The Future of Work: Performance management in a hybrid working world

Hybrid working is now an accepted way of working for many employees who relish the balance it brings to their lives. The approach has challenges for employers; not least performance management of remote employees and how to deal with issues that arise.

Hybrid working certainly has its benefits, with many surveys reporting that employees who work from home for part of the week feel more productive and can maintain a better work / life balance. If managed well, hybrid working can drive more regular, informal, feedback helping to resolve potential problems before they escalate.

This does, however, require managers to think more proactively about scheduling regular 1-2-1 meetings with team members and to celebrate employee productivity and output rather than focusing on presenteeism. Managers therefore need to have a means of measuring the performance of remote employees; businesses will need to give careful thought as to what data analytics and metrics to apply.

Potential problem areas

Performance management was never easy, even when both the manager and the employee were working next to each other in an office. Hybrid working adds another layer of complexity to the mix.

Work done by employees can be harder to scrutinise and evaluate when carried out in different locations. The ability to work collaboratively can also be strained, with individuals becoming disengaged from their colleagues and employer. This can in turn impact on the quality of the work produced.

The danger of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ for remote employees can lead to situations where an employee’s performance is not monitored as closely as if they were present in the office, allowing problems to fester and become harder to tackle.

Even when there is regular contact with WFH employees, it can be harder to detect problems over a Teams or Zoom meeting, as opposed to being in-person.
Certain roles do not lend themselves to producing performance metrics which can be easily assessed. Lack of data may hide a potential problem.

There is also the danger of overlooking team members who are not as visible in the office as others, whether in terms of delegating work or providing development opportunities.

These issues mean that managers may be tempted to put performance management of a remote employee into the ‘too difficult’ pile. This is an error, as problems rarely improve on their own.

Practical hints and tips:

  • Clearly set out expectations around working patterns. In most cases, at least some part of the working week spent in the office as a team will be beneficial to all, and this should be clearly explained to employees and enforced. Remember, most employees’ contracts of employment (even now) will indicate that they should be in an office location for five days a week; even insisting on two or three days a week in the office is much more flexible than pre-pandemic.
  • Of course, requiring a certain level of office attendance may result in more employees making formal requests for flexible working. Employers need to consider such requests on a case-by-case basis to see if they can be accommodated, or whether one of the eight business reasons for refusing a request applies. Employers should also be aware that any decision they make could leave them open to the risk of discrimination claims – for example, see Employer’s failure to consider flexible working has costly consequences (shoosmiths.co.uk).
  • Employers should focus on the productivity and outcomes of hybrid working staff. Investment in technology and/or data analytics to assist with this is likely to be necessary. For example, a recent study found 1 in 5 companies in the UK are actively considering or have implemented employee monitoring software. It is key that employers have clear evidence to support any performance concerns, so that these can be addressed effectively with an employee. Such analytics will need to balance the employer’s interest with the individual’s reasonable rights to privacy and data protection. Employers that are looking at using any monitoring technology should have clear reasons for doing so and explain to employees what they are doing and why before implementing it.
  • Replace spontaneous catchups that would happen in an office environment with a structured approach, putting regular time in the diary to speak to colleagues for monitoring workload and providing feedback.
  • Ensure that employees who are working remotely have the necessary resources and equipment to enable them to do this effectively.
  • Don’t delay in addressing issues that arise. Hybrid working may add to the natural tendency to avoid grasping a problem, but managers need to be alive to this.
  • Hybrid working does not excuse poor performance and employers are entitled to tackle issues regardless of where the employee is working.
  • Where issues do arise, it may be preferable to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss them with the employee, where the manager can read body language and misunderstandings are less likely to happen.
  • Equally, where there are performance concerns, it may be appropriate to ask the employee to attend the office on a more regular basis during the performance review period in order to ensure the necessary support is in place.
  • Employers need to take time to explore the potential causes of any performance issue with the employee. As our work and home lives have become more blended, performance issues may be the result of something occurring in the employee’s personal life, rather than simply being an issue relating to working from home. The employer should seek to determine the true reason for the issue, otherwise they may leave themselves open to a discrimination or unfair dismissal claim.

Disclaimer

This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.

 


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