This is not my situation, but something I am witnessing and was asked to help with. So, suppose that I lead a small team. I communicate and provide details on tasks to team members via email.
One of the team members does not respond promptly (i.e. same day) to emails, so it is unclear where he is on the tasks. He does not provide regular status updates when they are requested (also by email). And he does not show initiative in tackling new tasks, or improving the quality of the output from the assigned tasks.
Unless specifically given very concrete tasks and deadlines, he basically 'sits on his hands' and waits for work to find him. As I see it, he does the absolute minimum and avoids challenge. If I had no work for him for 6 months, I have reason to believe that I would not hear a word from him for 6 months. Overall, he lacks in communication skills, efficiency, and initiative that as a professional I would expect to come 'standard' with experienced professional employees.
In contrast, other team members typically respond to emails in a more timely manner, provide their own perspectives on the task, and generally bring all of their knowledge and experience to the table when approaching a task or resolving an issue. This suggests that it's not just me -- otherwise the lacking performance would have been more widespread.
The employee in question seems to have an OK attitude in general and is not a "troublemaker". He just does not seem to put in any more effort than necessary to complete the immediate task at hand -- but not an inch more.
Because this individual's time on task for any more or less advanced tasks has exceeded the most liberal estimates and resulted in weeks taken up by what was expected to be completed in days, over time the complexity of tasks relegated to him has decreased, in efforts to salvage time while adding at least some value to the team.
Overall, there is a disconnect in expectations around communication and performance. However, I am unsure about (a) where to start, and (b) how to discuss these topics in a way that would not make the person feel singled out and antagonize him.
As someone who is ultimately responsible for the team's performance I want to remedy the situation. I am also ready and willing to change my own approach to working with this employee, as long as things improve.
I allow the possibility that this individual's lacking performance may be due in part to something I am either doing wrong or am not doing at all. I am just having trouble figuring out what that is...since he appears to be the only one impacted by whatever I may be doing wrong or not doing.
I want to avoid conflict but I also want things to change for the better, and fast. Firing him (or at least being able to exercise this option) may have been the preferred solution, but owing to some other circumstances is not an option.
What action can the Team Lead take in order to correct the situation?
What would help set the employee on a course of improving the skills that seem lacking, without putting him on the spot too much?
My hunch is to begin by addressing communication issues. Otherwise efforts aimed at directly improving productivity and quality would likely be futile.
Note, Some team members are local and some remote; the individual in question is currently remote.
Note, based on feedback received this question has been completely revised from the earlier version which received the downvotes.