The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to go virtual – for the first time. Not only is this way of operating new for many companies, some employers and HR professionals are finding performance management challenging when their employees are working from home.
Having a clearly drafted work-from-home policy assists with establishing expectations and setting boundaries to what is acceptable for the remote workplace. However, a policy alone is not enough to curtail the barriers that working from home pose, and as a result, common issues continue to surface across companies.
There are several common issues that employers are experiencing due to the recent transition to remote working. Many employers are concerned with the lack of oversight and supervision, where employee work and actions are no longer physically visible. As a result, employers are turning to various applications, social media, and daily trackers in an attempt to track their employees’ work remotely.
Communication can be said to be the heart of a team. In the remote setting, the inability to see facial expressions and tones makes it difficult to communicate effectively. Not only does communication foster creativity and team cohesiveness, but it also directly affects the bottom line – where poor communication can lead to wasted time, effort, and expenses.
Whereas being physically present at the workplace means leaving your personal life at home for the most part, working from home poses new challenges to both employees and employers alike when it comes to distractions. Family obligations, pets, and other personal matters may sometimes get in the way of a productive workday, making it difficult to separate work from home.
With employees working remotely requiring more work-related items at home, confidentiality and privacy concerns are an important consideration for many employers. Work laptops for example, carry an ample amount of confidential information. Confidentiality agreements can address these employer concerns.
Privacy becomes a concern where employers implement monitoring apps or software on the employees’ laptops which aim to track employee activity while they are working. Video requirements may result in human rights or privacy violations and employers should always consult a legal professional before implementing such measures.
In R. v Cole, 2012 SCC 53, the Supreme Court of Canada found that employees have a reasonable expectation of privacy. As a result, in cases where employees have a work laptop that they work on, they carry a reasonable expectation of privacy within the usage of the laptop, and should receive notice of which areas of the laptop of it’s software would be monitored.
So, what could be done about performance management in the remote workplace?
Having a consistent work tracking mechanism is one of the ways that performance can be managed in the remote world. Daily agenda’s, weekly objectives, and accountability should be implemented to ensure that work does not fall through the cracks. Employees can also be asked to docket and track their work and the time spent on each task – providing the employer with a thorough break down of how each workday was spent, promoting accountability.
As mentioned earlier in this article, a work-from-home policy can assist employees’ understanding of the expectations and guidelines for remote working. All performance expectations and tracking methods should be clearly communicated to all employees to ensure that management and staff are aligned in their way of working.
Employers may also initiate team meetings either via conference calls or a video meeting at a frequency that is suitable for the company. These meetings can be to discuss any difficulties, barriers, and brainstorming of any solutions to common issues faced by the employees.
Lastly, it is important for employees to feel supported and trusted during this difficult time. Remote working can be as new to the employees as it is to the employer, and some level of understanding should be provided to assist with the employees’ transition to the new normal.
While performance management is a difficult task to begin with, employers are faced with an unprecedented need to transition their workforce to remote work, exacerbating the challenges of managing performance.
Employers should remember that employees are typically more productive and motivated when they work in an environment that is supportive, trustworthy, and respectful. While managing performance can be a difficult task, it is up to the employer to be creative and provide their employees with the supports they need to continue being productive and efficient in their role.
Blogging for Achkar law is Christopher Achkar, founder and principal of Achkar Law. Since being called to the bar in 2016, Christopher works with employers regarding all their HR Law needs at multiple levels of court, including tribunals such as the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Labour Relations Board, and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.