The New Talent Challenges Series: How To Prevent Remote Workers From Underperforming

A poor remote-work implementation can negatively impact your productivity. Here are 3 ways to prevent that from happening.
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This is Part 5 of our New Talent Challenges Series. In it, we examine the new issues companies face when hiring talent, especially in the context of pandemic-related consequences that are still disrupting every industry.

Time and time again, experts have touted the remote model as the future of work. We even did so in this blog. It’s hard not to think like that in light of the many benefits that remote work can bring. And it’s even harder when you see that those benefits often silence the fears many reluctant business executives have about remote work.

There’s plenty of evidence to support that. Different surveys and reports have found that remote workers enjoy a better work-life balance, save more money, have more flexibility, and have more productivity. Companies also save money, access a wider talent pool, become more competitive, and enjoy that increased productivity as well.

Yet, the fact that remote work allows for those benefits doesn’t mean that those benefits are guaranteed. A poor implementation of the remote work model can bring disastrous results and negatively impact any company. That’s why you need to take all the necessary measures to make sure you get the most out of remote work.

Where to start? There are many things you can do to kick-start your remote work strategy. But given its importance for all businesses, the best thing you can do is make sure you have what it takes to guarantee your remote workers’ productivity. How? By following these 3 tips. 

1. Make Sure You Have a Strong Communication Model

You’ve surely heard it before: Communication is everything in a remote setting. But it certainly bears repeating, especially because some people don’t completely understand what that entails. Let’s look at it from a different perspective. When you don’t have a proper communication infrastructure that combines proper tools with well-defined protocols, your remote workers can quickly fall out of the loop.

Without a defined communication strategy, your remote workers might struggle to grasp how their tasks fit into the bigger picture or even lose sight of the company’s objectives. That’s a recipe for disaster right there. That level of disconnection can make them lose interest in what they do, simply because they don’t see the value. That, in turn, can make them feel undervalued, a sentiment that can take its toll on their productivity.

That’s not all. Your remote workers might be doing a good job, but without the proper communication channels and processes, your managers might not be able to track or measure it. That might give you the false impression that remote workers aren’t, well, working.

The solution is simple to understand but challenging to implement: Develop a comprehensive communication plan. That should include the preferred tools for communicating (be it messaging, video conferencing, or communication platforms) and the proper protocols. The latter should include your expectations surrounding communication, which should cover meetings, reports, and exceptional communication. 

2. Provide Support and Motivation 

As I said above, remote workers can get disconnected from the company and from the rest of the team, which negatively impacts their productivity. And while communication platforms and processes are paramount to prevent that from happening, they aren’t enough. Sure, your business communication protocols can help you make sure that everyone is on the same page and you have visibility over everything. But you have to go beyond that.

What I’m saying is that you also need to consider how your team members are doing in their own circumstances. Communicating with them can open a window for you to peek into how they are taking remote work. But that isn’t enough. You need to provide support and motivation to keep them focused and happy.

How can you do that? There are 2 ways. The first is to provide them with a structure to help them do their work in the best possible way. This means giving them the proper hardware and software and even giving them the possibility to work in a coworking space from time to time. This will let them do their work without frustration and in the easiest way possible. And in the case of the coworking space, relieve them from domestic distractions.

The second way means establishing spaces in your work routine for them to unwind. That can imply having social meetings over video conferences, organizing in-person get-togethers from time to time, and even having specific professionals available for your team to talk to whenever they are struggling with motivational or psychological issues. 

3. Learn To Manage Crises

When you lead a remote team, you won’t have the full picture of what’s going on with everyone. Sure, you might understand that people are going through difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there also are the possibilities for other, less visible crises, like personal or local crises you might not be aware of. Caring for a sick family member, going through a divorce, economic turmoil in a staffer’s country or disruptions to essential services can all become crises that you need to manage.

While the 2 points I explained above should help you identify those kinds of problems (and provide support for demotivated employees), the reality is that certain crises can’t be dealt with in a group meeting or chance encounters. You need a more institutionalized approach to crisis management, one that takes every aspect into account.

On one hand, providing the necessary support is essential, which can mean bringing in specialized professionals to help deal with particular situations. Then you’ll need a crisis response program to know how to deal with these disruptions. People who are going through a crisis might not be able to fully focus on work and you shouldn’t oblige them to. Instead, you need to have a backup plan to make sure that they feel supported and the work doesn’t suffer in their absence.

Finally, crisis management isn’t just about lending an ear or accommodating work processes. It also means being there in every possible way, which can also mean helping shoulder financial struggles (such as unexpected medical bills or loss of equipment).

Developing a Defense Against Underperformance

The key to preventing your remote team from underperforming is understanding the causes of that drop in productivity. Be it because of personal crises, lack of motivation, communication issues, or poor reporting practices, knowing how to discern what’s driving employees to underperform is essential in articulating the appropriate solutions.

Make sure you don’t wait for a drop in your remote workers’ productivity to start thinking about this issue. Chances are that some of your remote employees are already going through these problems and you might not be noticing it. So, it’s time to develop a defense against underperformance, keeping in mind that the best way to do so is through a human-centric approach that puts your employees’ well-being at the center of everything.

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