4 Strategies for Managing Underperforming Remote Employees

Find out why your remote employees are underperforming, & learn strategies to help manage and motivate them to get back on track

January 17, 2024
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The way we work has changed dramatically in recent years, with 87% of employees wanting to work remotely at least once a week. No commute, no picking out a suit, or doing your makeup; it’s easy to understand why people like remote working.

For managers, though, it can be a challenge. You can’t keep an eye on your team or answer questions quickly. There are a host of problems for remote workers, too, from isolation and loneliness to terrible work setups. Remote working can be rewarding, but it can also be tricky. Let’s look at some strategies to make it easier.

Why are your remote employees underperforming?

When you have an underperforming remote employee, it can be easy to assume that the problem lies with the employee. But, as you’ve probably guessed, there’s far more to it than that.

The truth is, if you want to manage remote employees and monitor workplace motivation effectively, it’s vital to understand the root causes of their underperformance. There are a lot of factors that can affect your team’s ability to work, and while it’s tempting to blame them, there’s a good chance the problem is at your end, not theirs. 

Communication Barriers in Remote Settings

The first common problem is the difficulty in communicating with others when working remotely. Technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, but video calls aren’t a perfect substitute for face-to-face meetings. 

It’s also entirely possible that your own system is putting in blocks to communication. For example, something as simple as the difference between hosted and cloud communications can affect the effectiveness of remote connectivity. Just because you can connect to your network easily in the office doesn’t mean your remote employees can. 

Likewise, the inability to ask a coworker a quick question across their desk means many workers spend hours researching queries that would take moments to answer in an office. Having instant messaging options can help with this, but it’s still no guarantee of a quick response. Pair this with poor internet connections, bad-quality headsets, varying time zones, and a range of other problems, and it’s easy to see how performance can slip. 

Corporate communication is a vital aspect that often gets overlooked in remote work scenarios. Ensuring effective corporate communication channels and tools can help bridge the gaps and streamline information flow among remote teams.

Work-Related Stress and Burnout

You could be forgiven for thinking that working from home is all sunshine and roses. There are certainly things to enjoy - no commute, your own kitchen, and comfy clothing. However, there are a lot of stresses that can come with working from home.

Your employees may not have a proper office space, for example. A recent study by Xmos found that 22% of employees have difficulties with their remote setup, rising to 29% of younger employees. 


Another problem is the fact that when you work from home, you’re always at the office. Many workers feel like they have to be at work 24/7 instead of getting the chance to switch off, leading to stress and burnout. 

This can be particularly striking when you consider the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees – exempt employees may feel like they have to work more hours, but won’t get financially rewarded for doing so.  

Insufficient Resources and Training

Another critical factor contributing to underperformance is the lack of adequate resources and training. New starters, in particular, may not get the same level of orientation if they work remotely from the beginning. This can lead to them feeling excluded, as well as left fumbling around in the dark for answers. 

How do you manage and motivate underperforming remote employees?

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons remote workers may be underperforming. Yet, with more people wanting to work from home, these challenges need to be met if you wish to have a happy, well-motivated workforce.

With that in mind, let's have a look at some strategies you can implement to motivate and manage your underperforming remote employees. 

Strategy 1: Foster Open (and Empathetic) Communication

The first step towards finding out what’s holding your employees back is to ask them. Be empathetic to what they have to say, and try to put yourself in their shoes. 

Imagine you have an employee who, despite previously being one of your best workers, has experienced a dramatic drop in productivity after starting to work from home. During a conversation with them, they mention problems with their internet connection. It turns out they lived on a houseboat, and have been relying on an old cellphone for their internet connection. 

By actually listening to their problems and undertaking a little bit of research on 4G vs. 5G, it turns out that a cheap smartphone is all it takes to return them to their previous level of productivity. When you understand what your underperforming remote employee’s difficulties are, you’ll be able to come up with solutions - but you need to be open to what they have to say. 

Some ways to foster this remote communication include:

  • Schedule consistent one-on-one meetings with each team member to discuss their progress, challenges, and well-being.
  • Prepare an agenda in advance to cover specific topics, yet remain flexible to address any immediate concerns your employee might have.
  • Encourage open dialogue by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to their responses.
  • Show empathy and understanding, especially when discussing personal challenges that might affect their work.

  • Implement digital tools for project management and collaboration, ensuring everyone is aligned and can easily track their responsibilities.

  • Provide training on effective remote communication practices to get the most out of the systems you set up. 

It can also be worth using a tool like Assembly to keep an eye on your internal communication, as it can be easy to over or underestimate just how often you’re in touch.


Strategy 2: Set Clear Expectations and Goals

Clear expectations and well-defined goals are critical for underperforming remote employees. That way, you’re both on the same page as to what is required of them and how their success will be measured. This clarity is even more crucial in a remote setting, where direct supervision is limited. 

Setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals ensures that expectations are clear and achievable. For example, after a conversation with a remote sales rep, you might agree they should: 

“Increase their weekly sales by an average of 10% by their next quarterly review. They will do this by devoting an afternoon a week to building their customer base and calling new leads.”

Let’s break this down to see how it works:

Specific: “Increase their weekly sales”

Set out straightforward tasks that are easy to understand.

Measurable: “by an average of 10%”

By putting a number on it, it is easy to agree on how well they are achieving their goal.

Achievable: “by devoting an afternoon a week”

Make sure that the goal isn’t overwhelming. Breaking the task down into smaller, more achievable tasks is a great way to do this.  

Relevant:to building their customer base and calling new leads.”

This task should move your employee in the direction of being more productive in general in the future. 

Time-bound: “by their next quarterly review”

Setting a timeframe to achieve the task ensures there are clear expectations for when it must be accomplished by. 

Strategy 3: Provide Adequate Training and Resources

Because of the isolation of working from home, it is all too common for employees to struggle because they haven’t been given the right resources. Yet, they often won’t mention it to you, assuming that you know the difficulties they face. Check that your underperforming remote employees have access to the proper training and tools to do the job. 

This can be done by:

  • Implementing online training programs tailored to remote work challenges such as time management, digital collaboration, and communication skills, using techniques like the time management matrix.
  • Providing regular training updates and refresher courses to keep skills and knowledge current. 

However, it’s not just knowledge that your remote employees need. They also need access to the right tools. Essential tools include:

  • Dedicated, industry-specific applications such as CRMs or 8x8's call center solution software can help remote workers by providing one platform for all aspects of their work. 
  • Reliable high-speed internet access to ensure smooth communication and workflow.
  • Collaboration and project management software for team coordination.
  • Video conferencing tools for virtual meetings and team collaborations.
  • Access to cloud storage and file-sharing services for easy document access and sharing.
  • Secure VPN access or software such as RealVNC for safe and secure remote access to company networks.

Strategy 4: Implement Performance-Based Rewards

Workers are motivated by a lot of different things. Some people are just in it for cold, hard cash. Some want the status of being the best, while others thrive on praise. You might find some of your team live for perks, like work anniversary celebrations

No matter what it is, though, everyone has something that will push them to achieve their potential while ensuring they feel appreciated. Ask your team what works for them, and consider the best ways to implement it.

For instance, if you used to have food catered to celebrate hitting targets, why not encourage everyone to order takeout and reimburse them instead?

You can also take advantage of your online tools to recognise your ‘best’ workers, providing a place where people can submit nominations every week or month that will automatically tell you who got the most votes.

Remember, whatever the rewards you offer, make sure you let everyone know when someone is doing well or improving. Everyone enjoys feeling appreciated for their hard work. 

Final Thoughts

While working from home can be great for some of your employees, others can struggle with remote work. Combined with the challenges of managing and motivating them remotely, this can quickly spiral. By taking the time to set up suitable management systems, acting quickly when you notice a problem, and talking to your employees with kindness and understanding, you can stop problems as soon as they start - meaning both you, and them, are happier and more productive.

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