The Corona Virus Disease, 2019 (COVID-19) has disrupted the global commercial environment. The pandemic has challenged all known conventions for social and economic activities. The survival of businesses has become highly dependent on the ability of their owners to embrace innovative and resilient thinking.
In response to social distancing directives from health authorities to help contain the novel Corona virus, most companies are running remote-working programmes. As has become the ‘new normal’, telecommuting is how most businesses run. Chances are that remote working will remain post COVID-19 (EY, 2020). Forbes predicts job markets, international trade and corporate sustainability crashing should businesses return to the office simultaneously (2020). All the indicators point in one direction; the world of work as we knew it has changed.
Excellent employee performance is key to the success of any business. Thus, HR practitioners owe it a duty to business owners to ensure that employees give off their best to increase the bottom-line. This task was manageable in the pre-COVID-19 working arrangement. However, in this ‘new normal’ circumstances where employees are not physically under the watch of their supervisors, how do we manage employee performance? What should managers and business owners know? Here are some useful strategies and tips worth considering:
1. Living the Work Values & Becoming True Corporate Ambassadors – Transitioning from working-in-the-office to working-from-home may seem a relief to the employee but is a very daunting task to them and their supervisors. From the perspective of the employee, the absence of the usual and familiar working environment comes with various distractions from personal and social commitments. The tendency to prioritize personal commitments over official duties is very real. This point is buttressed by Research which shows that, ‘the physical work environment can influence employee outcomes in areas such as engagement, performance, well-being, and satisfaction’ (Paul Kegel, 2017). Therefore, to ensure optimal performance of employees in the ‘new normal’, managers need to encourage their teams to become true corporate ambassadors– living the values of their organisations and contributing significantly towards the attainment of the overall strategic corporate objectives while working remotely. To this end, weekly discussion of these values on a WhatsApp platform for 30 minutes could help imbibe these values in employees. It is imperative that employees commit to their daily official deliverables. Any conflicts between work and personal demands must be managed in a well-balanced and productive manner. That is the mark of effective leadership.
2. Communicating Performance Expectations – Performance objectives setting is a very crucial part of the Performance Management (PM) cycle. With HR’s coordination, the objectives setting must be stakeholder driven to onboard inputs from both supervisors and the supervised, thereby cementing their co-ownership of the entire PM process. In the ‘new normal’, the only variable in the performance objectives setting process is the channel of engagement – in this case virtual engagement. Thankfully, there are several virtual teleconferencing platforms that support productive business engagements. In choosing a virtual platform, businesses must carefully consider the elements of cost, fit-for-purpose and security. Zoom, Teams and Google Meet are three popular virtual platforms making waves globally and can be used for this purpose.
3. Remote Working Support Systems (Technical & Soft) – Respondents from a recent survey (on my Tullow Oil HR Mentoring Programme capstone project) indicated that they could be very productive while working remotely with the right support system in place. In the ‘new normal’, basic working tool requirements include computers, internet connectivity and access to work information. To guarantee high productivity by employees, each business needs to assess its peculiar remote tooling requirements and provide timeous and uninterrupted technical support to its staff. Soft support systems such as teamwork, collaboration and leadership are also crucial. Managers must be charged to drive these processes by guiding and directing their teams towards the achievement of desired corporate outcomes.
4. Constructive & Timeous Performance Feedback – Most supervisors err in their assumption that the best moments to provide feedback to employees are during the usual periodic performance appraisal/review sessions. Ideally, performance management is a coaching process which requires work review, discouragement of unproductive attitudes and encouragement of positive work behaviours on a constant and needful basis. Thus, there is no limit to the amount of feedback managers could give. However, the feedback must be constructive, relevant and timeous. Most PM Enterprise Resource Planning Systems (ERPs) such as WeWorked & Odoo support manager employee engagements in real time. They guarantee performance feedback on the go; anytime, anywhere. There are other cost-effective PM ERPs on the market that businesses could choose from. In the ‘new normal’, businesses are encouraged to embrace digital HR to automate and data-drive their people processes.
5. Summative & Progressive Performance Appraisal/Review – Virtual performance review sessions can be very productive. Managers and employees need to shield themselves from all forms of distractions while telecommuting. Appraisal objectives and expectations must be well communicated ahead. The truth is, in feedback-driven cultures, performance reviews become summative and progressive owing to prior consistent and timeous engagements between parties, discussing employee performance, challenges and areas that require improvement. An advantage of a virtual performance appraisal is that, in addition to securing signed appraisal forms for record-keeping, virtual platforms such as Zoom, Teams, Google Meet have video recording features that allows the capturing of appraisal meetings for storage and future referencing.
6. Novel Performance Recognition – Rewards are most effective when they are linked to performance. The high desirability of employees towards non-monetary rewards such as recognition is heavily backed by research. In the ‘new normal’ where much is done online, businesses could recognise high performers on their various social media handles (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr) as well as through digital corporate magazines and newsletters. High performers could also be made corporate brand ambassadors for digital marketing activities. These strategies will not only build high performing cultures but will also project businesses as employers of choice for potentially skillful talents on the job market.
In conclusion, although there are no cast-in-stone strategies for managing employee performance in the ‘new normal’, the tips stated above could be of immense help in improving employee performance if adopted. Businesses are encouraged to develop strategies that suit their needs and unique settings. It is also important for businesses to be guided by the VUCA principle on how to withstand Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous circumstances posed by COVID-19. (Harvard Business Review, 2014). HR practitioners and managers also need to go AGILE! to succeed in the ‘new normal’ times.
Written By: Theophilus Tackie-Komme
The writer is a Talent Acquisition Specialist, and a HR Advisory professional with hands-on experience in Performance Management, Employee Relations, Training, HR Policies, Compensation & Benefits and General Administration. He is passionate about people development, leadership and growth; and looking forward to learning, creating and sharing positive experiences.