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My employer has declared work from home until the end of the quarter 1, 2021 due to the pandemic. There is a six-member team reporting to me. There is one team member who shows away most of the time. How can I politely tell her that she has to be work at least for eight hours without my talk wrongly perceived as micromanagement.

I see that there are posts and comments questioning what's the problem. The problem is whenever I try to call her, she is away, sometimes at the grocery market and sometimes at the doctor. And she comes online after a while. She magically comes online during our daily call which starts two hours after our login time. Until then she is away, after our daily call she again goes away for a couple of hours.

Another problem is that she is working on a tool selection process since the last two months and there is no end to it. According to her she has finalized a tool, but it is still buggy so she is working with the vendor to eliminate the bugs. Someone mentioned toggle (Appear Away; Be Right Back) and that's not the case. I'm sure about it.

Honest question - is it not unprofessional to bill eight hours a day when you are working only for 4-5 hours on average? Maybe the title of my question is misleading and people here are not getting the gist of it. I think that I tarnished a very genuine question by mentioning IM status.

Honestly, that's how I know that the person is not working for all the billed hours and of course the productivity. Imagine the scenario when offices are open and a colleague or team member is present at workplace for only 4-5 hours and rest of the time he/she is away for shopping, at doctor's clinic, etc. on a daily basis. Will it not raise eyebrows among the stakeholders? The setting is different here - work from home, so please try to understand the question.

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    You still aren't providing complete information here. How do you know that the employee is only working 4-5 hours? Do you monitor her status 24 hours a day? Or is there a job requirement that the hours be worked within a particular period? – jamesqf Nov 13 '20 at 16:45
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    How do you know the employee is slacking off? Not saying they aren't, but how do you know? Legitimate (and highly-productive) telework can look very different from onsite work, and there could be other reasons the employee isn't making the progress you'd like on the tool-selection task. So it sounds like you need to investigate more before assuming you know. See my answer for more details. – bob Nov 13 '20 at 18:13
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    @aloneprogrammer It seems unlikely that English YOUR native language, since you seem to think subordinate is some kind of insult. It's not. It means an employee of lower rank who reports to you. If you hired me and I reported to you as my boss, I would be your subordinate. This is a simple fact of the employment, neither an insult nor degrading. If you think it means something else in this context, you're simply wrong. – barbecue Nov 15 '20 at 0:16
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    @Alone Programmer: I assure you, "subordinate" is normal and acceptable English. Perhaps someone out there is trying to make it not politically correct, and you were unfortunate enough to take their fringe opinion as gospel? – jamesqf Nov 15 '20 at 3:25
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    @AloneProgrammer "Colleague" does NOT mean someone who reports to you. Neither does "team member." Subordinate IS normal, and IS correct. Your claim that using the word subordinate indicated disrespect or insult is simply outlandish and unfounded. Subordinate means a person beneath you in an organizational hierarchy, not a person beneath you morally or socially. – barbecue Nov 15 '20 at 4:36

10 Answers 10

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Employee working 4-5 hours a day

"I don't think she is working for more than 4-5 hours a day"

If only working 16-20 hours of a 40 hour week and playing hooky the rest of the time, generally employees or contractors are terminated.

How to tell...

"How can I politely tell her that she has to be work at least for 8 hours..."

It's a mistake to feel one should be "polite". The employee does not see the boss as a friend, acquaintance, or anything else. The boss is just the boss. No need to waste the employee's time in any way.

Be extremely brief and direct:

"Jane, lately you have been working only 4 to 5 hours a day. Unfortunately if this doesn't stop we will have to let you go. Unfortunately there can only be one more warning and that's it. I have cc'd HR and Mr Smith the owner.

That's it.

Confusion about chat icons...

Unfortunately on this site questions are sometimes drastically edited (even in good faith).

For anyone arriving now,

  1. In the first version of the question the OP drew attention to "chat icons"

  2. Quite correctly this resulted in lots of angry answers which pointed out that just because someone's chat icon is on and off they may well be working eight hours.

  3. Unfortunately all those answers were a waste of folks' time, since, in fact, the person is indeed playing hooky 15-20 hours a week.

The "icon anger" mention(s) in the earlier question(s) were unfortunately a complete waste of time.

The question title should have always just been "Employee is playing hooky 15+ hours a week, how do I politely address it?"

{The answer is simple, "bosses should be brief and direct, you're not a friend."}


Unfortunate edit history...

Thus, note the various comments now that the question is finally clarified:

"The new info has invalidated a great many answers. I don't know why it was omitted to begin with."

"This answer [one of the original answers about the icon rage] is no longer applicable post-edit..."

and so on.

It would appear that the OP (to be blunt) initially included a bit of a rant about the chat-icon issue. Quite reasonably, this was responded to with anti-rant rants about how chat icon thinking is silly - ! (And then rants about the rants, and so on.)

Unfortunately, part of the taxonomy of "confusing question edits" on this site is the species: "OP has reasonable question but includes ranty side issue which completely distracts everyone, and subsequently edits away the ranty part!"

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    Maybe I'm missing it, but how does the OP know for sure she is only working half the hours she should? The only thing I see in the OP is "IM status ...[is]... how I know that the person is not working for the whole billed hours ". This answer doesn't address the validity of assuming the remote worker isn't working enough, since the status has been proven to be not an adequate indicator. – stanri Nov 13 '20 at 13:55
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    Downvoted, because employee should first get a chance to explain themselves before being told they're only working 4-5 hours per day. – gerrit Nov 13 '20 at 14:10
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    @JonBentley That's not really proof the employee isn't working at other times. – Azor Ahai -him- Nov 13 '20 at 14:44
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    Employers need to make up their mind if productivity matters most or time clock punching matters most. With good employees (who don't require micromanagement and deliver things on time) time clock punching doesn't actually matter. I've worked at well known top tech companies that paid contractors 40 hours/week knowing you only spent 4 hours or less most days. They budgeted for you to get the work done. – HenryM Nov 13 '20 at 18:00
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    @Fattie framing challenges are legal around here. When the OP is making an obvious assumption and asking a question based on that assumption, questioning the assumption itself is allowed. In this case, the OP is basing their assumption on the 'away' status and that the employee is out of the office when he calls her. These do not indicate she is only working 4-5 hours a day. See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/66377/what-is-the-xy-problem – stanri Nov 13 '20 at 18:55
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First, identify the problem.

If you told me that your main concern is a little icon in your chat software, I would mentally wave you off and make sure that icon is green at all times without changing a thing about my work. Her chat icon is about as important as the color of her socks had she been in the office.

  • Did your team try to reach her and she was not available? That is a problem.
  • Did she not produce the output expected? That is a problem.
  • Did she not appear in scheduled meetings? That is a problem.

If you identify a problem, talk with her about it. Make a plan to improve. Check on it.

If you cannot identify an actual problem... apparently she can do her job properly, even while flagged as "away" in a chat software. Maybe even because she is flagged "away" and nobody bothers her while she works.

Anecdotal evidence/fun fact of the day: I was flagged "away" in our chat software for 3 days straight, while I talked to people over video chat in the same software most of the day because I had manually set that flag one morning to take a coffee break and forgot to toggle it back. And once set manually, it won't try to guess or update your state automatically anymore. So... that little icon says nothing about what is really going on. It is not an indicator of reality, it's just a stupid icon in a software.

You still need to manage your employees properly the way you did before. Identify if there is a problem, then act on the problem.


Since your edit makes it clear that you have identified the problem:

Work-from-home is not a free for all. If someone is shopping for groceries while they should be working from home, they are quite literally not working and not home. Asking an employee to fulfill their contract is not micromanagement. Now if said worker were delivering good results, I would caution you to maybe turn a blind eye, after all it's results you are after, not attendance. But with the results being that bad too, you need to have a stern talk with them. This is what you should do from a European perspective:

  • Write down your expectations and how they came to be (for example: work from home means you attend to the same hours and behaviors as before, just from home. Source: the contract.)
  • Make sure (with your boss or HR) that those are the expectations you can enforce if necessary. Make sure you have their backup.
  • Communicate them to everyone on the team.
  • Hold people accountable. All people of your team. How you do that is up to you and your labor laws, but being grocery shopping while you are supposed to work certainly warrants a formal warning and if it happens repeatedly, contract termination.

Micromanagement is about telling people how they should do their jobs. You need to tell this person that they should do their job. At all. That is not micromanagement. Don't be afraid to say "I expected you to be at work, what happened?"

In Europe (1), it is mandatory for the employer to keep a timesheet for each and every employee, whether they are paid hourly or not. Especially if they work from home. This is supposed to be a worker protection measure.

It is very common that people do not have to adhere to a strict eight-hours-in-a-chair attendance in office jobs, but they have to fill their timesheets correctly. If they lie and claim they worked while in reality they did their grocery shopping, that's fraud and certainly a reason to fire someone.

(1) This was a European court ruling in 2018 or 2019 I think, but it takes a while to make it into each countries laws and regulations, so whether there is a local law in your country is questionable.

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    I seriously wish more people (managers) shared this mentality. Work is important, not the chat application status. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 12 '20 at 8:49
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    Even if they tried to reach her and she's not available, not necessarily a problem with her. Some degree of asynchronous work needs to be planned in at the least for a home office setup: in the office you see when colleague is at the toilet taking a nice long... at home office you don't, but you still should respect their bathroom needs^^ And in principle an approach that allows for more asynchronous work and mixing spare time with work can be beneficial for both parties. The rules need to be made clear (and they preferably should make sense and not simply try to mimic office work behaviour). – Frank Hopkins Nov 12 '20 at 12:30
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    @Fattie Maybe give us some credit... the original question talked about icons only, no mention of actual contact problems. – nvoigt Nov 12 '20 at 15:43
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    @Fattie: Answer the phone before the first ring? They're psychic, maybe: "This phone's gonna ring soon, so I'd better pick it up"? Even before the second ring is really pushing things. Back in the long-ago days when I had to work in a cubicle with a real phone, if I was concentrating on something, I'd let the phone ring several times, instead of reflexively grabbing it. With cell phones with little tiny answer buttons, it takes me several rings at the best of times. – jamesqf Nov 12 '20 at 16:44
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    @Fattie what's bizarre is that anyone thinks a manager should be more focused on whether their reports are at their desk than on whether they're doing their job. – Alex M Nov 12 '20 at 17:37
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Let it be. This can drive your employees to focus on counterproductive things.

You are not complaining about their output. You are not complaining about the quality of their work. I doubt you noticed an actual productivity problem, as that would have showed up a long time ago as you have presumably have been working remotely for several months. Caring about whether they have the right chat icon for 8 hours a day is micromanagement. nvoigt covers this part well.

Here is the larger problem with doing this. You become the manager it is important to look busy for, rather than a manager who it is important to do good work for. I have been that guy dedicated to looking busy at times based on managerial feedback of "not seeming busy."

It means I:

  • Send more emails
  • Schedule emails for specific times to seem more active
  • Schedule more meetings
  • March around the office with a notepad
  • Spend time flipping my statuses
  • Make smaller commits to improve my git contribution chart
  • Take smaller bits of work so that it seems like more things are getting done
  • Work my current task into conversations
  • Give more verbose standup updates
  • Update tasks as finished at the beginning and end of the day rather than when they are done to ensure that the full 8 hour period (or even more) is recorded.

I spend my time proving that I am doing stuff rather than doing stuff. None of those are useful, but if I am managed based on perception, I then need to manage those perceptions. Now, most people will not go as far as I will and I have never done all of these at the same time, but even doing two or three of these things reduces productivity in favour of seeming productive.

I doubt the above is what you want, but it is something very easy to get when taking this approach.

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    related anecdote: a friend had a manager who was watching his chat icon ALL the time. one day the manager saw the chat icon go away for like 2-3 hours and the manager blew up about it and was all like "what were you doing? where were you? i couldn't get in touch with you." turns out the manager then had many HR meetings... got demoted to not be a manager and my friend was assigned a new manager. – syn1kk Nov 12 '20 at 17:02
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    @user3067860 why write a program that can be monitored? amazon.com/Liberty-Mouse-Mover-Blue-Black/dp/B07P6HBD1N – WernerCD Nov 12 '20 at 17:16
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    @WernerCD currently unavailable, so a lot of people are working for micromanagers. – Matthew Gaiser Nov 12 '20 at 17:22
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    @WernerCD that amazon product. genius. but also a little sad if you ever needed it. (also would be useful for movie viewing on linux where the screensaver comes alive xkcd.com/196 ). – syn1kk Nov 13 '20 at 15:31
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    This is a great answer. It's a question of productivity vs appearing to be busy. There are a lot of changes people have had to make in 2020 that have required mixing personal and professional. Maybe the grocery story is less crowded during the day. I had supervisor who did work at 2AM because her kids took a lot of her time during the day. Unless the employee is billing for 8 hours but working 4-5, or it's affecting morale and other employees, it seems a bit like a non-issue. Maybe something to be rectified with a little conversation and a few reminders. – user70848 Nov 13 '20 at 19:22
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You need to drill in and work out what the real problem is here. The "away" status is not a problem, but it may be a symptom.

If communication is a problem then you need to discuss expectations. It sounds like she's always there for meetings so that part is fine. Has there been problems reaching her when needed that's actually having a business impact? If so what sort of impact is it having and how is it having it. Does someone need mentoring who isn't getting it? Does the lack of general chat mean people aren't staying in the loop on what the team is doing. Whatever is happening you need to identify the core problem and a solution to that problem.

If performance is the problem and she isn't delivering. Then that's a bigger problem, but is the "away" status the problem here or the lack of delivery?

Everyone's going through changes. It's a stressful time in the world. A good way to start might be to schedule a regular 1-1 with all team members and for half an hour a month or week or whatever just chat. Ask them what's bothering them, what can be done for them, do they need anything? Does she have family/childcare issues that are distracting her? Is she working in the evenings because she's looking after kids during the day? Etc.

Just asking those questions might be enough to get a better understanding - and if there's no real problems and she's just not good at staying focussed on work when WFH then the conversations alone may help encourage renewed focus and if not then that's a separate problem that you can address together.

My work has been 100% WFH for many months now. We for the most part do work normal-ish hours just because it helps us keep some structure and a clear divide between "work time" and "personal time" - but we also take the freedom to go for a walk in the afternoon and enjoy the sunshine or take the car to the garage, or whatever. Yesterday I spent half an hour on an afternoon walk, then I logged in for half an hour in the evening to finish some work off. I did the pull request and someone else from my team approved it even later that same evening and it was ready to merge when I logged in on the morning.

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    The OP has clearly stated that the employee goes away ("doctor" "shopping" etc) for periods of about two hours at a time, multiple times (!) during each (!) day. – Fattie Nov 12 '20 at 16:35
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    @Fattie That's certainly the OPs impression - but we don't have proper metrics to say how real that impression is. What I'm saying is that that doesn't matter so trying to work out what the real "at desk time" is is a waste of time. Perhaps she is away for 4 hours but is working 4 hours in the evening. Does it matter if she takes 4 hours to do other things during the day? As I said, the problem is performance. Time "online" on messenger is only indirectly related to performance. If she isn't delivering...that's a problem. If she's not getting the job done that's a problem. Focus on that – Tim B Nov 13 '20 at 0:11
  • I'm curious though how OP knows this--is the employee volunteering this info? And if so, is the employee also making up the hours, perhaps unbeknownst to OP? It would seem really weird if the employee truly were to play hooky this much, letting OP know, without making up the time. – bob Nov 13 '20 at 22:04
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    Despite the exclamation marks, this would be totally normal behavior in many companies. This is a communication problem. Expectations need to be clearer. – Preston Nov 14 '20 at 4:29
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As suggested in the comments I will try to make my own comment an answer, even though I'm afraid it may be redundant.

I'm putting aside the "away" icon of IM as now the question was edited it doesn't seem to be the issue. It leaves us with 2 issues:

  1. Employee is not performing
  2. Employee is not available

Point 1: productivity

Is not directly related to working from home or office. There could be several reasons why an employee is underperforming as of your own expectations: employee is not skilled enough, project is a scope creep, project has 3rd party dependencies you don't control, your expectations are not realistic,...

The fact is you don't seem to know the root cause(s). You see some symptoms (project seems to have no end) but you don't know about the illness, so it will be hard to find a cure. You should address this with the person directly: discuss your expectations (what do you expect to be delivered? By when would you need it?), get to know more about the difficulties this employee may be having meeting these expectations, and maybe propose a more incremental approach: define your expectations for the next week, and ask the person a "demo" of the progress each week. This kind of short deadlines with limited scope are a good way to really track the progress and put some (limited) pressure on the person doing it.

Point 2: availability

This problem is only partially related to working from home. Any place with flexible working hours probably has rules already put in place defining availability expectations. Usually in these companies the same rules apply when you're working from home, in a "normal" situation. Now as the current situation is quite exceptional (schools may be closed so kids are at home, you may not have the right conditions to work from home 40hrs a week, many places require you to take appointments before going there so you can not just "drop by" after work,...) I think these rules should be made even more flexible. The key here will be COMMUNICATION. You need to communicate the general expectations (ie: I want you to be available 9->12 and 14->17 every working day) to the whole team, and each member of the team needs to communicate to the whole team when they can't reach these expectations. It could be as simple as dropping "I need to be somewhere between 11-12 and won't be reachable" in a team Slack channel, or using your shared agenda system to register "Personal appointment - OutOfOffice", whatever solutions suits the team best. If somebody who agreed to these "rules" is not playing by it, then you've got something to discuss with that person.

In your specific case, it seems this employee might need both discussions. I would try to keep them separated and start with the productivity issue because it might be caused, or not, by the availability issue. They also probably need different answers/solutions. Availability also concerns the whole team while productivity seems to be an individual issue.

You'll notice I didn't address the "number of hours actually worked" issue. That is because I think this is a whole different question, and a very opiniated one. It is also not related to the current COVID-situation or work from home. Trust me I know (because I've been doing it when I was young, lazy and stupid) it's very possible to slack for 9hrs a day even when being present in the office...

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  • Laurent, the issue apparently is not that the employee is "not available". The issue is simply that they are "NOT WORKING". They are only putting in 4-5 hrs a day. – Fattie Nov 13 '20 at 11:31
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    I addressed all 3 things in my answer : Availability , productivity and "working=working x hrs a day" – Laurent S. Nov 13 '20 at 12:58
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There's a lot to unpack here:

Don't assume

You seem to be assuming that you know the employee is slacking. How do you know? As others have mentioned, a good employee working from home, especially in these crazy times, may take time off to go to the doctor or run an errand and then make that time up after hours. Before assuming the employee is slacking off, make sure this employee isn't making up their time away. Work-from-home can look very different from onsite work, and before COVID, most teleworkers were actually more productive, though often with irregular schedules and sometimes with irregular availability. With COVID forcing people who wouldn't choose telework to work from home, you may well run into issues. But bottom line: don't assume the employee is slacking off just because they don't behave exactly like an onsite employee. Verify it. And that means 1) checking their productivity; and 2) talking to the employee.

Consider other reasons for productivity loss

There are many reasons an employee could have a drop in productivity: bad project, unclear or changing requirements, external forces (e.g. an unresponsive vendor or buggy product). Or the employee may be in need of mentorship to learn that tasks shouldn't go on indefinitely without a course-correction (a junior employee may not have learned this yet). Or the employee could be having personal issues--mental or emotional problems that would likely be exacerbated by COVID stress, especially if they have to handle childcare too. So if productivity is an issue, get to the root cause. Don't just assume it's slacking off.

Keep COVID craziness in mind

These are not normal times. People are having to juggle things they never had to deal with before, and there's a lot of stress. Keep this in mind, and be sympathetic while taking care not to let the company get taken advantage of if, after much more thorough verification, you do determine that the employee is truly just slacking off. But don't go there right off the bat.

If you verify there's a problem, deal with it

If after all this you determine there's no real issue--you can't really prove the employee is slacking off, and their performance is satisfactory, then move on. There's nothing more to say or do. If however you discover an issue--you're able to truly prove that the employee is being less than productive, then this is where you need to step in. But don't rush to punishment. First determine the root cause. Is it stress-related? If so, does your company offer a program to help employees deal with stress or emotional issues? Is the employee struggling with working from home? Offer training and mentorship--help the employee learn to work from home. Is the employee truly and demonstrably cheating the company? Then deal with it as the HR issue it is. But again, don't start here.

Finally: reflect on potential biases against teleworkers

It sounds like you might have some unconscious biases against teleworkers, and these may be coloring your view of the situation. I encourage you to reflect on this: what do you think of when you think of teleworkers? How do you see them? Industrious? Professional? Trustworthy? Lazy? Unprofessional? Untrustworthy? If your view is negative, why? Consider that any negative biases you have might be projected unfairly on this employee. I also encourage you to read about 100%-telework companies like GitLab. They have a "remote playbook" that talks all about their experience and best-practices with telework: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjusMz1jYDtAhVcGVkFHQTqAncQFjAAegQIBRAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fabout.gitlab.com%2Fresources%2Febook-remote-playbook%2F&usg=AOvVaw35mHntBIz8rPj0SwBjQI7u. If you have any biases toward teleworkers, educating yourself is the first step to resolving them.

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    As an add-on to Covid craziness, as documented repeatedly, working from home generally places unequal burdens on men vs women. More broadly, with children also working from home (i.e. school), don't expect your employees to be working a strict 9-5 schedule these days. Nor should you expect them to be as productive at home as in the office under the circumstances. Life is hard right now for many people. – Jon Custer Nov 13 '20 at 22:03
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If that's you, this list of tips will help you set up yourself and your team for success:

1. Have a Daily Check-In

Whenever possible, this should be one-on-one, and face-to-face via video. Phone conversations, email, and Slack go only so far. Your team needs to see you, and you need to see them. The good news is that services like Zoom or Google's Team Hangouts make this relatively easy. At first, this should be every day. The purpose is simple--set the agenda and provide the feedback and resources your team members need.

2. Communicate a Lot

It probably goes without saying that you should be in regular communication with your team. One of the hardest things about working from home, especially if you're used to an office environment, is the sense of loneliness and isolation that can set in. That's especially true considering that many people are practising social distancing.

3. Take Advantage of Technology

As a manager, your job is to keep your team connected. Communication tools are a simple way to keep everyone engaged. While email and text messages might be a short-term solution, tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams are far better suited for collaboration and communication. Some of those collaboration tools are even available for free right now.

4. Manage Expectations

Help your team figure out what they should do, and create realistic expectations for their work. By the way, "managing expectations" applies to you as a manager as well. Set yourself and your team up for success by clearly stating both the tasks and the reasons behind them, and help your team understand exactly how you will measure success.

That means defining the scope, deadlines, and deliverables for each task or project your team is working on. Otherwise, don't be surprised if a few weeks from now you find yourself wondering what everyone was doing. Which brings us to ...

5. Focus on Outcomes, Not Activity

It's not possible to manage every aspect of the work done by a remote team. For what it's worth, you shouldn't be trying to manage every aspect of any team's work, but especially when your team is distributed across different locations. Instead of focusing on activity or hours worked, focus on the outcomes and measure your team accordingly.

6. Resource Your Team

Make sure your team has the technology it needs to get the work done. If you suddenly have a team of remote workers, that means there's a good chance they need tools like laptops, software, mobile devices, or even a high-speed internet connection. It's not reasonable to assume that everyone has all of those things, and it's your responsibility as a manager to make sure they do.

7.Be Flexible

Understand that, especially in the current environment, your team has a lot going on. That's not an excuse for not getting things done, but it is a reason to reconsider what productivity really means. Punching a clock for eight hours is out. Regular work hours are also probably out for many people. Instead, trust your team and give them the freedom and flexibility to get work done on the schedule that helps them be the most productive. That's good for your team in the long run anyway.

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  • great answer. I would put manage to outcomes nearer to the top aa the OP is clearly missing that key aspect. – simbo1905 Nov 15 '20 at 4:55
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While many good points have been raised I would like to add a specific aspect which has been neglected so far: Transparency and Communication.

Under the described circumstances it is entirely reasonable for you to assume, that your employee is slacking of work. However there is a general problem with a lack of transparency when working from home, which makes it hard to assess when and how much people work. The Problem exists at the Office as well, as we all know, attendance doesn't necessarily equate to productivity. It is simply easier to withdraw from work, when at home and your boss isn't around. Likewise we all know that we don't work eight hours at the office: We go for a coffee, we have a private Chat with a colleague. This is fine as long as it is within limits.

In my view to Manage a team working asynchronous and at different locations a Project Management Tool becomes mandatory. A simple Kanban Board like Trello could be an easy start. There you could create Tasks for her where she documents her activities and progress and you could check on her without having to Phone her or mail her or chat with her. Simply look for her recent activites on the Board would give you an idea what she is up to.

Managing your whole Team this way on a shared Board has the added benefit that everybody could see everyone elses progress, creating a social pressure to finish a few task yourself as you watch the other members signing off on theirs.

Of course establishing some best practices for working with a project management tool takes some time and ressources, but it pays huge dividends in the long run. While it doesn't help you now. It would help you to get a grip on the employee and get her back on track.

TLDR: Mail, Phone and Chat are insufficient Tools to manage asynchronous and distributed working Teams. Using even a simple Project Management Tool gives you the possibility to let your team enjoy its freedoms while still being able to track their progress and identify delays quickly.

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  • And that is scrum – psaxton Nov 13 '20 at 19:34
  • using a tool may help identify underperformance but alone could do nothing to help improve it. this answer may be improved by talking about how to set clear goals and manage underperformance using a tool. then perhaps using a tool be the less important aspect. – simbo1905 Nov 15 '20 at 4:51
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You believe that an employee that reports to you is committing fraud by way of a false timesheet. You don’t have enough evidence for a criminal conviction or even a lawsuit to recover the funds. So what can you do?

You can fire the employee, sooner or later depending upon jurisdiction. Rightly or wrongly, the working relationship is gone. Unless you somehow find overwhelming evidence that you are mistaken before doing anything about it, it isn’t recoverable. Once you’ve brought the issue out into the open, if innocent the employee will be offended and demotivated and soon looking for a new job, if guilty then angry and upset and sure you’ll be actively looking for a reason to fire them and soon looking for a new job.

Don’t worry about micromanaging this employee, for two reasons, one it’s the only way you could reasonably become convinced that no fraud is being committed so whatever damage it would do would be less than explaining that you believe they should be spending the next several years in jail. Secondly, it’s moot as you should be handing out a pink slip instead.

If your jurisdiction allows it, you should fire them effective immediately, if not consider whether you can put them on garden leave.

If you are not as certain about the fraud as you imply, you could consider either micromanaging or pairing them with someone else in order to verify what work is being done. If you put it in the right terms (making sure a late project is finished) you might be able to avoid firing the employee if it turns out you are mistaken.

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As someone who has worked remotely for over 10 of the last 20 years and has also managed remote teams, I can see some potential nuggets of gold in the other answers that just need shining and some tremendous missteps.

First, forget the hours or the apparent effort being made. Any mention of these or other things will become part of your employee's work concerns. No company sells a product or service of my salaried employees all worked 40 hours. I digress though.

You need to focus on functional problems that affect the business bottom line. This project that the employee is working on should be given a rigid deadline. The next task for the employee should be scheduled and it should be emphasized that it can't be delayed. Tell the employee that his/her productivity is lacking and you expect him/her to work whatever hours necessary to meet the deadline to show commitment to the job.

Secondly is the employee not being available regularly. I've worked places where working odd schedules was not a problem. Returning a message after an hour was not considered problematic. Employees that disappeared in the middle of the day were expected to handle their workloads regardless. I've worked places that a missed message for 10 minutes was grounds for a good verbal inquisition. Decide strictly what your expectations are and then communicate them widely. Give warnings when employees fail. In this regard, my favorite pattern is to give 5 core work hours when all employees are stateside that it is expected that all employees are online and available within 10 minutes. If working with an offshore team this window may be 2 hours or non-existent.

Before approaching an employee always ask what you are trying to do to improve the company's bottom line. Many managers require particular things that don't effect productivity.

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    "Tell the employee that his/her productivity is lacking and you expect him/her to work whatever hours necessary to meet the deadline to show commitment to the job"—This assumes that the deadline is reasonable and that the main impediment to achieving it is the number of hours this employee is working. Which may well be the case—we really don't know—but it's entirely possible the issue lies elsewhere, especially since bugs in a third-party product are involved, and you're just going to burn someone out for no reason instead of actually understanding what's going on with the project. – Zach Lipton Nov 14 '20 at 5:49
  • @Zach, this is the belief of the OP. It certainly should not be a standard assumption. If the employee is really blocked s/he should have a secondary task to work on while waiting on the other. The block should also be reported on in the daily meeting he mentions. This may be a place to follow up. – N-ate Nov 14 '20 at 16:15

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