As companies think through how they manage and evaluate their remote teams, conventional practices for measuring performance don’t cut it. If you have a remote workforce and you want the best from them, be prepared to integrate old techniques with new ones to accommodate this new style of working. To be effective, you need to set clear expectations, observe behavior carefully then take the best evaluation methods and meld them with new perspectives.
Conscientious employees want to understand what’s expected of them. Remote workers are no exception. This means you need to create job descriptions or at least a list of job responsibilities that you can discuss with every remote member of your team. As a remote team leader, it’s your job to define roles and responsibilities and then communicate them to each individual so there is clarity as to what criteria you’ll use to assess a team member’s success.
Setting clear expectations is critical as it provides a baseline for measurement. It’s hard to evaluate what isn’t defined. No one can read your mind, and if you want people to engage and get excited, your people need to know how you define successful performance right up front. If you want to get existing employees engaged, include them in the discussion. Get them to help you define their jobs so they are more invested from the start. New employees need a thorough explanation as part of their onboarding process. Schedule time with new people ASAP so they come into their jobs understanding what you expect.
Once roles and responsibilities are defined, we use a simple tool called the accountability cycle to operationalize performance measure. What exactly is the accountability cycle? It’s a set of simple repeatable steps for actively managing your remote workforce.
- Set measurable expectations and goals up front and communicate them clearly to every member of your team.
- Observe team member performance over time.
- Give feedback to let employees know what is going well and what needs attention or adjustment.
- After you deliver the feedback, send a summary of the feedback via email to ensure everyone is on the same page
- Go back to the beginning and repeat steps 1 – 4.
Following the accountability cycle allows you as a leader to build performance accountability, coaching and feedback into your daily routine while creating good work habits within your team. Making feedback an ongoing conversation rather than a once-a-year event normalizes it and makes it a natural part of your everyday process. It builds resilience in your people and it helps them to know where they stand at all times.
Once expectations are set and communicated, observe your team’s performance. In a remote team, you don’t have physical proximity with your people, so you need something other than line of sight to judge if someone is on track or not. Setting work objectives, scheduling communication protocols, building routine check-ins, establishing project deadlines and then measuring against those deadlines are productive, measurable indicators that are directly tied to work efforts. Management by objective and the quality of work output is much more practical and achievable than the old-style, line-of-sight techniques.
In some cases, success may be measured by hours logged and time spent on specific activities. But often it’s more about outcomes and deliverables. While it may be tempting to measure performance based on how often an employee checks in on Slack or how many emails he/she sends, that sort of micromanagement can hinder creativity and limit productivity.
As an alternative, we recommend you use these simple, yet quantifiable questions as a framework for evaluating a team member’s productivity and effectiveness:
- How does the remote worker perform in relation to the agreed upon job expectations?
- Are they meeting the obligations of their job description as reviewed with them?
- Do they do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it?
- Do they meet their deadlines?
- What is the quality of the submitted work?
- Is it submitted in a timely, professional manner?
- Do they communicate/collaborate effectively with you and other team members?
- What type of results are they able to achieve?
Although formal performance reviews are typically done annually or bi-annually and are often tied to compensation; there’s no need to limit this type of performance feedback, especially for remote employees. Think of it as a drip campaign to build team engagement. It’s so much better to have regular feedback sessions. Not only does it connect you with your people more frequently, using feedback as a tool to stay connected with employees and preserve open communication means it’s easier to address issues while they are small and manageable. We recommend you build this into your regular weekly status check-ins.
When you deliver feedback regularly it normalizes the process and when done well, it builds resilience within the team. Always remember to highlight the good stuff, avoid focusing only on the bad. If all your people ever hear from you is what they are doing wrong, your weekly status calls will become a dreaded event as opposed to a welcome, energizing, open conversation. Rather than feel you are on their side, your people will assume you are out to get them and they will come to avoid you or worse, find another job where they feel valued.
Following the accountability cycle and delivering consistent, balanced feedback weekly also helps when you compile the employee’s annual performance review. Because you have more data points with which to evaluate a team member, you can give a more comprehensive summary of their work. It’s easy to build a balanced summary of an employee’s performance when you actually know how they performed. That way the contents of the performance review aren’t a surprise to the recipient because you discussed it with them in advance during routine feedback sessions.
Using Feedback Sessions to Manage Remote Teams
People who aren’t in the office every day don’t have the benefit of getting in-person feedback to get a sense of how well they are doing on the job. Having routine feedback from a supervisor or even a colleague can help your team know when they are on track and when they aren’t. It’s a tangible way to let people know where they stand with you and reinforces their value/contribution to the company. Effective feedback highlights an employee’s strengths and successes while providing direction for future growth and development when someone is off track. Most importantly, it builds a sense of belonging and caring in dispersed teams.