How to Manage Employees Who Are Underperforming Remotely

Nowadays, remote work has taken the work world by storm. However, as employees all across the globe transition to remote work, some will struggle to adjust more than others.
Remote employee
This all may seem foreign to workers who are used to working in-person in their offices (or places of work). This is especially quite the dilemma for managers who must figure out a way to address underperformance without the advantage of a meaningful face-to-face conversation. Dealing with an underperformer is already a challenge for most managers with many preferring to avoid it entirely. Unfortunately, underperformance is not something managers should overlook if they want their business to succeed.
Why Managers Need To Address Underperformance
Despite being one of the most challenging aspects of the job, dealing with performance issues is a crucial responsibility. Managers simply can't afford to ignore underperformance in an employee. The cost of turning a blind eye to poor performance is too high on other employees and the performance of the business. 68% of works believe that low performers lower team morale, while 44% say low performers increase the burden on high performers according to a survey discussed in The Economist. When managers fail to address underperformance, employees who are performing well consequently suffer.

"If poor performance in your remote workers continues to remain unaddressed," warns Ora Emerson, a HR manager at Paperfellows and Boomessays, "you'll risk having them take advantage of not working when they're supposed to. That's why it's important to check in with your remote staff regularly, so that they know to check in and stay productive in their work despite their being away from the office."
Tips For Managing Employees Struggling To Perform Remotely
Managing employees who are struggling to perform up to their usual standards remotely is tough-especially in the midst of challenging times like a global pandemic. Here are a few tips to make that difficult conversation a bit easier.
Clearly Define Your Expectations
The shift from an in-person workplace to working from home may have been so sudden for some employees that it lacked clarity and guidance. Clearly defining what you expect from their performance can prevent the need for conversations about underperformance in the first place.

Sometimes, an employee might be underperforming because they don’t have a clear understanding of your expectations for remote work. However, if this is not the case, it is useful to convey your standards for their performance regardless. Communicating your expectations when discussing underperformance with an employee will help them recognize their own shortcomings.

In addition, you may want to explain appropriate work hours for your remote staff, so that they get a better understanding on things like deadlines, projects, and so on. Just because remote work is flexible for your staff, doesn’t mean that they should slack off when it comes to upcoming projects and deadlines. You should still remind them about being on time and never procrastinating.
Remote employee
Recognize Good Performance
Research shows that focusing on the weaknesses of the employee results in a 27% decline in performance. If you want your employees to accept your constructive feedback better, recognize the things they do well consistently. If most of your feedback is positive, your constructive ones carry more weight. Providing good feedback before the negative ones could also minimize any potential blow to their confidence and mental health.
Approach Them With Empathy
Though it is important to tackle the issue directly, it must be handled with extreme empathy. If possible, speak to them through a video call to mimic a face-to-face conversation as closely as possible. This also allows you to demonstrate genuine concern and compassion in your facial expressions which could ease any anxieties they might have over the conversation. Most times, simply asking an employee why they’re not performing to the best of their ability will produce an honest response. Listen intently to the cause of their underperformance and validate their struggles. If the reason is caused by factors outside of the workplace, lending an ear to their problems might encourage the employee to trust you more. If the reason is related to work, help them come up with a solution.
Remote employee
Brainstorm Solutions Together
Once you’ve identified the root cause of their underperformance, work with the employee to find a suitable solution. Ask questions that urge them to evaluate their own performance and recognize the necessary steps for improvement. In addition to finding a solution, redirect them towards any available resources the company offers that might help them such as mental health support.

This strategy may not be possible if the employee’s underperformance is caused by factors beyond work and they don’t feel comfortable sharing details with you. However, if they trust you enough, you might still be able to brainstorm solutions to their personal problems with them.
Keep In Constant Contact With Them
Staying in contact with your underperforming employee is not the same as micromanaging them. Instead, plan weekly check-ups or meetings to discuss their progress. This allows you to keep track of their performance while reassuring the employee that you're invested in their improvement. "Schedule regular Zoom meetings or encourage underperforming employees to reach you through email or text," advises Bryan Isom, a writer at State Of Writing and Essayroo. "This helps keep them accountable and lets them know you're rooting for them."
Talk About Adaptation
Finally, it’s normal for remote staff — especially those who have never done this type of work before — to feel a bit off on doing this. As a company, it’s important for you to educate your employees about remote work. Talk about how while remote work isn’t necessarily a have-to, it’s recommended, especially with the workforce still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, let staff know that it’s okay for them to ask questions on how their remote work experience can be beneficial to them. Give them recommendations on how they can improve their work experience. Plus, ask them if they’ll need anything — certain devices, apps, software, etc. — to make their work experience better for them.

By being there for your remote staff, you’re ensuring a secure adaptation of remote work on their end.
Though it can be challenging for many managers, dealing with an underperforming employee is a necessary part of the job. When delivered appropriately, 92% of employees agree that redirecting or negative feedback can improve performance according to this study by the Harvard Business Review. For managers who dislike criticizing the performance of their employees, it may be easier to do so remotely and free from the pressure of a face-to-face conversation.
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