For many remote workers—especially extroverts—working from home leaves them feeling disconnected and isolated, and their productivity suffers. Sequestered from managers, team members, and friends, they struggle to find purchase with projects and meet deadlines.
New distractions such as TVs, pets, family members, delivery drivers—not to mention things to do and places to go—interrupt workflow and make it nearly impossible for them to concentrate.
For employees not able to optimize their working hours, managers need to be aware of signs indicating an issue. Simple steps will enable evaluation from afar and set the stage for a frank discussion about what the business can do to help.
Signs of productivity loss come in many forms. Often deadlines are missed, work quality suffers, communication is lacking, out-of-office notices increase, or the employee is not regularly available during business hours.
By learning to recognize and address concerns before they harm the business, managers can retain valuable employees and the domain expertise they have accumulated.
Managers should document incidents and resulting conversations so that if the issue progresses to the point, it warrants a discussion or reprimand, specific topics can be discussed.
When employees cannot gain purchase with a project, they will often avoid work. This reluctance may manifest as a late start, leaving early, or taking frequent, extended breaks away from their desk. To confront this issue, schedule meetings during these times.
A quick pep talk first thing in the morning can help an employee start their day with enthusiasm instead of dread—especially when a project is intimidating. Ask the employee what they are doing to get the day started and, if necessary, press for details. If the employee describes the tasks or steps in-depth, it can help to get their juices flowing, increase their confidence, and set the stage for a quick start.
Scheduling a wrap-up session at 4:30 to check on progress lets the employee know performance is expected and will be verified.
If employees are not meeting expectations, try verifying their availability. Conduct unscheduled video check-ins to ensure they are at their desk and working. If the employee misses more than two of these calls, hold a conversation around expectations. Depending upon the size of the organization, this may need to include a verbal or written warning filed with HR.
Poor work quality
When work quality suffers, deadlines are missed, and it has been established the employee is working their full shift, it is likely the remote work environment is the issue. It’s common for the employee to feel isolated and detached. In this case, increase communication to reconnect the employee and help ground them. Schedule frequent video conferences and create team-building situations such as virtual happy hours.
If the employee has been assessed and is not fulfilling the job duties, schedule a time for a professional review and conversation. Refer to documented incidents rather than a general discussion. Ask other managers or team members about their experiences but do not use their names in talks with the employee. The more specific the references, the easier it will be for both parties to consider them openly and find a resolution.
Be on the lookout for early signs of trouble, so feedback is timely. The longer issues are allowed to manifest, the more difficult it will be to correct or overcome them. Distance hampers remote workers and businesses. Though video conferencing is valuable, the lack of nonverbal communication nuances makes even friendly conversations less personal.
Despite a manager’s best efforts at casual, open conversations, having a conversation with an employee about their performance can come off sounding harsh, intimidating, or worse, threatening.
According to David Alexander, the Director of Student Services at the International Career Institute, managers should: “Focus on the 10%. Only 10% of the tasks on our agenda are truly what creates the desired outcome. Be ruthless about eliminating interruptions. Define the goal and focus your energies on the key task. Delegate and rearrange time-consuming tasks to an ad hoc basis.”
Keep this in mind when broaching sensitive topics about the team member’s productivity. Start with a positive review of what is going well and give him or her an opportunity to discuss the challenges they are facing.
If the employee is reluctant to discuss the matters, prompt the conversation by exploring an isolated incident that may indicate they are having a difficult time. Only by listening closely will the manager come to understand where the employee is having trouble and be able to raise creative suggestions.