The number of people working remotely has spiked over the last few years. But, although business may be conducted in different physical locations, the fundamentals of good employee management remain the same.

Managers need to find more effective ways to help virtual employees who consistently fail to perform. And one of the best strategies is to use a performance improvement plan (PIP). 

But, unlike traditional performance improvement plans designed for managers who are leading staff from a physical location, the process for remote workers has to be developed with remote employees in mind. So the questions and processes fit with your remote working situation.

Find below a step-by-step guide on how to create performance improvement plans for remote workers. In it, you’ll learn what a performance improvement plan is and how to develop one specifically for remote workers. Additionally, you will find some helpful tips for leveraging your PIP to get the best results from your remote employees.

What Is a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP)?

A performance improvement plan is an HR leverage tool outlining the specific steps an employee can take in order to improve, as well as goals that they can work towards. The PIP outlines the following things:

  • The expected behavior
  • The main objective(s)
  • Learning resources available to help achieve those goals
  • A timeline for improving the employee’s performance (for employees who are struggling)
  • A timeline to reach additional goals (for employees who aren’t struggling)

Performance matters no matter where you are. And for remote employees, performance issues can arise from a number of different causes. 

Some of the most common performance issues include:

  • Regularly missing deadlines
  • Excessive sick leave
  • Motivational deficits
  • Low productivity
  • Absenteeism
  • Chronic tardiness
  • Lack of professionalism
  • Wasting resources
  • Client dissatisfaction
  • Poor work

In general, a continuous failure to meet expectations is enough to implement a performance improvement plan for a remote worker.

By understanding the options available for dealing with it, managers can succeed in developing a strong strategy to help them succeed in helping employees excel in remote working situations regardless of the nature of the problem. 

How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan

When it comes to addressing performance issues, managers have to choose their approach carefully. It’s important to view poor performance as a nuanced issue. As such, solutions will likely vary by employee, team, and department. 

However, PIPs generally have the following common elements:

  • Identify the issue/behavior/performance for improvement
  • Provide specific examples of the problem
  • Outline the expected standard
  • Determine appropriate training and support (you can also use a video editor, I personally recommend Movavi, to create videos that help people to be more involved in the work process and clarify the issues)
  • Create a realistic timeline
  • Schedule regular check-ins or review points

You can have a sample PIP for your organization where you adapt the questions and processes to align with each individual. 

Here’s a more detailed look at each of the steps for creating performance improvement plans for remote workers:

1. Identify the Issue for Improvement

The first step in dealing with a remote employee who is consistently underperforming is to find out the underlying reasons why they are failing to live up to their potential. 

For instance, there might be a root cause that is associated with their underperformance, whether this is personal issues, such as a family bereavement, or something else in their social or professional life. 

It may not even be anything negative – maybe they want greater challenges. 

Whatever the issue is, you may not have the chance to discuss such things with them during the usual workday, but a performance improvement plan will help you get to the root of the problem so you can address it and help your employees resolve it.

2. Provide Specific Examples

Once you’ve identified the issue for improvement, you must provide proof with specific examples when writing your performance improvement plan or you can demonstrate as a presentation

This involves documenting problems as you see them even before you start creating the PIP for that worker. 

Your examples should include as much detail as possible, and each specific example should have a date. This will help you avoid legal issues down the line. Let’s say you want to build a new company website and need to find the right web hosting for WordPress. Make sure to let your team know what features or plugins you’re looking for so that they can complete the task successfully.

3. Outline the Expected Standard

Creating a performance improvement plan will allow you to work exhaustively on the problem being experienced by your remote worker. 

You’ll be able to spend more time with them guiding them toward a corrective plan so they can learn to eliminate their weaknesses and amplify their strengths.

Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

List Your Expectations

List all the different areas where the virtual worker needs to improve. Keep in mind that expectations are not the same as job duties, so don’t pull expectations from the remote worker’s job description. 

Rather, develop and communicate clearly defined performance expectations so you can help the staff member understand how their duties and responsibilities must be performed. 

Focusing on end results instead of activities will help you form a strong foundation for an effective performance plan.

Focus on Behaviors

When outlining the corrective action to be taken, make sure you clearly state the specific behavior that needs to improve. 

For instance, if a customer service rep has been consistently getting complaints from clients about ignoring their messages, you might outline actionable goals, such as “responding to all emails within 48 hours”.

Set Clear Goals

In the case of goals to be achieved, make sure you provide clarity so the employee has a total understanding of their goals and objectives. 

A lack of clarity will result in the remote worker asking more and more questions which only serve to heighten their confusion. 

However, the more precise the objectives are, and the more clearly they are communicated, the easier it will be to complete them.

4. Offer Appropriate Training and Support

Your next step in creating a performance improvement plan is to provide your remote workers with extra support and/or training and development opportunities. This is a great tactic for improving the effectiveness of your company’s PIP. 

Your employees must never struggle on their own. Mentorship is one of the most important strategies for helping employees feel heard and increasing their performance.

As a manager, it’s important to recognize that your employees’ poor performance may have been the result of poor training. For instance, if employees go through an inadequate onboarding process where there is minimal support, they may have trouble when assigned tasks with real responsibility.

Furthermore, if an employee is given a greater workload or a promotion without being provided with the prerequisite training, they are likely to struggle in their new role which results in poor performance. 

Your job here is to identify the skill gap, decide the best way to bridge it and provide the appropriate training and support to help remote employees do a better job. 

This might include things such as:

  • Formal courses
  • Jobs shadowing colleagues
  • Assigning a mentor, etc.

Each of these will help the employee develop job-specific skills so they can improve their overall performance.

Pro Tip: Do your best to provide all the required additional support, but don’t micromanage. 

Employees often feel incompetent and under-confident when going through a PIP. You don’t want to burden your employee even more, so do your best to assist them with patience and understanding, while giving them the space they require to go through the resources provided. 

For instance, you might try to check in every day with simple instant messages and questions such as “Do you need any help from my side?”, Or “Did you come across any difficulties that you’d like to discuss?” But, the important thing is to let them find their own path.

5. Create a Realistic Timeline

A performance improvement plan is time-bound. The employee must achieve measurable objectives within a specified period of time, usually 30-90 days. 

But, as a manager, you are already aware that remote work has its own set of restraints and bottlenecks. When conducting a virtual performance improvement plan, you will need to take this into account. 

The performance plan may take longer than usual so you need to create a realistic timeline to give your team members enough time to achieve their goals. 

Within that time frame, you should be able to track their progress to make sure they are on track. 

So, draft a plan that not only has achievable timelines but also has flexibility built into it to give your employee the best chance of succeeding.

6. Schedule Regular Check-Ins

It’s important to have regular check-ins where you monitor and measure the effectiveness of the employee performance improvement plan

Regular check-ins will provide you with structure, and even more importantly, they’ll serve as a guide to ensure that the employee stays on track and is consistently going in the right direction.

Formal Meetings

Your check-ins can be in the form of formal one-on-one meetings with the employee to give you an opportunity to check their progress. Make sure your employee has the predefined structure so they know exactly what type of improvement is expected from them within any given timeframe.

Informal Meetings

Alternatively, you might choose to conduct less formal one-on-one meetings to manage employee performance. Make sure these meetings are conducted in a safe space where you and your direct report can connect, discuss, and develop a personalized rapport.  If you have multiple employees you need to include, you may want to consider using webinar software to meet with all of those that need to be in attendance.

Opinion Surveys

You can also create survey templates and personalize the questions for each individual. These surveys can also be a great opportunity for you to collect feedback, which makes them beneficial not only to the employees but also to managers, as well.

You might learn about ways to improve your current policies, as well as any suggestions from employees for additional improvements, which you can then integrate into future policies.

Additional Tips:

Focus on Positivity

An important point to note is that you should focus on positivity throughout the performance improvement process. 

Regardless of the reason why the PIP was necessary in the first place, there will almost always be some positive aspects. Make sure you convey these to the employee so they know that they are a valued member of the organization. 

No one likes to be told that they are terrible at their job, and emphasizing the positive aspects of their employment will help to motivate the employee and encourage them to strive for more improvement.

Keep Emotions in Check

During your regular check-ins and all throughout the rest of the process, make sure you keep your emotions in check. 

Although this seems obvious, it’s worth repeating. Allowing emotions to take over when discussing performance issues can cause the situation to spiral out of control. 

Remember, you aren’t blaming the employee, you are just trying to help them become better. 

Make sure they know that. Stay calm and professional. This will make it more likely that the employee will be receptive and open to dialogue rather than shutting down or becoming combative.

Make the Most of Your Remote Workers with Performance Improvement Plans

In the past, a lack of trust prevented many managers and companies from allowing remote work. However, the pandemic has forced many people to work remotely which means managers now have to face the challenges that come with it – including underperforming remote workers. 

Use this article as your resource to help you create effective performance improvement plans so you can maximize the potential of your remote workers.


About the author:

Ron Stefanski is a college professor turned online business owner.  He’s helped hundreds of thousands of people create and market their own online business.  You can learn more about him by visiting OneHourProfessor.com. You can also connect with him on YouTube or Linkedin.


How to Establish a Performance Improvement Plan

  1. Identify the issue for improvement

    The first step in dealing with a remote employee who is consistently underperforming is to find out the underlying reasons why they are failing to live up to their potential. 

  2. Provide specific examples

    This involves documenting problems as you see them even before you start creating the PIP for that worker. 

  3. Outline the expected standard

    Creating a performance improvement plan will allow you to work exhaustively on the problem being experienced by your remote worker

  4. Offer appropriate training and support

    Provide your remote workers with extra support and/or training and development opportunities.

  5. Create a realistic timeline

    As a manager, you are already aware that remote work has its own set of restraints and bottlenecks. When conducting a virtual performance improvement plan, you will need to take this into account.

  6. Schedule regular check-ins

    Regular check-ins will provide you with structure, and even more importantly, they’ll serve as a guide to ensure that the employee stays on track and is consistently going in the right direction.


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