How to handle probation periods for remote workers
As more businesses turn to remote recruitment activities, it’s important to think about the realities behind your onboarding strategy. We know that for the foreseeable future we will likely have to remain working from home where possible – and we may anticipate that some businesses may continue to focus on virtual teams. So, if this is the ‘new normal’, then HR teams will need to establish new policies and procedures which can accurately support any new remote workers through their probation period.
What is the purpose of a probation period?
Whilst employers will undertake their due diligence when it comes to recruitment, it’s a fact that there may be many instances whereby a new employee simply isn’t the right person for the job. They may have the required skills but struggle to fit in with the company’s ethos. In which case, an agreed probation period is designed to check that both employer and employee are happy to assess their suitability for the match.
With the time and effort involved in recruiting a new team member, it stands to reason that employers want to feel comfortable with their hiring choice. It is estimated that just under a third of new employees are not passing their six month probation periods, which may give cause for concern for how effective recruitment strategies are.
What should employers do to ensure a positive probation period?
There is no set time frame for probation periods for employers; some may be one month whilst others (particularly those in senior C-suite positions) may be as long as 12 months – 2 years. Typically, most probation periods tend to be within 4-6 months. During this time, employers should be clear about what they are looking for. They may wish to discuss with the employee exactly what their expectations are, what support will be given to them to manage their job role effectively, and what the process will be to evaluate any success. By setting out clear expectations and defining how they will handle regular reviews throughout the agreed time frame, it will be easier for both parties to ensure a greater chance of success.
However, most HR policies surrounding probation periods will be set up specifically for office-based employees, where line managers can monitor staff first-hand. In situations where staff are working remotely, HR teams will need to develop new systems and processes which will allow line managers to offer the same clear levels of support for new employees.
How can managers give suitable support to remote workers during their probation period?
We previously wrote about how to welcome a remote worker to the team, and businesses must ensure that they offer new remote hires the same levels of care and attention that they would to office-bound recruits.
Effective line managers should be able to implement supervision, structure, and collaboration between teams. During an employee’s probation period, they will need to be continually assessed and monitored to ensure that they are working to the specifications set within the job description.
We anticipate that during a remote probation period, employers should expand their focus upon three distinct areas.
1. Are technical issues impacting an employee’s ability to work?
In an office environment, not only can you easily see how hard an employee is working, but you can feel confident that technical support is available where needed. For those working remotely, this can be much harder to monitor.
When a new employee starts on their first day, employers will need to work with IT departments to ensure that systems are set up with easy access to emails and internal documents. The employee may also need to access online portals or shown how to use internal systems. Taking the time to think of all the potential pitfalls can be wise; for instance, if a new hire doesn’t seem to be as productive as they should be, is it because of technical issues? Do they have access to everything that they need? Are they aware of who to ask if they have any problems? If there are problems, how can line managers help them to resolve these problems?
2. How can you assess remote employees' skills and expertise?
During their recruitment strategy and interview processes, firms will be looking to assess an employee’s skills and expertise. They will have made their hiring decision based upon their belief that the recruit can do the job successfully. However, when considering remote teams, employers may need to consider how remote working may impact on this. For example, in creative industries such as marketing/PR, the best ideas are often collaborative. Working in partnership with other colleagues can spark new ideas and campaigns, whilst working individually in silos can stifle creative thinking.
Taking working practices into account, employers may need to find new ways to ensure that recruits are working to the best of their ability. This could be through setting up video conferencing for team collaboration, or it could be through setting clear and consistent objectives to outline expectations and set deliverables.
3. Does the new recruit fit in with the rest of the team?
Probation periods aren’t just about the technical skills and expertise, it’s also about taking the time to see how a new employee fits into the culture of that working environment. Each team will have different personalities and it can be difficult to see how a new employee will work alongside others when they are working from home.
Taking the time to implement virtual ‘get togethers’ should be an important focus for any line manager. It’s not just about how colleagues communicate during work calls and meetings, it’s about how they can build trust and respect between each other. Taking the time to develop fun team-bonding activities is more important than ever for virtual teams, especially for those who intend to regain office-based working in the future.
The importance of personal reviews to support remote workers
We recommend that employers allocated more time for probation supervision for remote workers to ensure that they are given the greatest opportunity to succeed. For those with 4-6 month probation periods, it may be prudent to schedule regular personal reviews where you can proactively identify and react to any potential issues.
Taking the time to speak to new recruits at 4, 8, 12 and 16 weeks should show that employers are doing all that they can to adapt and refine the onboarding process, and help new employees settle in. It should also give ample opportunity for employers to spot areas of weakness and provide clear and demonstrable ways to improve performance before the probation period ends.