One of the main changes to working life following Covid-19 has been the wide-scale introduction and expansion of remote/hybrid working for much of the workforce. For those employers that agree to remote/hybrid working (to any degree), the challenge that naturally arises is how to effectively manage the performance of staff that aren’t in the office five days a week.
One view is that nothing has actually changed. If someone used to work five days in the office and now only works three days in the office, the same targets or measures still apply to that person; just because they were present in the office didn’t mean they were working harder than they do, unsupervised, at home. They can still be held to the same standard.
On the flip side, more junior members of staff should have greater levels of supervision and will certainly benefit from more time in the office surrounded by experienced colleagues. Managing the performance and output of a junior member of staff who works remotely is a difficult task for any employer.
Many employers struggle with managing performance effectively. From an employment law perspective, it’s crucial that all employees know the required standard and targets for their role. If performance targets apply, a tribunal will want to be satisfied that an employee could reasonably be expected to have known about them.
One of the most effective ways to manage performance is regular one to one meetings and appraisals. A thorough appraisal can provide important evidence of performance problems which can be used to support further action where required – whether that be informal or formal. In the event of dismissal, an employer is better placed to demonstrate that opportunity for improvement has been given if regular appraisals have been undertaken. It also allows the employer to identify areas where the employee needs additional support or adjustments.
Regular meetings and appraisals are even more important where an employee is working remotely. Departments or teams may arrange weekly meetings to report on ongoing work/projects, work that’s in the pipeline, challenges and any concerns. Without these regular meetings, it’s much harder for line managers and employers to get a grasp of what capacity each employee has and what support they may require.
Dealing with any issues at an early stage is also imperative. Employers should never sweep concerns under the carpet. If there is a concern regarding performance, this should be addressed appropriately. Furthermore, consideration should be given to whether performance is really the issue or if there are underlying issues, such as ill mental health. This is another hurdle regarding remote working – the employer does not know what the employee’s working environment is like or how the employee is coping at home.
If there are genuine concerns and grounds to proceed with a performance management process, employers must follow their capability policy. Any capability procedure should be referred to in the context of the investigation; in the absence of such a document, the Acas Code should be referred to.
The Acas hybrid working guide and the Acas working from home guide recommend that employers consult with employees and their representatives about how performance will be managed and measured when employees are working remotely. The guidance suggests issues to discuss, including how employees will be managed when they are working from home, whether there is a need to monitor employees, what could be monitored and how, data protection and how monitoring needs to be consistent between those working from the workplace and those working from home.
Andrew Willshire is an employment law expert at Paris Smith