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Christina Lattimer

People Discovery

HR Consultant

Read more about Christina Lattimer

Christina’s Counsel: Managing attitude problems remotely

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The challenge

An HR client recently asked me for advice about how to tackle a situation that may become more commonplace as managing staff remotely increasingly becomes the norm.
 
A manager raised concerns about a team member who worked some 75 miles away in a satellite office. Until recently, the office had been manned by a junior manager who had left and, because of financial constraints, had not been replaced.
 
Although the team member was meeting her targets and getting results, the problem was her attitude to customers and other team members. A colleague had apparently ended up in tears and a customer had reportedly made a verbal complaint about her and said that they were taking their business elsewhere.
 
Much of this had been relayed to the remote manager through another team member who had asked to speak to him “in confidence”, but didn’t want to be involved because of the possible implications within the team. 
 
The manager had mentioned to budget holders about the need for the onsite management post to be replaced, but the plea had fell on deaf ears – the results from the satellite office were good and the company didn’t feel in a position to fund another management post due to insufficient funds.
 
As a result, the manager had come to my HR client for help.
 
My response:
 
It doesn’t matter if the employee who reported the incident wishes to remain anonymous or not: The manager must act immediately to tackle this situation.
 
  • Firstly, he must talk to the team member who was reportedly in tears and provide them with every opportunity to give their account of what happened. If the manager or team member aren’t able to hold a physical meeting quickly, a confidential place and time must be arranged and either a telephone or Skype call set up.
  • If inappropriate behaviour is found to have taken place, it must be dealt with in accordance with company policy. It’s important for the manager to show zero tolerance for inappropriate behaviour and acting firmly and swiftly is key, even if the allegations end up proving to be unfounded.
 
No matter what the outcome of his enquiries are, the manager’s next steps must be to:
 
  1. Visit the team at the earliest possible opportunity. Hold a team meeting, but also give individual members the opportunity to discuss their views and concerns in a confidential setting. Find out if they believe that a ‘manager-less’ office will work and encourage them to air all of the relevant issues.
  2. Set up regular individual performance reviews, conducted on a face-to-face basis if possible and using Skype or similar alternative only if unavoidable. Ensure that these arrangements are never cancelled unless something exceptionally important arises.
  3. Invite the team to elect one or two staff representatives who will be responsible for holding regular team meetings on-site and for reporting back any issues or matters that require attention. Also get them to hold regular meetings so that everyone feels involved and always respond quickly and emphatically when issues or actions from these meetings are reported back.
  4. Establish suitable communication channels, for example, undertake weekly conference or Skype-based calls and/or webinars and use Sharepoint to share information in addition to undertaking physical visits. Be clear about expected standards and ensure that everyone understands the reporting process if those standards aren’t met. Such standards can cover financial performance, behaviour, working practices and working within company guidelines and policies.
  5. Introduce a system to collect customer feedback. Ensure that every customer has an opportunity to report back any dissatisfaction (or indeed praise) to the main office. Have clear notices to this effect in public areas and on literature.
  6. Try to create a no-blame culture where employees are encouraged to view their mistakes as learning opportunities. Not to do so will mean that they fail to report anything back for fear of recrimination.
  7. Complete a risk assessment on the potential ramifications of a ‘manager-less’ office. Develop appropriate counter-measures and, where appropriate, compare the risks and potential costs associated with managing the office remotely with the cost of promoting an existing team member or re-hiring a junior manager. If the risk of being ‘manager-less’ is too great, take your business case to appropriate budget holders. 
 
Christina Lattimer is an HR consultant at HR and leadership development consultancy, People Discovery.
 
If you have an HR problem and don’t know what to do, send her an email to Christina’[email protected]. All problems will be treated in the strictest confidence and, if published, will be made suitably anonymous.
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Christina Lattimer

HR Consultant

Read more from Christina Lattimer
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