How to move forward with a poor performing remote employee

When you manage a team, at some point you have to deal with a poor performing employee. It's not a question if this happens, but when it happens. As always in the Managing Remote series: what are you gonna do about it?

November 2020 3 min read

Photo by: ian dooley

You manage a team of humans not robots, so at some point one of them could be struggling or lacking enthusiasm. The reasons for this can be plenty. Poor management: did you set clear enough goals? Do they know what is expected of them? Is it too much or maybe too little? Is there a conflict with another employee? Are there issues in their private life or personally? Ongoing problems with their relationship, family or maybe mental problems?

Whatever the cause it’s up to you to set an environment and culture where’s it’s totally okay to be honest and normal to openly talk about this. As a manager, whether you like it or not, you set the standard for this.

You noticed a drop in performance: now what?

Clear and honest communication is important, but with remote companies this holds even more true. Most employees like to receive your honest feedback. Negative, but honest feedback could be a blow in the short term, but make it clear it’s for the best in the long term.

Schedule a one-to-one video call with the team member. Be upfront about the purpose of the call, so they can prepare for it too. Before the call make sure that the issue is definable. You need to be able to describe what resulted in the poor performance. Be clear that what you are telling them isn’t personal. You are not here to point fingers, but want to resolve it. This is a dialogue, a two-way street. Tell them what you think and then listen. Never turn it into a discussion, as this will make people defensive—this will get you both nowhere.

Try to get to the core of the problem. Are they struggling with the tasks given to them? Provide them with training (material) and workshops. Are their goals clear enough? 50% of employees are uncertain of their goals, so make sure you do a better job of setting their goals. Do they think they need to do too much? Or maybe too little. Give clear examples of this.

You don’t have to come up with a solution right away. Take notes during the call and tell them you’ll get back to them in a day or two. After you given it some thought, provide with a clear path forward or any helpful solution. From a training, your guidance or maybe some more time off.

Know about it (before it starts)

Per­for­mance issues don’t just hap­pen out of nowhere. They often start with something small, but still noticeable if you look. Do they start missing deadlines? Are their (text) messages off (compared to months before)? Do they behave different on video calls? Are they overall less active within their communication? Managing a remote team, this is one of the most difficult problems for you to solve. By using a Weekly Pulse survey tool, like Helptail you can get easier and quicker insights into the spirit of your team. Also annual or bi-annual one-on-one’s with every employee to go over the past months to summarise and to go over your notes (and their Weekly Pulses) can help tremendously.

Does an employee, after getting plenty of time, not turn their performance around after multiple conversations, your guidance, support from you and after all options are exhausted? It might just be time to let them go. They simply might not be a fit for your team (any more). Hopefully this new vacancy will be filled with someone with more enthusiasm and more suited for the role.

Under performing employees can can be a drain for you, your team and when it escalates: the whole company. It’s up to you to notice poor performances of employees and act upon them. Do not wait until it’s too late, be prompt with your feedback. Listen what’s going on with them and help them where needed.

This article is part of “Managing Remote”. A series of short articles with ideas, insights and best practices to become the best possible manager in 2021.

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