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Managing Performance Virtually

More than 40% of Australia's workforce as of September 2021 are working remotely and most have been doing this off and on for the last 18 months.

You would be right in thinking for a lot of organisations this is the new normal, and for the most part we should all be adapting and not waiting for things to 'return to the old normal'.

So what about performance management especially managing poor performance in this new world order? Understandably for a lot of organisations this has been sitting on the backburner during the height of the pandemic, an out of sight out of mind type situation. Considering our new normal has a habit of shifting around and the pandemic is still here, should performance management still sit untouched? Definitely not according to Amy Zhang of Harmers Workplace Lawyers, especially when it comes to poor performance - it just takes a little more planning.

In general terms, in line with performance management policies, weather remote working or not human resources and managers should still be reviewing an employees progress, goals, upskilling if required and the companies objectives, if the employee on top of that is working from home, add in considerations of; possible home-schooling responsibilities and mental health. So where should you start?

Employers legal considerations

Lets start with the basics, what you have to do legally as an employer.

Regardless of where your employee works from, if you have an employee that is underperforming as an employer you are entitled to implement a fair performance management plan. The difference for remote workers is there could be other factors to consider and failure to take remote working barriers into consideration could definitely backfire on you as an employer in the future, especially if you decide to use performance as a reason for dismissal.

According to hrmonline the key areas to be aware of and remain considerate of for remote workers include:

  • Considering an employees reliance on their home internet and computer, as it may not be as fast or as up to date as the office equivalent.

  • Difficulty contacting relevant people in order to get their work done.

  • Employees managing concurrent caring responsibilities or home schooling.

  • Mental health or social challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, for example; being isolated physically from peers and colleagues for sometimes months at a time.

Once all these areas have been taken into consideration and there are still performance issues, employers would then need to implement a fair process of performance management. Simply put, proceed with caution and at the minimum ensure procedural fairness is strictly adhered to.

Procedural fairness within the remote working environment under performance management can be broken down into three areas:

  1. Providing adequate warnings and notice.

  2. Giving reasonable opportunities to improve and respond to underperformance.

  3. In a remote setting, ensure you always opt for a private face to face option like video calling and not email, a phone call or text message.

    • set clear expectations to allay any fears or anxiety such as what the conversation is about (for example; a discussion around your performance to date and opportunities) as well as who else will be on the call.

An excellent example of an organisation not following procedural fairness would be: Kizuri Capital Pty Ltd. Maycorp Pty Ltd and Cricklewood Capital Pty Ltd t/a Allpet Products [2020] FWC 5332 (October 2020)

In this case the FairWork Commission was critical of procedural defects around the termination, especially failure to provide an opportunity to address or correct the issues and then terminating the employment without notice, via email and also without a call or meeting.

This certainly highlights the importance of employers being aware of the workplace challenges for employees, arising from this pandemic and longer term remote working.

Tips for employers

Amy Zhang says ''Employers should also continue to adhere to their statutory and common law obligations in relation to implementing performance management and termination processes, to the extent reasonably practicable in the context of the pandemic.

When it's not reasonably practicable to do so, employers should attempt to replicate existing processes as much as possible, while maintaining an overarching focus on ensuring procedural fairness. Understanding the important legal considerations is just part of the virtual performance management process. Equally important is knowing how to tweak your approach to cater to a changing environment''.

For assistance around performance management within your organisation both virtually and in house, contact your local HR Coach.

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