June 11, 2020

A HR Dilemma: Managing performance when employees are working from home

Managing the performance of employees working from home is something many managers may find challenging. When your team members are out of sight, there can be a temptation to also leave them out of mind. But with COVID-19 shutting down workplaces and disrupting businesses, working remotely has gone from a convenience to a necessity for many organisations. And now that many Australians have got a taste for it, working from home looks like it could become a long-lasting fixture for some. 

It’s always important to be across your teams and to understand how people are motivated in their roles. Everyone approaches their work differently. So, with this in mind, we thought it was time to put together our HR guide on how to manage remote employees so that they stay high performers. 

The scale of the problem

Studies have shown that about forty per cent of all jobs in a modern economy can plausibly be done from home. During the height of Australia’s COVID-19 closedown, that figure was well and truly pushed to the limit. Now, with people returning to work and many businesses scaling up again, many people have gained a taste for it. Perhaps more importantly, the government is encouraging people to work from home and discouraging public transport use during peak hour. So it seems that working from home may be the reality for many workers for the foreseeable future.  

Working from home presents a real challenge for some employers, especially when it comes to getting the best performance from their team. After all, the reaction of many employers is to counter poor remote working performance by simply asking the employee to return to the office. Now, that situation is not as simple as it seems. 

It’s time to come up with a better solution.

HR Tip 1: Harness the power of structure

One thing missing from many people’s day to day when working from home is structure. That’s understandable but the reality is that many people need it. In my opinion, good managers need to build structure into their team’s day, even when they’re working from home.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they expect their employees to sit at their desk for nine hours straight. But, it does mean having regular team meetings (preferably on Zoom to encourage employees to get out of their pyjamas). It also means having frequent phone calls with each member of staff, where possible. As a general rule, talk more often, not less. You can check in on the tasks that people are performing and make sure that productivity stays high. It also gives people the chance to ask any questions they need answered, to get on with the job.

You should aim to have regular one on one meetings with each employee to talk about what they’re working on, communicate your expectations and address any concerns that they might be having. 

HR Tip 2: Keep your door open (or your phone on, at least)    

When working from home, communication should be a two-way street. You should be available to your team, just as you expect them to be available to you. So encourage your team to call you when they have an issue or to contact you via a chat app (our team loves Google Hangouts!). Don’t leave everything to email — when you’re in the office, you’ll usually have a whole lot of informal interactions. By recreating this in your remote workplace, you can quickly and easily deal with the small stuff and keep your employees productive.

HR Tip 3: Encourage breaks

Believe it or not, one of the biggest problems associated with working from home for many workers is the difficulty of pulling themselves away from the screen. Or, at least, that they will probably find themselves sitting in front of the computer too often, trying to compensate for not being in front of you. 

This can often be counterproductive and lead to a lack of motivation and burn out. Encourage your staff to take regular breaks and enjoy the better parts of working from home. 

HR Tip 4: Socialise with your employees

The extroverts of your office thrive on social occasions, such as the office birthdays and Friday night drinks. So try to recreate this where you can — enjoy afternoon ‘quarantini’s’, share a virtual meal together at lunch or simply start your morning meeting with a chat or the latest TV gossip. Keeping the social butterflies in your office happy helps give their performance a boost and keep your workplace culture strong.

HR Tip 5: Encourage and support your staff

Scared and stressed workers are rarely productive workers. If working from home has suddenly been thrust upon you, some employees are likely to feel anxious and concerned. The Harvard Business Review explains that it’s important you show empathy and keep up communication amongst the workplace. Simply asking employees how they’re going and what they’re finding challenging can go a long way in helping them to overcome their fears. 

HBR also says that employees take their cues on how to react from managers. So if you’re stressed and cranky, it’s likely that they will be too — let employees know they’re supported to encourage clarity and focus.

HR Tip 6: Have the difficult conversations face-to-face

Even with the best human resources processes in place, there may be times when you need to have a serious talk to an employee working from home about their performance. Don’t be tempted to shy away from this or revert to less direct methods, such as email. You should always have difficult conversations face-to-face, even when someone is working remotely.

Personally, I believe managers should use Zoom or another video conferencing service when performance issues need to be raised — treat the meeting as though you were in the office. Make sure you’re in a private place and that the employee is too. Look them in the eye as best you can and give it to them straight.

Be sure to follow the same process you would in the office —the same rules about performance management still apply. It’s important that, as a leader, you’re proactive and take the lead on any conversations or disciplinary action. By letting things slide, you could potentially end up in a much worse position than you would if everyone were still in the office. However, one word of caution – don’t neglect to consider the impact that COVID-19 has had on all of us, your employees included. The past few months have been stressful and uncertain, with professional and personal lives converging like never before. Take time to reflect and consider how COVID may have contributed to the issues you need to discuss.

Want more expert HR advice? 

Open and consistent communication is key to keeping employees motivated and engaged when it comes to working from home. If you’d like to find out more about managing the performance of employees working remotely, or assistance in setting up a virtual HR strategy whilst everyone is away from the office, then reach out to the Catalina Consultants team today

say hi to our author

Merilyn founded Catalina Consultants in 2012 on the belief that all organisations, regardless of size, should have access to top quality bespoke HR services. She enjoys working closely with her clients and believes that the best results are built on relationships of rapport, trust and authenticity. Growing up, Merilyn had her sight set on stardom and dreamed of becoming an actor. She also sang and played the piano, but ended up studying accounting and HR. Whilst she hasn’t won her Grammy just yet, she still loves a good karaoke night. Merilyn loves to travel with her family, with South Africa being one of her most memorable destinations.

related articles


Never miss an update from the Catalina Consultants HR team.
Sign up to get our news and blogs sent straight to your inbox.