Employees working from home? A guide to dealing with the problem ones

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

By Michelle van Schouwen

Rosemary Sheehan, the chief human resources officer for Massachusetts General Brigham Hospital, says that, after two years of COVID, the era of employees commuting every day is dead. “I think we have to realize that we’ve opened Pandora’s Box, we’re never going back. We have to adapt to this new way of working and new way of living, quite frankly.”

Other recent articles in Succeeding in Small Business focus on the advantages of remote work to the employer and overall tactics for success.  This post will take a blunt look at the elephant in the room: What about the employees who aren’t that well-suited to working remotely, or just aren’t performing well?

Note that in each of the situations below, one consideration is whether an employee is working from home some days or every day. Another is whether you have a central office or space at which the staff meets regularly or occasionally. These factors will make a difference in how you deal with the situations at hand.

The worker in need of significant direction

Situation: A staff member isn’t self-directed. Whether because of lack of experience, lack of confidence, or lack of the necessary skills or abilities, they are flailing when working away from your gaze.

Strategy: As manager, you are not off the hook for the (sometimes endless) day-to-day supervision of employees. While stellar employees can often “take the ball and run,” others require your guidance and more detailed instruction. Consider whether you’ve set up processes that staff members can follow, and protocols that answer some of the FAQs that come up. Schedule regular update meetings, online or in person. Provide training as and if needed. Continue to assess whether this is the right person for the job.

The “eh” performer

Situation: Let’s say the staffer is generally a B or B+ performer, and for whatever reason, you want to keep them on. (They try, they have a number of strengths… whatever.) But working remotely isn’t doing anything for their performance. Mediocrity is becoming their norm.

Strategy: Set clear, written expectations for the position 1) as a whole and 2) for each specific project or responsibility. Take steps to inspire them. Follow up frequently to assure that you’re getting the work quality you need. Confer with the employee regularly to see what collaboration or other support they may need. Also, see “worker in need of significant direction,” above!

The extrovert

Situation: Your employee is miserable without the camaraderie of the office. While it could be argued that this is not in fact your problem, you want to be supportive. You also don’t want to lose this person.

Strategy: Some offices are setting up virtual happy hours, game nights, and in-person business/social gatherings. Also, having some of your business meetings in person (even if you are mostly remote) can be a team-building strategy. You may also want to suggest (and sponsor the employee) to attend useful industry conferences and/or local business or educational mentoring groups that will provide validation as well as business socialization.

The slacker

Situation: This employee really doesn’t “get it.” They make lots of promises but come forth with few results. Distractions, virtual-office politics or other time-sinks take precedence over getting work done. If you aren’t watching carefully, the remote workplace becomes an ideal hangout for the slacker. (How about another nap?)

Strategy: Make your production and quality expectations clear, in writing. Warn the slacker about consequences of not performing to the written standards. When (okay, IF, but more likely WHEN) the situation doesn’t improve, fire them.

All in all, having employees work from home some – or all – of the time is going to be a win. As employers, we’ll be working out the kinks until it is.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, van Schouwen Associates was acquired by Six-Point Creative Works, Inc. of Springfield, MA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.


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