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Adapting performance management to a remote workforce

Elissa Dennis
25th March 2020
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The business world is used to adjusting to fast-paced developments driven by rapid technological progress, but nothing could have prepared organisations for the enormous changes that have taken place over the past few weeks. In just a few days, the huge threat posed by coronavirus has enforced massive readjustments, with whoever can work at home being told to do so. The stark reality of the devasting impact of the disease, particularly witnessed in Italy, has made health the clear number one priority for everyone, with everything else a distant second.

However, it’s important that businesses do continue to function as best they can in these challenging times. Employees need to have the reassurance that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Through the measures taken by governments and medical research, a way through this crisis will be found. The organisations who support their workforce the most effectively during this challenging period, will be the ones best placed to forge ahead once the virus is brought under control.

A newly remote workforce

Working from home is not new for many people. Around a quarter of UK employees worked flexibly before this crisis, with the opportunity to work remotely. The positive news is that this means many businesses were already set up to support remote working, providing employees with suitable equipment and introducing systems that can be accessed easily outside the office.

The real challenge over the next few months will be employees working exclusively from home for an indefinite period. This will be completely new territory and will require adjustments to cope effectively. Working together when physically apart requires clear communication, regular contact, flexibility and understanding. For many employees, the objectives they were working towards have probably become irrelevant. Now more than ever, having goals is vital in order to stay positive, engender a sense of purpose and boost morale.

Time to reset and refocus

Many managers will be experiencing managing a remote workforce for the first time. This may well feel alien and disorientating as they can’t see how their reports are getting on. An effective way to create a new framework and begin to focus everyone on the tasks ahead is adapting their approach to performance management. In such a rapidly evolving environment, where things are changing from one day to the next, taking a little and often approach really is the best way forward. Here are the elements to focus on.

Purpose

Even though the environmental situation and indeed your organisation’s health may be changing on a daily basis, it’s important that employees can still derive a sense of purpose from their work. At Appraisd for example, we know that when this is all over, organisations and managers will need tools to help them engage, develop and encourage employees more than ever before. But we also know we cannot say what the next few months will hold for us – so we have a fairly short term strategy in place which is liable to change on a weekly basis.

💡 Tip: Use the Appraisd company announcement area to broadcast updates on strategy. We’ll happily help you keep it up to date regularly.



Objectives

It makes sense to start with objectives. It’s crucial to take this opportunity to review these and amend them to reflect the new situation. Providing goals that feel achievable and relevant will help focus employees and give them something positive to work towards. What employees can do from home may well be limited, but if their objectives reflect their new parameters, they can feel that there is still value in what they are doing.

It is also worth setting these new objectives over a relatively short timeframe, think weeks rather than months or years. The hope is that the current lockdown will be short-lived, so it makes sense to establish goals that can be achieved in the near future.

💡 Tip: Talk to Appraisd about setting up shared goals so one person can contribute to another’s goals.



Feedback, praise and recognition

Now, more than ever, positive feedback and recognition can make a huge difference to employees’ morale. Organisations that pull together and stay positive during this difficult time will have a much better chance of emerging successfully once the crisis is over. Encouraging employees to let others know they appreciate what they are doing and value their support can be extremely powerful. Managers must go out of their way to seek and draw out examples of good work or extra effort and let it be known that it’s appreciated. This should be done in the moment to have maximum impact, providing a well-needed boost and helping to focus on the positive. Think about how this can involve as many people as possible, perhaps making it part of virtual team meetings, so that successes can be shared and acknowledged.

💡 Tip: Use Appraisd’s instant feedback to give feedback on anyone, any time.



Training and development

As some employees may be limited in what they are able to achieve in their day-to-day job while working from home, think about how they could use their time productively for personal development. There are a host of useful and effective online learning tools available, so encourage employees to consider what they would like to improve and work on. These are things that often get overlooked in a busy office environment, so use this enforced break in the normal routine positively. There is nothing more depressing for employees than feeling there is nothing positive they can do. Setting training objectives provides a goal that everyone can achieve.

💡 Tip: Challenge employees to add a new personal development objective in Appraisd to achieve over the next four weeks. Then use the reporting tools to monitor take up and give encouragement where necessary.



Check-ins

If you're not already doing them, now is the ideal time to start check-ins, one-to-one meetings between managers and their reports focusing on their progress towards their objectives. Regular contact is so important at this time, it provides focus, structure and ensures a continued dialogue. It allows objectives to be reviewed and adjusted as needed, wider business objectives to be discussed and it’s an important opportunity to see how employees are coping with these extreme circumstances. Just asking the question, “How are you doing?” can make a huge difference and shows there is someone there to listen and support if they need it. The next few months will put the nation’s mental health under considerable strain and check-ins can provide an invaluable early warning sign to flag up if someone is struggling.

💡 Tip: Talk to us about our Working from home check-in template which helps draw out any issues ranging from the practical to the psychological.



Visual contact

Body language is vital part of communication. According to Dr Albert Mehrabian there is the 7%-38%-55% rule - communication is 7% words, 38% voice/tone, 55% body language. It is possible to tell so much more about someone by seeing them, especially picking up if they are really alright or need more support. Consider how you can build in video communication into your performance management routine to maintain that vital connection.

💡 Note: We are working on a labs feature that embeds video chat within check-ins and reviews. Watch this space!


Here to help

We have dozens of customers whose employees don’t work in traditional office settings and have built successful approaches to performance management that embrace remote workers. If you would like any help adapting your approach, please do get in touch, we’ll be only too happy to share our knowledge and expertise to support you through this crisis.