Underperforming Employee in Your Remote Team: Causes and Solutions

underperforming employee

When the unprecedented Covid pandemic turned our lives upside down, it revolutionized the way that we work. More people are working from home (WFH) than ever before, and in turn, more individuals are becoming distracted, disengaged, or unmotivated in their jobs– leading them to become underperforming employees. After all, it’s not that easy to stay focused when your office environment includes you sitting at your kitchen counter with eggs on the stove and HBO Max on in the background. 

As a result of this new wave of virtual jobs, business owners and managers have begun to feel the effects that WFH has on their remote teams. So, if you manage virtual employees, we want to help you find effective ways to motivate them when they begin to disengage. But first, we need to address what an underperforming remote worker looks like.

How do you know if you have an underperforming employee?

Recognizing what a lack of effort looks like in a remote employee is key to helping them get back on track. We’ll give a few examples of an underperforming employee so you can see what it looks like when an employee begins to regress.

Example #1: Anna is a virtual assistant for a real estate firm and hasn’t been keeping up with lead generation emails. Likewise, she’s been taking longer and longer to reply to your emails reminding her to follow up with leads.

Example #2: Bryan works remotely as a marketing assistant and hasn’t been engaged in any of the recent Zoom meetings. He constantly appears to be checked out during video conferences and doesn’t ask questions anymore or make pitches.

Example #3: Caroline works from home doing calendar management for a dental practice. Lately, she’s made an increasing number of errors in appointment scheduling which has led to patient overlaps and missed meetings. Moreover, she’s been forgetting to notify patients when they have an upcoming appointment.

All of these examples show signs of remote work burnout which is experienced by many Americans in our new corporate culture, where working from home in pajama bottoms has become the norm. Because the term “burnout” is very general, we’ll discuss specific reasons why a remote employee might become disengaged.

Why remote workers may become underperforming employees

If you WFH, you’ve probably heard your non-WFH friends tell you how lucky you are, how you must have the ideal work-life balance, or how they’re jealous that you “don’t have to work as hard.” While these claims may have resonated with you during the first couple of months of your remote job, you– like most other remote employees– likely realized that working from home doesn’t mean you have it easy. 

Remote workers face unique challenges that can lead them to stop putting effort into their job. One of the most obvious obstacles to working remotely is that there’s little to no human interaction. And this is the main reason that a WFH individual turns into an underperforming employee.

When you work in an office, you can grab coffee with a coworker in the morning and chat about your weekends. When you WFH, you drink your coffee alone in your kitchen. Likewise, when you work around people, you get to take a lunch break where you can hang out and catch up on life. But, when you WFH, you make lunch alone or at best, have a minimal conversation with the DoorDash delivery person who brings you your tacos. Furthermore, working in an office provides a regular opportunity to participate in a happy hour after work where you can socialize and wind down for the day. However, with a remote job, you finish your work and then make dinner by yourself and pop on Netflix for the evening.

Now, while the above scenarios won’t be 100% true for every WFH individual out there, they’re pretty close to what many remote workers experience every day. As a result, virtual employees are at a higher risk than in-office employees for developing quiet quitting habits.

The underperforming employee tactic of quiet quitting

When a remote worker engages in quiet quitting, they begin doing the minimum requirements of their job. This means that they only put in the time and effort that’s absolutely necessary to avoid getting fired. With this behavior of quietly “giving up” at one’s job trending in the world of WFH jobs, it’s become critical for managers and business owners to learn how to deal with an underperforming employee

So, let’s talk about tips for how you can effectively combat the quiet quitting phenomenon and get your remote team excited to work hard again.

How to motivate an underperforming team

Right now, motivating your remote team is more important than ever for your business to thrive in our new corporate culture. Forbes’ remote work burnout statistics show that roughly 67% of WFH individuals have experienced increased burnout since the onset of the pandemic.

The first two steps to motivating your remote employees are identifying the root cause of their disengagement and then having an open dialogue about the issue.

Figure out what’s causing their lack of effort

You can’t fix a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. Not every underperformer on your team will be displaying a lack of effort for the same reason. Thus, you need to peel back the onion to find out why they’ve begun to drift.

Rather than making assumptions as to why they’re regressing in their work, you should take the time to communicate honestly with them about why they’re falling behind.

Have an honest conversation

There’s a reason for the proverbial phrase, “honesty is the best policy.” Even when telling the truth is scary or difficult, it’s better than lying. You can’t give the appropriate help to your employee if you’re both not being honest about what the issue is. 

So, give them the time to explain their situation and how they’re feeling about their current work. After all, if you don’t listen to the problems they’re experiencing and try to help them accordingly, you risk coming off as an underperforming manager.

Coming up with the best solution

Knowing the right direction to take when deciding how to manage underperforming employees begins with understanding what’s making them underperform. So, once you’ve figured out the root cause and have talked about it openly with them, you can approach the problem effectively.

We’ll give a few examples of causes and solutions for properly managing an underperforming team member.

Provide more training

If the concerned employee tells you that their work is overwhelming and too challenging for them, you may need to put them through additional training. Sometimes, an underperforming team is simply a team that hasn’t been given sufficient training for its roles.

Let them take the wheel 

On the contrary, if the employee in question expresses to you that they don’t feel like they’re being challenged enough at work, you can motivate them by putting them in charge of something. If an underperforming employee feels like their current work is too easy, giving them additional and more challenging responsibilities can boost their interest and motivation.

Offer an incentive 

When most managers think about how to motivate employees, the first thing that typically comes to mind is to give them a reason to work hard, i.e., a monetary incentive. But, it’s important to note that if the reason for their disengagement is that they feel like they haven’t been adequately trained or they’re dealing with personal family issues, the prospect of more money might not do the trick. 

So, offering an incentive works best when the reason behind the underperformance is tied to the employee believing their work or time isn’t being appropriately valued.

Validate their efforts 

It’s easy to be motivated by something that you’re good at. Think about it, no one who failed math in high school ever says that they loved math class. Likewise, no one who was amazing at drawing says that they hated Drawing 101. 

So, praising the good work that your employees do is an effective way to keep them enthusiastic about their job. Even if they’re currently lacking effort in their work, taking the time to recognize what they are doing well can make a huge difference in their work habits. So, if you’re wondering what to say to an underperforming employee, start by validating what they’re doing right before providing constructive feedback on what they could improve on.

Give them a chance to connect

We’ve discussed how the main reason that WFH individuals become underperforming employees is that they’re more likely to feel isolated. Therefore, they’re more likely to retract from their work than individuals who work in an office where they have access to social connections.

Luckily, technology has advanced alongside our evolving corporate landscape and has brought us virtual, social platforms like Zoom. So, if your remote team feels like they’re out on an island, you can bring them back with regular Zoom coffee meetings and virtual happy hours. With consistent social events, virtual or not, your team will start to feel more connected to each other and the company.

Your guide to effectively motivating an underperforming employee 

With burnout rates on the rise and more individuals working from home than ever, now is not the time to bite your tongue when you notice one of your employees falling behind. Combatting underperformance in your team can boost your business’s overall productivity and set you up to thrive in the future. 

So, use this guide to help you uncover why your remote team is losing motivation and how to get them excited to crack the whip again.