If Your Remote Workers are Underperforming, It’s For 1 of 4 Reasons — Here's How to Manage

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
June 13, 2024 at 5:7PM UTC

The pandemic has thrown numerous hurdles our way, professionally and otherwise. One challenge many managers are experiencing is that some employees are underperforming more than usual. 

Managers might be quick to call out direct reports for slacking off or being ill-equipped to handle their roles. But as Sabina Nawaz reveals in Forbes, more often than not, it’s due to one of the following factors instead.

1. Poor communication.

Poor communication among coworkers and with managers is often a culprit when it comes to less-than-optimal performance at work. It may even mask otherwise high-quality work because a failure to communicate efforts, however strong, can lead to problems in the workflow and pipeline and adversely impact morale.

How to fix it:

Communication is suffering more now that many workers and full teams are remote. But that doesn’t make it any less important. In order to facilitate it, establish regular schedules and methodologies for having conversations. This could take the form of regular emails to report on critical updates, weekly meetings (perhaps where you discuss more than just work) and/or documentation procedures, for example.

2. Structureless or disorganized environment.

In a work-from-home format, there is often a lack of the structure that’s usually present in an in-person work environment. They may feel a bit aimless and wander around online, checking social media, or be distracted by family members, roommates or pets. Or, the TV or phone might be too tempting.

How to fix it:

Nawaz points to Grace, a manager who has employees turn on their cameras and co-work virtually with others. You might also offer the use of time-tracking tools to help employees manage and structure their time.

3. Absence of interactions.

This has been a pervasive problem for many people during the pandemic: the isolation that comes without face-to-face contact. These feelings can impact employees’ work, too. They may miss in-person meetings, where they’re more equipped to read their colleagues’ body language and social cues, and they could be stuck in rut with no one to casually bounce ideas off of.

How to fix it:

While it may not be possible to facilitate in-person interactions, it is possible to reconstruct environments that are conducive to social interaction. Grace, for one, holds regular office hours to hear concerns and goings-on from her reports, ensuring that she stays up to date on these issues. Mohan, also a manager, invited peers and direct reports to brainstorm and created “Trading Space,” a forum in which employees could work with one another across different teams.

4. Inefficacy handling crises. 

This past year and a half, we’ve collectively experienced turmoil and tragedy many of us have never known. Some people have been personally affected more than others — perhaps they’ve lost loved ones or experienced economic difficulties — but no matter what, this has been a challenging time. And during crises, it can be difficult to balance work and personal life.

How to fix it:

PTO: use it. Grace, for example, gives her team one Friday off per month. While you may not be able to give employees the extra time off, it’s a good idea to encourage them to fully use their PTO (and not make them feel guilty when they do!). 

Another idea, coming from Mohan, is to organize semi-regular sessions to support small groups of employees and their well-being. 

The bottom line is that it’s important to be cognizant of the challenges people are facing and not immediately assume poor performance is due to a lack of competence or skills. Instead, find ways to support your employees during this tumultuous time, recognizing that we are all coping with unprecedented difficulties. 


 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.

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