Successful management is about trial and error. In many cases, a lot of errors. This is not necessarily bad news or an indicator of poor management skills, but instead a proof of many attempts to optimize remote teams’ workflows and wellbeing.
After 2020, many companies were forced to implement a remote-first work culture without any transition period. Very few companies were prepared to switch to remote settings, which impacted many team players from the top downwards.
Now remote managers face the challenge of guaranteeing the performance of all team members and making them accountable for their failures. Each contributor’s accountability is key to the success of the company and themselves, but this is not an easy task, in fact, 18% of top executives say holding others accountable is their greatest weakness.
Let’s say Alex is the Head of Marketing at a booming startup that recently got funded and has many stakeholders to answer to. She’s the manager of Lisa, the Paid Media Lead. She was doing an excellent job back in the office as she was only a foot away from all the team members involved in the ad process.
Now Paid Media has been underperforming as Lisa struggles to fix bugs on time and gather all the team members required to improve ads performance. Alex has already met with Lisa several times and has “stayed around” in case Lisa needs her.
In addition, managers keep pressuring Alex to make sure Lisa does her job. Lisa might be adapting and implementing all feedback given, but it turns out she’s a single parent of 2 small children who also demand all of her attention.
How far can empathy and feedback go in this case? This is the case for many employees working from home right now. So how can you improve poor work performance in remote teams?
New to remote management? Here’s the ultimate guide to managing remote teams efficiently.
3 best strategies to manage poor work performance remotely
Show empathy while sticking to metrics
In the example above, Alex, the head of marketing, showed plenty of empathy and supported Lisa as much as possible in her adaptation process. Still, the company kept losing sales and Alex's credibility was hit.
How can managers communicate assertively while keeping a mutual respect and accountability culture?
Remote leaders can show understanding by acknowledging their contributions and hard work while keeping in mind KPIs are critical for the company's operations. They can reinforce the fact that every employee’s input is essential for the company and it can benefit them short and long term.
If you’re dealing with people like Lisa who struggle to adapt to a remote setting, try talking to them via video calls to make them feel closer to what they know. Keep in mind that this is a whole new set of rules for them and might need a bit more encouragement.
Set clear deadlines, expectations, and ownership. Clarify that you understand adaptation processes are long and difficult, but there should be progress.
Break the ice in your next meeting. Here are the top 30 icebreaker questions for remote teams.
Approach a conversation with a problem-solving mindset, not a blaming mindset
Ownership is key here. Not everyone has a problem-solving mindset, so a lot of people find themselves shortsighted when trying to find a solution to a problem others have solved before. Don’t blame them for it, but instead, walk them through your own problem-solving process.
Also, encourage your team to think outside the box; don’t tell them what to do, but instead, how they’d do it: “What would you do if you were fully in change?”
Going back to the previous example, remote work could make Lisa feel isolated, and this might blur her way to success as she used to have her coworkers nearby. You could say: “You’re not the only one struggling to adapt to working from home, Lisa, I want you to know errors are expected, but we need to learn from them. What if we meet next week with all team members involved and you present us a plan you feel confident with?” This is a much more efficient way of saying “You’re doing it wrong and I want you to fix it.”
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Build an accountability culture, not a fear culture
One of the greatest achievements for remote managers is bringing the entire team to the finish line with a smile on their faces. A lot of people end up working way more than 8 hours while working from home. This is because there are no clear limits between work and life, no physical separation from work, and no commuting, besides the usual communication challenges.
If you send an urgent Slack message, you’d expect a reply within an hour, tops. How would you answer if you don’t get a response? “Hey! Why aren’t you answering your Slack if this is what you’re supposed to be prioritizing?” Maybe not the best approach here. This could likely lead to a culture of fear. Remember: great managers help workers contribute to the best of their abilities. This means being sometimes pushy, yet empathetic, and being available while avoiding micromanaging. In short, help people make decisions, not make them for them.
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