Specialist insight

Ask the expert: how do I approach promotions within my remote team?

Reading time:  3 Minutes

New ways of working come with new management challenges. Here, we put our questions surrounding promotions to an experienced HR expert

The global pandemic has led to a significant rise in remote working. Many businesses and their employees have now realised that remote working isn’t just for a crisis situation but may form part of long-term organisational strategies post Covid-19.

“This does however mean that some of those routine people activities like performance management, appraisal and promotion will need to be reviewed and processes updated,” explains Gemma Dale, senior HR professional, conference speaker, writer and coach with over 20 years’ experience. “On the subject of promotions, here are a few things to think about.”

1. Start with effective performance management

Performance is often conflated with presence. It’s all too easy to see someone in the office or ‘putting in the hours’ and assuming that this also equals effectiveness. Managers need to think differently about how performance is managed on an ongoing basis where teams are remote – and they may need training to support them in managing differently, too. Performance management processes such as appraisals will also need to be adapted for a remote situation.

2. Objectives

Effective performance management starts with objectives. We are all familiar with the ‘SMART’ approach (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) – however, this is just one framework that can be used to write effective objectives. Objectives also need to be up to date, reflect key priorities and align to organisational and team goals. This is true of all situations – but when people don’t work in the same location it is even more important to have clarity for everyone about what is expected and by when.

3. Focus on results, not hours

Promotion should be a process that focuses on an employee’s contribution, added value and results. It shouldn’t be about how many hours someone works – or even when they work them. Remote working also supports time and schedule flexibility, providing even more reasons to move away from old ideas about traditional working hours. This particular step is enabled by the previous ones – but also requires managers to make a mind-set shift about just what ‘good’ performance really means.

4. Clear criteria

Promotions send a clear message across the organisation about what is valued – if they are not managed well they can lead to resentment or disengagement. A transparent and fair criteria is essential – in both remote and face to face environments. Promotion opportunities should be available to everyone, and based on established, communicated and fair criteria. Even if an employee isn’t promoted, while they may feel disappointed, they should still be able to understand the reason for the decision, as well as receive useful feedback to help them for the future. All of these fundamental processes can easily be undertaken in a remote environment.

5. Consider Covid-19 implications

While all employees have worked through the same pandemic, its implications on individuals vary considerably. Some employees may have been unwell, others will have had increased caring responsibilities or have needed to take time away from work. Duties and objectives may also have had to change to reflect altered circumstances. Some will have worked from home and for others this hasn’t been possible. It’s possible that there will be both short- and long-term implications for careers and promotion prospects. Employers should consider potential issues and take steps to ensure that employees do not experience long term disadvantages as a result of their personal pandemic circumstances. Depending on the circumstances it may be appropriate to amend promotion criteria or communications.

Gemma Dale is a senior HR professional, conference speaker, writer and coach with over 20 years’ experience. She is currently a lecturer in employment law, organisational behaviour and wellbeing at Liverpool John Moores University Business School, UK.

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