As companies and their staff adjust to remote work, one of the areas they have to focus on is remote management of employees, a topic we’ve covered in previous posts. Today, let’s look at ways managers can address evaluations, performance issues, and conflict when their direct reports are working remotely.
Even when the threat of COVID-19 is past us, millions of employees will continue to work from home, at least part time. That means they have to be managed remotely, which can pose a challenge for managers and those they supervise. Workplace conflicts still happen, even when we aren’t sharing an office. Supervisors must still monitor performance and productivity. Under a remote-work scenario, addressing those issues can appear as significant, even frustrating challenges.
Here are a few tips for successfully managing staff when you have to evaluate performance, address issues, and resolve conflicts among employees.
Communicate: Part of being a manager is letting your team members know what is expected of them. By being transparent, you’re establishing a foundation for required levels of behavior, cooperation, and performance among staff. Those expectations will be your reference points when it’s time to review employee performance, respond to feedback, or sort out conflicts among them.
We’ve said it before on this blog: You have to engage with your staff on a frequent, regular basis. Better to have too much communication than too little when you and others are working remotely. It’s easy to fall out of normal communication routines when you don’t see each other in meetings or common areas. By checking in every day or at least multiple times a week, managers let their staff know what is expected of them, where they’re doing well, and which areas need improvement.
On a related note: Being able to check in every day means you and your staff are available to each other. As we explained in this post for managing remote teams, require team members (including yourself) to keep their status icons updated so that others know when they are available to answer questions or have an on-demand chat.
Document the issues: When you communicate issues with an employee, let the call be a discussion where they understand the nature of your performance standard. Explain to them what the issues are, e.g. “You missed two meetings or a call with the customer.” Then you should set forth the improvements that you expect to see within a reasonable time frame. Be clear about your expectations and where they haven’t been met.
Some positions will lend themselves to a clearly data-driven analysis: When supervising call center staff or service technicians, you likely have access to analytics for objective evaluation. Other positions are less visible in that aspect, but you’ll still need to reference defined standards.
Resolving conflicts among workers can be more challenging. If someone has a performance issue or a conflict with another employee, it’s ideal to handle those types of issues in person, where all parties are in the same room. However, that’s not always possible during remote work. The following tips would apply during in-person gatherings and will help you be successful during video calls when dealing with sensitive personnel matters.
Set out ground rules in advance: Passions can run hot when it comes to workplace disagreements and conflicts. And it can be difficult to referee reactions and behavior over a video call. That’s why you need to establish some ground rules. This can be an email you send before the meeting or a quick one-on-one with each person involved in a dispute. Clarify the order in which the parties, including yourself, will speak and make their case. Make clear that once someone has said explained their version of events, the other party or parties will be given the opportunity to deliver their side of the story.
Gather the facts first: Prior to having a group meeting about a workplace conflict, meet with each person over video and let them share their story in a private conversation. Then when you get to the joint discussion about it, you will have had time to investigate, get input from others, and understand what’s relevant to the discussion and what still needs to be determined.
See and hear everyone: Some social exchanges can get lost on a video call, and an in-person meeting may be preferable when it comes to resolving conflict. But even when these meetings are held over video, the visual cues are still there and the process is mostly the same as the in-person event. Even with those cues being visible, you want to verbalize more than you normally would so that attendees know they are being heard and understood.
One consistent piece of advice you may have heard when it comes to video conferencing: The video part matters less than the audio. Because without good audio, it doesn’t matter who or what you can see. However, because you want to see body language during an evaluation or conflict resolution so that you can anticipate someone’s need to talk — or you just want to see how they’re reacting — you need both aspects to be high quality.
To capture the in-person experience, take into consideration the number of people who are visible at the same time on a video conferencing system. Unified communications solutions like Microsoft Teams allow you to see and hear multiple people at once, so you’ll be nearly as comfortable and effective during those types of interactions as you would be in the same room. You’ll just need to limit your meeting to the number of people who can be seen at one time.
The challenges of remote work can be compounded when you have to deal with difficult and sometimes uncomfortable work-related situations. But these are the realities of the workplace, whether we’re sharing a physical office or connecting from our homes. I hope the tips above help you see that with a high-quality collaboration solution, and by following good practices, you can effectively deal with these challenges.