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Managing Remote Employees Amidst a Crisis

Henry Dumas

COVID-19 has changed what business leadership looks like, now and for the foreseeable future. Smart leaders are adapting their strategies to this new work environment.

Leading a business in the post-pandemic world means shifting not only your management methods but your mindset about what it means to be a collective business team. Below are some tips to consider while leading remote workers:

Sharpen your emotional intelligence

Before the pandemic, many leaders touted the benefits of emotional intelligence (EQ) in managing a team. Now, as employees face the daily challenges of living, working, and raising families all in the same space, EQ has become an absolute necessity for today's leaders.

Business leaders need to recognize these struggles and exercise empathy and flexibility. For instance, if an employee's child needs help with homework or the dog needs to go outside, employers need to be OK with employees tending to personal matters during traditional "work hours," provided their work does get done.

Leaders can also exercise EQ by being vulnerable and sharing their own struggles and journey during the pandemic.

Focus on enabling communication and trust

At a time when teams are removed from one another and interact less, good leaders need to prioritize and model strong communication. Leaders must communicate more than ever for their teams to be on board and trust their guidance.

Remote work has flattened the flow of communications and made managers less of gatekeepers and more communication enablers.

Establish daily check-ins

With managers no longer getting daily face time with employees and employees not being able to chat around the proverbial water cooler, creating a daily check-in routine is an important way to set priorities and foster connections. A morning check-in via video chat, phone call or instant message can create a sense of normalcy. These check-ins can be one-on-one or held among small groups.

Set virtual office hours and be present on instant messaging apps throughout the day to help employees.

Make sure the team understands the 'why'

Remote employees must learn to be disciplined and self-motivated to succeed, but they should still hear from the managers about the company's bigger goals and why they are doing the work they do.

 

Make sure you and your team are clear on what the priorities are for them and that each of them knows … why what they do is critical to the team, the department, and the company. That 'why' statement in your communication as a leader helps people see that individually they are critical, yet part of a team.

Listen and empathize

Practicing empathy will be important for the future of work, especially remotely. With the future uncertain and knowing now how quickly things can change, leaders will need to ensure they practice compassion with employees, despite … their internal fears.

Equip your team with tech and productivity tools

One of the most important ways to help teams succeed while working remotely is to get them tools to help them stay connected and productive.

How to Handle Employee Performance Issues During a Crisis

Business leaders should approach performance issues with empathy and an open mind — while making sure to follow codes of ethics and conduct.

From leading with empathy to creating a measurable performance improvement plan, these tips will help business owners successfully address employee performance issues mid-crisis.

Addressing an employee performance issue is never an easy task. During a crisis, speaking to a team member about low productivity, inappropriate behavior, or a bad attitude can feel even more daunting. Conversations around employee performance are still necessary in a crisis, but your approach should evolve depending on the severity of the issue and the nature of the crisis.

Be empathetic. Do not assume the worst right now. In a crisis, everyone is truly ‘in this together.’ Communicate empathetically with whatever issues need to be worked through and be patient and understanding if improvements are needed. These are not normal times and, therefore, normal expectations should go out the window.

Start with an open mind and encourage clear communication. Ask questions with a positive intent. The goal is to understand the employee’s perspective. Always assume positive intent on the employee’s behalf until you are proven otherwise, Speak to the team member in private to make sure you have the full context for what might be causing the performance issue before you take the next step.

Some performance issues are more serious than others. An employee who shows up late is different than an employee skimming money from the cash register. Your response should be proportional to the issue at hand.

In a crisis, an organization should never ignore any actions or behaviors that could be grounds for immediate termination, listing violating ethics and the code of conduct, displaying violence, stealing money or property and lying as things that should be addressed immediately. Consequences should follow company policy.

Likewise, a crisis is a time to show some grace and flexibility. If the performance issue seems minor, a response or a conversation in the moment is the best practice.  No matter how small the performance concern is, the leader needs to address it. The leader should share the observations and listen to the employee’s response. If the poor performance or the behavior becomes a pattern, then the leader should pivot to the organization’s formal performance management system.

Communicate empathetically with whatever issues need to be worked through and be patient and understanding if improvements are needed.

Every organization should be able to fall back on an HR policy to guide them through a crisis. Your HR policy should outline how and when an employee’s performance will be reviewed, as well as performance expectations. If you do not have an employee handbook, get one written, which is updated for today’s environment.

For employee performance issues that are more substantial, establish a plan to set your team member up for success moving forward. Actively listen for the root cause of the performance issue. What is missing? Is it tools? Is it resources? Is it support from you, a team member, or a coworker?

Consider your own expectations in addition to the employee’s perspective. In a crisis, things change quickly. Managers should not be focusing on performance issues because of the crisis, but instead on getting the best performance they can in the situation. That likely may be less than they were receiving pre-crisis. And that is OK.

Work with your employee to develop a performance improvement plan that factors in these extenuating circumstances. Make sure to articulate your expectations for the team member’s performance in measurable terms, for instance: Decrease late arrival times from three days (X) to one day (Y) per month.

In summary, this crisis will have lasting impact on business models and remote employees. A leader’s ability to adapt, change while still attracting, engaging, and retaining key employees will largely determine your company’s success!

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