As we know our work enviornment looks very different right now with it comes differences in how employees are feeling. Are we in tune with that?

Many employees are feeling disengaged. Some are down right struggling mentally because of the lack of people contact for those working from home. Job uncertainty lurks around them, or at least that is something they worry about. Some are even struggling with performance because perhaps they are not among those best suited from the at home arrangement, jybrid scheduling or lack of team work. What role do you as an employer play in all of this?

How are you addressing performance? Were the expectations well communicated? Are you providing opportunities for team meetings on a regular (ie weekly for sure) basis?

In any case, we still have to be sure performance is acceptable. Many are shying away from handling this if it is negative so let me help you think through some ways to get more comfortable with it all. No matter what, if a manager is doing their job correctly, they are managing performance.

Even in the best of times, it is hard for many to address poor performance, inappropriate comments, excessive absenteeism etc. Now you have to factor into the pandemic's effect on physical and mental health as well as ongoing economic uncertainty such as potential layoffs. In any case, it is always good practice to lead with empathy.

As with all difficult discussions you need to do your homework. What conversations were had previously. What was your role in addressing the issues and how well did you handle things from a leadership perspective? Did you take the time to have formal written expectations for your employees working from home or otherwise. Is your handbook clear and up to date for starters? Do you have written expectations and guidelines for those working from home? What types of regular communication is in place to be sure you are addressing the employee needs?

Then making sure you keep your emotions in check. Do not address issues when you are feeling frustrated, stop, relax, think through objectively and proceed with professionalism and compassion. Keep open to learning from the discussion. Typically you do not have the full story. Being open to why things went wrong is key. Do not assume the reason for the issue, be sure you fully understand what is causing such issues. You will always learn something new if you actively listen.

Think about whether the meeting will be face to face or virtual. I would strongly recommend you have video conferencing capability if face to face is not an option. Think about who should be at the meeting and how you will present the information. Have the facts ready, have the specific examples of behaviors you might be referring to, the details related to their absenteeism and how it is adversly affected performance. Consider coaching as an option for performance improvement at any level. Most of us are not clued into our blindspots and coaching is a quick and easy way to get employees up to speed rather quickly and identifying how to change behaviors and work patterns that are not working. This is a HUGE help in determining that and to find solutions for improvement through coaching. Learn more about coaching.

You may learn that personal struggles are significantly impacting performance. Consider support that you may already have in place such as your EAP program. If not, recommend they seek the help they need and offer resources without prying too much.

No matter what, if you begin to feel frustrated with an employee begin conversations sooner rather than later. The sooner you have candid conversations, the easier it is to address problems. Conflicts that go on too long become very awkward and difficult and quite frankly, unfair. People should know how they are perceived so they have the ability to make changes.

In person is always better than video conferencing for such discussion when possible. So now we have to consider how masks change the way we are "seen" by others. They can't see our expressions as easily. The "mask voice" can be muffling, so be clear you practice so you are clear. Keep body language in check as we all know that non verbals are more strongly "heard" than verbal. Smile with your eyes!

Some things are unique to remote working arrangements however. The distractions working from home are hard to combat for some people. Young children, for one makes this a significant challenge.. Be open and flexible where possible as to expected working hours. Focus more on performance than hours of work yet tracking hours for nonexempt is essential regardless. As a manager you must connect regularly with these employees. Set up daily calls if necessary. Weekly minimally to review the week accomplishments and the following week expectations. But consider the burdens the employees are faced with and be open to designing a home/work situation that could work. Do so together with the employee. Keep employees engaged knowing they all need to keep contributing in order to keep the business viable. Require the video be on! Too many meetings now are just voice. That is far too limiting and doesn't provide us with non verbals that we want to keep in check.

When you are planning a difficult discussion with a remote employee, be aware that they need to find private space. You never want their family to hear or see them in a sensitive situation. Some of these employees may not have easy access to a private room to handle such a discussion so plan accordingly.

There are many things to consider when managing your staff and now add the pandemic and at home work situations. So good policies and practices are more important than ever. If you want to learn more about best practices contact JBM. This is not as hard as you think, but requires thinking and doing things differently!