How do you talk to a peer, teammate, or an employee who has been slacking off remotely lately?
More than one year of working at home has passed. Perhaps you stretched your patience and tolerance because you wanted to understand what everyone had to go through last year, especially if your team members were efficient before the pandemic struck. Maybe you avoided confronting them and instead resorted to pep talks (that did little to rouse some of your employees from procrastination or underperformance.) Or maybe they are trying hard enough, it's just that some of them are facing burnout because of a whole year of COVID-19.
But leaders have to keep addressing the issue -- or start addressing it if it was swept under the rug for the longest time. According to a survey conducted before the pandemic, managers spend 17% of their time managing poor employees. That's equivalent to one day a week.
It may be difficult to spot the signs of burnout or procrastination because of how far apart people are. In this article, we list down the danger signs leaders can look out for. We also highlight how to best communicate with employees who are at risk.
How to spot it: This may be tricky, since leaders won't be able to spot their team members' eye strains, headaches, and other Zoom fatigue symptoms that easily. But one sign is withdrawal from social contact after a meeting (or a series of them). Decreased productivity after a particularly draining meeting is also one.
Zoom fatigue is real. It takes more effort and mental processing to concentrate during video calls as opposed to interacting face-to-face because of several factors: connectivity issues, non-verbal communication, and multi-tasking.
What digital leaders should do: Being deliberate about using Zoom. Apply the 'Should this meeting be an email?' principle, especially while working from home. But apart from emails, leaders can also use virtual bulletin boards, newsletters, and even video messages to make announcements.
However, when a meeting is necessary, it is important to limit the number of people in a call. It's exhausting and productivity-sucking for many group members to be on Zoom at the same time. Leaders should also allow their employees to choose whether they would like to turn on the camera or not throughout the call, especially in bigger group meetings.
Overworking, but underperforming
How to spot it:
That one in four employees check their work devices after their shifts more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic;
63% of managers are also more likely to check their work devices after hours;
Three in five employees have reported putting in more hours since they started working from home, with more than half of them attributing it to more workload.
What digital leaders should do: Using time-tracking tools to check if an employee has been overworking. Time-tracking tools help leaders assess employee productivity, work progress, misuse of company hours, and overtime hours. Leaders can catch over workers through checking if they work much slower than what is expected within the shift.
As much as possible, leaders should also resist the urge to contact their team members after hours.
Decreased work output
How to spot it: This is the most apparent sign your team member has been procrastinating or struggling to work remotely. It can be tough for leaders to strike the balance between being empathetic and efficient, especially when communication isn't face-to-face.
What digital leaders should do: Communicate. Leaders should do this -- not through chat or email -- but through a Zoom call. This opens up the communication for more non-verbal cues. Leaders should also begin the conversation by checking in and asking how their employees are before broaching the topic.
When the team member's performance does come to the topic, leaders can navigate solutions through asking these questions. Harvard Business Review has identified them as:
Why do you feel this is happening? Harvard advises leaders to listen carefully to how the team members describe the situation. This can help leaders differentiate whether an employee is struggling or simply making excuses.
Is there anything about work that seems complicated for you that you did not have to worry about before COVID-19? Maybe a team member is struggling with work processes in your company that he or she did not have to worry about before. Gaps in technology exacerbate this.
What would you change if you could? Harvard says this opens team members up to creative thinking. Plus, it makes them feel they can still be trusted if they make strides to improve.
How can the team be of help? This serves as an opportunity for team members to ask for help without feeling shame.
Harvard also advises leaders to refrain from telling them what to do or focusing too much on how to do things. The conversation can be re-angled to what they think they should be doing, and how the organization can respond to those needs.
Digital leadership is harder now than it was before, simply because organizations are left with no choice. But there is no other time for digital transformation but now.
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