How to deal with low performers who work remotely

How do you handle an employee who is not performing? This is a question that many accountancy practice owners are asking as well as business owners around the world in the current situation. With so much of the workforce working remotely, huge challenges are arising just to be able to run the usual daily business operations; challenges like productivity and quality output. If you’re wondering how do you handle an employee who is not performing, here is everything you need to know.

The main challenges of working remotely

To effectively manage a completely remote team, you first need to know what challenges you are facing. Only when you know what your remote employees are likely to struggle with can you implement measures to address them head-on and overcome them.

According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work report, among the top major challenges of remote working is:

  1. Loneliness,
  2. Communication issues, and;
  3. Feeling left out.

Many of us take for granted having an office full of people and it’s only when we start working from home for an extended period that we see how lack of interaction can impact our health and performance.

Prolonged isolation can, in extreme cases, result in anxiety and depression and this is only exacerbated by the communication-related challenges that remote working brings. When it comes to communication, it’s much harder to get a trusting connection when we can’t physically see or hear someone. Imagine trying to understand and discern intent from emails for an extended period of time? It’s no wonder that it’s so easy for employees to feel threatened and for trust and collaboration to break down when everyone is working remotely.

As the accountancy practice owner, it is your responsibility to be aware of these challenges and to take the steps necessary to improve engagement, productivity, and cohesion across your entire team.

Useful resources:

How do you handle an employee who is not performing?

There are so many different reasons for underperformance and ways that you can deal with it, so if you’re wondering how do you handle an employee who is not performing, it might be a mixture of some of the factors below.

  1. Question your leadership - could your employees be underperforming because of something you’re doing? Before casting blame on them, check that you’ve given clear instructions, that they know your expectations, that they’ve received the proper brief or training, and whether they understand the repercussions of underperforming.
  2. Communicate more - if the underperformance is potentially because of something you’re not doing, consider communicating more with your employees. This is essential to combat the challenges of remote working so check in regularly with them to build trust and rapport. Have longer one on ones, use the phone and video technology as much as you can, and think of ways you can engage them socially with the rest of the team whenever possible.(Discover the top tips for running effective online meetings).
  3. Be prepared for the difficult conversation - it’s difficult enough to approach this conversation so gather as many examples and as much evidence as you can before speaking with them. This way, you can be sure that you’re prepared to address all the issues and that you can provide them with constructive criticism.
  4. Be as specific as possible - you can’t be vague here! It’s not good leadership to tell your employees that they’re not doing a good job and then leaving them with nothing to help them improve, so be specific. Use your examples and evidence to show them exactly where the performance is a problem and work through them together. Use this as a coaching opportunity and explain your expectations moving forward. It’s good to show them how their performance will be monitored over the next few weeks too.
  5. Deal with underperformance as soon as possible - you need to show your employee and the rest of the team that underperformance is not acceptable so address the issue once it has come to your attention. Talk to them as soon as possible and confirm that they understand. You don’t want to set a bad precedent when it comes to remote working moving forwards.
  6. Understand the effect of external factors and consider their needs - remote working brings different kinds of distractions and challenges, and with the current global crisis, many of us are trying to juggle relationships and family life with working from home. While it can be easy to assume laziness when it comes to underperformance, you should check in with your employee first. It may be the result of a bigger issue such as a child being ill or their mental health is suffering. When you know the reason, you can then address their needs directly and offer help for them to get back on track.
  7. Provide more support or training if necessary - some employees may be underperforming because they are not confident with using certain software while working from home. If the reason for underperforming is lack of training or support, make sure to rectify this by providing the necessary knowledge and coaching. You can arrange sessions over Zoom where you share your screen, just make sure that they are confident in using any new apps or software by themself by the end of it.
  8. Understand what motivates your employees - to get the best out of your employees while they work remotely, you need to understand what gets them motivated. You need to understand their why. Working remotely takes a lot of self-discipline so if you know what motivates them (e.g. their long-term goals and aspirations), you can better support them and delegate work that makes them happy. (Discover our 6 tips to effectively delegate work during the coronavirus)
  9. Show where they fit in when it comes to the overall mission - this is an important point anyway but even more so with the current situation. The global pandemic and social distancing measures have fostered feelings of helplessness as many of us have lost control over many aspects of our lives. Make a point of explaining to your employees where they fit in ‘the big picture’ and how their work fits in with the team and how it affects the business as a whole. If they feel like an integral part of the business, they will perform better.
  10. Ask them about your leadership - a great way to approach underperformance is to ask the employee how you, as a manager, can help them perform better. This technique avoids any defensiveness and confrontation as it allows the employee to open up and think about what they think they need.
  11. Create their performance goals together - a great technique for dealing with underperformance is to involve the employee in creating their performance goals. This encourages them to ‘opt-in’ to their goals rather than you simply dictating what is expected. Ask them how they would like to improve, what they would like to achieve, and how you can both work together to prevent any performance issues in future.
  12. Monitor performance and provide feedback - once performance goals have been agreed, you need to regularly monitor their progress and follow up with them to give them constructive feedback. Weekly or monthly feedback will provide much-needed structure and accountability for your remote employees, so praise where necessary and give extra support where it’s needed.
  13. Reward improvement as much as possible - people love recognition, it’s an essential part of ‘the carrot and the stick approach,’ so reward progress regularly. During this stressful period, surrounded by all this negativity, we can all do with being appreciated so celebrate the smallest of team efforts too. When you reward efforts and recognise great work, your employees will feel appreciated and valued and in turn, will perform better.
  14. Act on continued underperformance - if the carrot isn’t working and extra support and feedback hasn’t done the trick, you need to give your underperforming employee a final warning. This not only shows them how serious you are about underperformance, but it also shows the rest of the team that you don’t tolerate it either. If you have tried all of the above and no improvements or progress has been made, it may be time to let that person go. This is never ideal and should always be treated as a last resort, but sometimes it may be necessary for your business.

Be empathetic but stern

How do you handle an employee who is not performing? With so many employees working remotely, it’s important to be understanding and empathetic of everyone’s situation but at the end of the day, you also need to be strict with your expectations of performance.

As the practice owner, it is your responsibility to ensure the wellbeing of your team as they work from home but it is also your responsibility to grow a business so that everyone still has their jobs. Bear that in mind when you’re dealing with low performers. Use these tips to overcome the challenges of working remotely and help get the best out of your employees.

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