Dealing with performance issues is an aspect of managing a remote team that can be particularly unpleasant. Performance issue in this case is anything that detrimentally affects the quality of the work produced by staff—inaccurate responses to tickets, grammar mistakes in documentation, or not a satisfactory amount of work completed. This is primarily to deal with issues that have proven to be recurring and therefore actually need to be raised, discussed, and hopefully dealt with. Because my experience is in managing not only a fully remote team, but a fully remote team of volunteers, performance issues had several layers of complications to work through. The first step of dealing with them is the same though, regardless of whether it’s within a paid context or a voluntary one.
Define minimum requirements and expectations
This can be anything but should really quantify and qualify the work, so anything along the lines of defining a set number of tickets to reply to, a specific number of jobs to complete within a certain amount of time and so on. How strict you are with these is up to you because a general standard will have to be adjusted if you have specialised roles within your team, for example. This is useful to do for a paid position but is absolutely necessary for voluntary roles. It is much easier to hold people accountable when you know exactly what you’re holding them accountable to, so make sure you are absolutely clear on what you would consider a good work performance and a bad one, and why. Make sure your team also knows what these standards are, too—blindsiding people with unexpected requirements can be pretty unpleasant. If at all possible, it would be great to have this down in writing and circulate amongst your team.
Now, let’s assume you have someone on the team who isn’t meeting these requirements and you’re unhappy with their work. These are the basic steps to go through after deciding to talk to them.
- Pick a medium.
- Schedule a meeting.
- Plan what you want to say.
- Consider your tone.
- Decide on a concrete plan of action.
- Set out a timeline for it.
Pick a medium
My one recommendation: avoid asynchronous modes of communication. While they’re incredibly useful for remote teams and are one of the best ways to make work discussions accessible and inclusive to members of your team across different timezones, this is a situation where you need a direct and immediate conversation. Whether you do this via chat, a voice, or a video call is mostly dependent on the tools your team generally uses and what you think would work best for your specific scenario.
Schedule a meeting
It’s probably best to actively schedule a meeting, instead of just pinging someone and hoping to catch them at a good time. You might not know exactly how long it’ll last but go for an estimate, and be upfront about the purpose of the meeting, without being blunt or personal.
Plan what you want to say
You should go into this kind of meeting fully prepared, with a clear idea of what the problem you want to raise is and how you want to explain it. Think about specific formulations and phrases that you might use. Try to also consider the different ways they could respond and how you’ll react to each one. Write notes for yourself if you need to. Think about the desired outcomes too—what do you want to achieve with this meeting? What would you consider a sign that it didn’t go as well as you hoped?
Consider your tone
During the actual meeting, aim for sounding honest and straightforward, without being abrupt or personal. Treat it like giving any other kind of constructive feedback, so avoid using phrases that assign blame or treat the issue as if it were a personal failing. Make sure you include your staffer in the discussion. Ask them why they think this happened and whether they have any suggestions on how to improve the situation too (while having your own ready as well).
Decide on a concrete plan of action
Your plan will depend on the issues you have. If it’s a quality issue, like inaccurate responses to tickets or errors in a translation, give them new tasks which they will either work on collaboratively and receive immediate feedback for, or individually which will be checked later. If it’s a quantity issue, like work getting left incomplete or not done at all, talk about what’s holding them back, figure out suggestions and then again, give them tasks to work on and follow up closely.
Set out a timeline for it
This is the time period they will have to carry out whichever tasks or other assignments you give, during which they’ll hopefully show an improvement, and can be anything from a couple of weeks to three or more months. Once they have a clear idea of what’s expected from them and by when, you can wrap up the initial meeting. Depending on the specifics of your plan of action, try to be available throughout this time and provide any assistance or help necessary.
Once the time period is up and you’ve checked their work, schedule a second meeting to debrief. If you see a satisfactory improvement, congrats! You’re done and can move on. If you see some improvement but expect more, set a new plan of action with new criteria and a new timeline. If you see no improvement at all and see no other way to solve the issue, then it might be time for you to part ways.