Managers and their employees have always faced challenges when communicating with each other. While some aspects of modern performance management have helped alleviate those challenges, others have created new ones. From distributed teams to new employee expectations, these challenges provide the opportunity for managers to better engage their employees and optimize performance.

The Distributed Workforce

A 2018 study by workspace company IWG found that more than two-thirds of employees around the world work remotely every week, and more than 50 percent do so for at least half the week. In an Indeed survey a few months later, almost half of respondents said that the ability to work remotely was an important factor when considering accepting a job.

In addition to remote workers, many companies have teams that are distributed across locations,d even across countries, especially as they globalize. “In the modern workforce where remote workers and other non-desk employees (NDEs) comprise a significant part of the total staff pool, mobile technology can become the key connector that boosts engagement and improves communications,” says Geraldine Osman, chief marketing officer of StaffConnect. For example, ilke Homes used StaffConnect to share information across teams and enable easier two-way communication between managers and employees. Helen Charlesworth, head of human resources, says that with a mobile engagement platform, “more than 50 percent of employees [are] enthusiastically embracing the benefits and features of the app to communicate with each other, share content company-wide and with their specific work groups, and provide feedback to their managers.”

“The heart of the matter is not the technology,” says Anita Bowness, principal product manager at Saba. “It is really about a conversation and fostering that discussion, that dialogue between manager and employee to create that connection.” With the plethora of virtual communication tools currently on the market, managers can have those conversations with their employees, whether they’re down the hall or across the globe.

New Expectations

“As the workplace continues to evolve,” says Tim Christensen, chief technology officer at SocialChorus, “we’re seeing a few key shifts underway when it comes to employee expectations.” These changes include an increasing expectation of employees to have “consumer-like experiences” at work, their increasing concern about data protection and privacy, and the increasing “noise and marketing in their digital lives.”

Similarly, says Osman, “The rise and proliferation of social media and new internet communications has led to employees expecting similar, familiar and instant communication tools in the workplace.”  These shifting expectations mean that managers can no longer use a “one-size-fits-all” approach to performance management and employee engagement.

Employees aren’t just looking for a paycheck now, Bowness says (although they’re not not looking for it). They also want to work in a place where their contribution is valued, their opinions are accepted and their work is personally fulfilling. “They’re looking for a relationship with their organization and, quite often, the face of the organization is their manager.” The desire for a strong manager/employee relationship is one of the reasons organizations are moving away from annual performance reviews and toward regular one-one-one meetings or check-ins, she adds.

Modern Performance Management: 3 Tips

1. Pick a good tool

Look for a “solution that integrates the various elements of the talent development conversation and cycle,” says Bowness, rather than using separate platforms to manage recruitment, onboarding, learning and performance. “These conversations feed one another.”

Technical requirements include security of user data and privacy, Christensen says. In addition, look for a platform that you can personalize, that measures impact, that integrates with your other platforms, and that has “a deep understanding for communicators and workers that’s been demonstrated in the product over time.”

“The tools our customers are using the most,” says Osman, “are those that provide employees with a voice and facilitate two-way communication, not just top-down.” Enabling employees to communicate with their managers, not just vice versa, creates an inclusive culture and improves employee engagement and retention. She also recommends looking for a tool that includes peer-to-peer communication or group chats, which “prevents employees using other tools which are outside of the company domain, are not audited and can cause security issues.”

2. Remember the five Cs

Braidio, a “workstream intelligence platform” company, identifies “the five Cs of network effects to help organizations conquer the new world of work”:

  • Communication: Make sure employees have access to information across departments, so nothing important is siloed.
  • Collaboration: Use chat, voice and video collaboration tools.
  • Connection: Enable employees to connect with each other based on shared areas of expertise or interest.
  • Curation: Capture employee knowledge, and make it searchable.
  • Community: “Look for ways to consolidate some or all of the above experiences to maximize productivity and enhance value,” says Paul Pluschkell, chief strategy officer at Braidio.

3. Empower employees

Bowness says that when managers have ongoing conversations with their employees, including real-time coaching and feedback, those employees become more engaged and connected. This new form of performance management also helps “head-off performance issues” by addressing them right away instead of waiting six months or a year for the formal review. Companies can support managers in this approach by giving them training as well as a framework to conduct those conversations. For example, TalentSpace, Saba’s talent management platform, keeps managers’ and employees’ notes, helps them create agendas, and tracks performance against development plans and goals.

Whether you use TalentSpace, StaffConnect, Braidio, SocialChorus or any of the other performance management and communication platforms on the market, it’s important to understand the challenges facing managers and their employees. By gaining a better understanding of their challenges, you will be better equipped to provide them with the support they need to nurture talent and encourage success.