September 10, 2020 8:07 am
This year shall ascend into the global history for having disrupted the social, economic and political environments. Commonly treasured cultures like hugging, strong handshakes, and facial appearance have all been deferred now and may surely never find space even when sanity prevails. This fragile Covid-19 pandemic has by and large altered the traditional way of conducting business in the corporate world. The traditional workplace norms have all changed and to most Companies, they were not ready for this kind of change. Many companies have equipped their essential staff with computers and internet-enabled devices to allow them to work from home. What was not critically thought out, however, was the mode of assessment of such performance. As we reach the end of Government of Uganda (GoU) financial year and half-year performance for companies that follow a calendar year, this article attempts to equip managers on how to evaluate performance in a virtual environment.
Matter of fact, as you read this article, you will either be at home or in the office with half your former colleagues working from home. For managers, it becomes a challenge on how to assure yourself that the staff at home are working. Traditionally, Companies set expectations and communicate them before the beginning of the financial year or assessment period. It is critical to communicate frequently so that the staff and his supervisor have their expectations understood.
Traditional appraisal sessions. Traditionally, some companies and Managers believed that your presence indicated that you were delivering and companies that treasured this mind-set put at the workplace an electronic clock-in and clock-out system for such purposes. During Covid-19, the Managers who have operated under such a mind-set require to adjust to a new normal of assessing the performance of staff when they are not physically at the workplace.
Set clear targets and expectations during this period. The targets should have timelines and with small achievable and measurable attributes. The targets could be further divided into monthly or quarterly based on the agreed framework at your Company. Regular and constant communication must be done between the Manager and the staff usually to get feedback on whether the set activity is going on as planned or there is any kind of help required to enable the staff to deliver better. Traditionally, this has always been done through face to face meetings in the office. However, under the current normal, a skype call, zoom, or google call would do. These will give you a facial interface that could give you an indication of what the staff is going through. During this time, try to minimize follow-ups on WhatsApp, Snapchat, or short messaging services (sms) in a bid to get feedback. These usually give you a false impression of what is going on in a staff’s life.
Equip employees with information and technology skills and equip them with tools like laptops, tablets. Some managers could require printing devices at their places of residence, if justified, provide it to enable him/her output better. During this time, you will expect staff to attend meetings virtually from wherever they will be. Having an internet-enabled device for such a purpose is critical to communicate to the outside world, it is demoralizing to staff when he or she keeps apologizing for poor internet connectivity. Besides, the image of the Company he represents is tainted by such connectivity issues especially when the reason for this is not his choice of residence but low internet bundles or connectivity modes.
Adapt and adjust. There were traditional ways of achieving output. These ways had been taught in schools and practiced and they have always worked all through our career. However, a new revolution caused by the COVID19 pandemic, there’s need to adapt and adjust. We have to use the available modes of performance to still achieve the ultimate goals. Some traditional references to signed off performance appraisal tools will be replaced with online signatures and encryption of documents. This calls for adjustments in the style and policy pronouncements. Several policies could be lined up for amendment to cater for the current developments. So, managers need to adapt and adjust to the current environments to remain relevant.
Trust your employees that they will deliver on the set targets. The best service we can give ourselves as managers during this time is to believe and trust that staff will do the right things. It is not easy for Managers who have previously micromanaged their staff because this time around, they are losing visibility of the staff and will easily get frustrated when staff does not pick a phone call, respond to a WhatsApp or attend to a meeting at the agreed time. Let us know that the new normal creates anxiety and stress for both of us [staff and managers]. Let managers keep focused on deliverables not losing the end goal.
Be mindful of signs of stress, anxiety in a staff or his managers. As colleagues at a workplace we need to appreciate that merging our physical homes with the office environment, creates anxiety, stress, and tension. It will not usually be easy to separate the home environment from the office environment. As such, direct conversations and observations must be made to appreciate the challenges or concerns to help each other deliver outputs. Have open communication on sensitive issues affecting your work and suggest possible ways to address them including time offs and to attend to them. For instance, having a sick person under a curfew set-up during this time could be challenging and so have an open dialogue in that respect.
Focus on output rather than the processes. At the moment, employees are juggling between work and family and this mode of operation affects the processes through which activities are delivered. The early morning meetings may not happen as regularly invited and if they do happen, they may not take that long. The two people need to be flexible and reschedule meetings where possible as long as the activities are implemented within the set timelines. Once managers stop paying attention to the process, it will allow staff to innovate and accomplish the assignment in style.
Encourage innovation. Naturally, we respond to situations differently. The Covid-19 has presented ways of delivering on activities that we have traditionally and culturally implemented in another style. During Covid-19, it is common for staff to work past traditional hours of 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Under the digital setup, staff will work earlier than that and later than 5; 00 pm. They will spend a reasonable time on the internet doing research and looking for better ways of accomplishing activities a situation that was hitherto not possible given the close supervision that existed. There is a lot of creativity now and so, managers should be open to the different ways/styles of work delivery and such ways should be encouraged.
Recognize openly and reward performance. During this time, there will be people who will lay back. Those who will however deliver both timely and efficiently should be recognized and rewarded quiet often. Recognition motivates the staff to work harder and also serves to signal to the other staff to emulate the behavior of the recognized staff. Recognition need not be financial but can as well be a public acknowledgment, token of appreciation, development opportunity, or a low-cost voucher/hamper.
Previously, managers identified employee’s work and contributions from their office environments but this has changed and they will still be required to identify high performing staff from a less visible environment. Given that the deliverables are known, and there has been constant communication and virtual participation in meetings this will give a good track record to rely on in identifying high performing staff.
Through meeting with employees virtually and asking questions on their work-life and how they are going about the assignment, challenges, and ways to provide a helping hand, you will identify elements to recognize and share accomplishments of staff and their colleagues.
This environment is new and like any new thing, it is not easy to implement. It requires patience, resilience, commitment, and dedication of resources to train and equip staff with the necessary skills to adapt to the new ways of assessing their performance. In as much as you are concerned about their performance, they are also equally concerned about their performance and the ultimate loss of jobs in the market. As we push for results, let us equally be on the lookout for ways of supporting employees to adapt to the new normal workplace.
Chief Finance Officer – UEDCL.