aside the time for a regular connection.

It’s also easier to spot if someone is struggling than over the phone. They may appear disinterested, or contribute less than they might have done – and nobody is immune. Even virtually, you can ask your team to evaluate how they feel about their stress and energy levels, or what aspects of their role they find the most challenging.


For expert advice on managing under performance at work, or to access external HR support, please get in touch.