It's often said that an organisation's workforce or ‘human capital’ is its greatest driving force, and therefore its greatest asset.

However, another rule of thumb is that a workforce must function as a well-oiled machine, and in order to achieve this, careful analysis and maintenance is required.

This is where performance management comes in  one of the core responsibilities of any team leader, but now a stubborn challenge in this drastically unfamiliar world of COVID-19 and remote working.

With many UK businesses having been forced to grapple with the unknowns of homeworking for the majority of 2020, and a large proportion now settling into this long-term, this challenge of virtually monitoring performance can be daunting.

At Ellis Whittam, we have devised a short guide to the ins and outs of the scenario.

1. Increase contact, give clarity and show compassion

Though strategy always varies with an area such as performance management, communication is bound to remain as one of the overarching themes.

In 2020, the importance of communication in business is irrefutable and has been proven to directly correlate with employee engagement and productivity. Not only is this relevant to performance management, but particularly in the increasingly virtual world we find ourselves in.

In 2020, the importance of communication in business is irrefutable and has been proven to directly correlate with employee engagement and productivity. Not only is this relevant to performance management, but particularly in the increasingly virtual world we find ourselves in.

In this regard, frequent contact should be one of the golden rules for any leader attempting to manage performance in 2020. With the normality of co-located working lost for many organisations, this will be a key component in communicating and measuring objectives and conveying a broader purpose to employees.

Similarly, clarity is a crucial piece of the puzzle and another core tenet of communication in business. Too often are an organisation’s aims and objectives conveyed in a long-winded and diffuse manner, leaving employees feeling daunted and bewildered. Based on this, leaders must ensure they are communicating aims with brevity and conviction.

Finally, given the widespread emotional and financial strain coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused, organisations must ensure that they are communicating and monitoring objectives with empathy and compassion.

The disruption of 2020 has affected people in countless different ways, and based on this, a considered, personalised approach needs to be taken when it comes to performance management. Leaders must bear in mind that employees are not robots, and that for many people the adjustment period for fully remote work is still in progress.

2. Keep ethics in mind

The conversation around compassion leads nicely into ethics – the two being virtually symptomatic of one another. This is another crucial area for organisations to consider as they grapple with the challenge of monitoring and managing performance in a digital world.

And yet, as we have seen, many have not followed this mantra in their approach. In September this year, BBC News reported that one company, Transcend (a small, London-based wholesaler), has taken to using software which monitors employees by automatically taking screenshots at regular intervals.

Shibu Philip, the company’s CEO, said: “It’s good to have an automatic way of monitoring what my employees are up to.”

Other such softwares can record keystrokes, mouse activity, and even photograph the employee using their webcam, and are widely used by organisations that operate remotely.

Whilst many argue that these methods are effective, many more would suggest that this is a morally dubious approach to performance management, and should be avoided at all costs.

Privacy matters aside, methods such as these can also adversely affect employee engagement and retention. One survey even found that 55% of CEOs think that a lack of trust is a threat to their organisation’s growth.

3. Be smart about your technology choices

Finally, one of the more obvious elements of performance management in a virtual world is technology. This is something that organisations must harness to the best of their ability in order to cement organisational longevity as COVID-19’s one-year mark approaches.

First, and arguably most basic, is to leverage systems that allow more efficient communication. Though Zoom is generally the go-to option, it’s important to recognise that one size does not fit all, and that finding an approach that fits your organisation is key. For instance, tech giants Google and Microsoft both offer comprehensive ecosystems that allow conference calling, instant messaging, document sharing and cloud storage to be seamlessly integrated.

What’s more, despite the privacy issues cited above, organisations can still employ automated monitoring methods that are fair and respectful. For instance, many organisations track the activity of sales representatives by using software that automatically logs the number of phone calls made, or the amount of minutes spent on the phone. When it comes to roles such as sales, these metrics are considered to be indicative of performance and general activity.

Other systems, however, are much more intelligent and complex, and draw on multiple performance data sources whilst integrating supplementary elements such appraisal, training and career development. Econsys, for instance, is specifically built to be used within governments, and provides detailed, quantitative analysis of areas such as performance, workforce planning and diversity. 

Adapt and thrive with specialist support

Even in these extraordinary times, HR processes need to continue. And given the difficult economic climate, your workforce needs to remain productive. 

Whether you need advice on managing performance issues with homeworking staff, an expert review of your performance management framework, or confidence-building management training, our HR and Employment Law specialists can help.

To discuss your needs and find out more about our fixed-fee services, call 0345 226 8393.

Director of Legal Services

James Tamm

Whether you’re facing an immediate challenge or just want the reassurance of an expert second opinion, we’re here to offer clear, commercial advice so that you can focus on what you do best.

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