Performance reviews are stressful—there’s no denying it.
For employees about to be evaluated, there may be a growing sense of dread surrounding any unknown issues their managers are planning to raise. For managers, there’s the pressure to deliver honest, forthright, constructive feedback that serves the dual purpose of bolstering your employee’s confidence and strengths while also acknowledging the growth you expect of them in the year ahead.
And if any of your employees are remote, that pressure can feel twice as enormous.
Traditional performance review tactics and criteria are (usually) designed in a thoughtful way that enables managers to help their employees grow in a meaningful, professional way. And the good news is that some of those same elements can form the foundation of a meaningful employee performance review. But because you aren’t granted the same opportunities to see your employees in action at the office day in and day out, you’ll likely need to get a bit creative in your evaluation—particularly surrounding coworker relationships and professional communication styles.
Fortunately, you’re not alone in your quest to complete a performance review that works for you and your remote employee(s). And with an increasingly remote workforce changing the shape of employment has come a font of tried-and-true tactics that help make remote performance reviews work. In this piece, we’ll explore some of those tactics to help you master your next performance review.
Your feelings about an employee’s performance should never come as a surprise during their evaluation. If you or your employee is feeling particularly anxious about their evaluation, there’s a chance it’s because you haven’t established clear, trustworthy lines of communication that allow for instant feedback and give your employee a clear sense of their progression in your company.
This can be resolved! Establish a recurring check-in with your employee and offer space for the two of you to connect honestly about big-picture questions of performance. Both you and your employee should feel empowered to voice professional concerns, and to follow up on them to ensure issues are resolved in a timely way. Take time to ask explicit questions and give detailed feedback so your employee feels they have a clear sense of their standing. That way, the performance review will read less like a surprise, and more like a summary of your conversations to date.
Consider Your Criteria
Naturally, there is a whole set of criteria surrounding professionalism and coworker relationships that changes when your employee is remote. As you consider your criteria for evaluating remote employees, think more broadly about their impact. For example, you won’t be commenting on whether they come in late or leave early (though some remote workers might need to show up at a specific time), but you can discuss your employee’s availability and communications. Does it take them a very long time to message someone back when they’re asked a question? Are they readily available during expected hours, and do they communicate clearly when they have to step out for doctor’s appointments, etc.?
Think, too, about their work-life balance. If your employee is working at all hours of the day and night, use your performance review to discuss ways you can help them set boundaries and rest outside of their working hours. There is a lot of unspoken pressure on remote employees who feel the need to prove that they are “always on.” To avoid burnout, flag these things as you chat.
Recreate the In-person Experience
If your employee has access to a camera, be sure to hold your performance review using video conferencing software. It’s important that your employee feel that you’ve taken this time to speak with them directly and to see that you aren’t distracted by your surroundings as you discuss their performance.
If you can’t use video, make sure you’re actively listening to your employee, and taking the time to ask explicit questions about how your feedback is landing with them. Do things make sense, or has something caught them off guard? Explore that. In these situations, be sure to block off a bit of extra time in advance so the review never feels rushed.
Reimagine Your Review System
Do you manage a team that mostly comprises remote workers? If so, you might have room to reimagine your review system a bit. Annual reviews are one way to evaluate on employee progress, but perhaps you can revamp the system by holding shorter quarterly reviews or monthly check-ins. By holding open space for your employees to meet with you and building a solid, stable relationship, you’ll find your employees are empowered to discuss difficult situations with you, and you’ll have room to celebrate their growth in a more organic way.
Remote worker performance reviews don’t have to feel so daunting. By building an open relationship of trust and communication with your remote staff, considering your criteria for evaluation, and giving them the undivided attention you’d give an in-person employee, you can ensure that your reviews lend themselves to the kind of growth and progress your remote employees (and you!) deserve.