This blog discusses the importance of effectively reassessing the performance of employees who may now be spending the vast majority of their time working away from the office. It argues that if organisations do not take Performance Management of such employees seriously, they risk engendering a culture of demotivation and or burnout amongst such employees or ultimately losing them to rival organisations.
Recently, “the new normal” has been a phrase used increasingly frequently as the Coronavirus crisis has continued to impact on our working lives. ‘Remote working’ or working from home, supported by communications technology, was at first seen as a temporary and novel solution to help prevent the virus from spreading throughout society. However, as restrictions have endured, it is clear that working from home may become a more permanent situation with the potential benefits for productivity now touted for both individual employees and their organisations. For example, the most obvious benefit is the time that employees can save on the daily commute. Also, there are advantages to being able to plan the working day without the risk of distractions or unannounced interruptions from colleagues. Enhanced family time and reduced stress levels may also accrue if employees can pursue some simple chores around the house that make life tick along easier. Finally, working from home may enhance individuals’ empowerment, especially if they are in roles which allow them to better structure and plan communication with colleagues and other stakeholders.
However, as with all aspects of changes to working patterns, there are potential downsides if remote working becomes the norm. For example, whilst many incidental meetings with colleagues can be distracting and unproductive, they can occasionally stimulate the most creative and innovative ideas. In addition, although clearly improving, technology can never really replace physical face to face communication, laden with vital non-verbal cues that are so important for effective communication. There are also the dangers of employee burnout (as well as slacking), and whilst most employees understand the importance of balance, for others, not having the discipline of physically working in an office could be detrimental if they don’t know when to stop (or begin) working! In addition, a culture of presenteeism in the workplace has long been acknowledged as a problem, but at least in a physical working environment such behaviour was visible and managers could counter its worst excesses through effective role modelling behaviour (e.g. leaving on time themselves) or directing employees to go home. When working from home the boundaries are increasingly blurred and there is less chance to spot when people are over (or under) working!
For HR professionals such issues offer a new set of challenges, especially when we consider the key HRM activities of Performance Management (PM) and Talent Management (TM). Even before the remote working revolution arose, implementing effective PM was acknowledged as difficult. Whilst its aspirational goals, designed to support the organization and motivate employees to perform, are clear the reality of PM in many organizations may be very different. For decades, both scholars and practitioners have bemoaned the difficulty of PM – traditionally characterized by an annual performance appraisal. Indeed some have described it as “the most dreaded of management rituals” (Bohl, 1996, p. 16).
In research which I have carried out with colleagues from NZ and Canada (McCracken et al, 2014), we explored the perspective of HR practitioners on the front-line concerning PM effectiveness, challenges and aspirations. In their opinion, effective performance management starts with both HR and their line managers possessing an unambiguous understanding of an employee’s role and this is achieved by ensuring that PM processes are characterized by frequent and authentic conversations between managers and employees. The HR professionals felt that the ultimate aim should be to ensure that employees know that their contribution is fully appreciated, and their aspirations captured in terms of clearly formulated goals.
Perhaps now, more than ever before, there is a need for organizational stakeholders (HR, Managers and Employees) to take heed of such findings and engage in such an authentic reassessment exercise which can fully understand the reality of employee roles and responsibilities to enable them to define what a productive day’s work really looks like for those working remotely. Such an exercise is not an easy proposition given the current logistical challenges. However, as our research has shown, if organizations do not take the time to effectively engage in such a process they could be at risk of losing their very best and most flexible employees to other organisations who are better placed to acknowledge such skills and talents in a continually shifting work environment.
Bohl, D. (1996). Minisurvey: 360-degree appraisals yield superior results. Survey Stows Compensation & Benefits Review, 28(5), 16-19.
McCracken, M. Brown, T. O’Kane, P. and Read, N. (2014) Performance Management in Practice: The Power of Words in the Words of HR Practitioners, Academy of Management Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, USA, 1st-4th*
Professor Travor Brown, Professor Labour Relations & Human Resources, Memorial University of Newfoundland.
Dr Paula O’Kane, Senior Lecturer, University of Otago.