Learning & Development

Conducting Performance Evaluations from Afar: Best Practices for a Remote World

Now that many employees have been working from home for several months—and are likely to be doing so for some time—organizations need to consider how performance evaluations will be conducted remotely. It’s a new world for many employees and managers but one where performance still matters—perhaps more than ever.

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There are a number of issues related to performance appraisals that are the same when working with employees as they are when both manager and employee are on-site.

“The basic premise of appraisals is still the same,” says Jennifer Leake, CMC, a consultant with Assessment Pros LLC in Roanoke, Virginia. “Appraisals shouldn’t be weapons that demoralize an employee. They should be a joint conversation and evaluation of what is going well and ways to make things go better.”

Employees need to trust the process and their manager. Managers should not only focus on giving negative feedback or advice for improvement but also should have a commitment to really wanting employees to do well.

There are some key differences, though, she says:

  • There’s less data to evaluate because you are probably not seeing the employee as often, so alternative ways to gather information are critical.
  • There’s a bigger chance for misunderstanding because neither of you can read body language during the videoconference.
  • There’s a need to listen more, take notes, and make sure things aren’t lost in the video communication.
  • Be a bit more patient with poor performance. Offer specific feedback and action plans for improvement … for now.

One important shift that had already been taking place in a number of companies and that will also work in a remote environment is making performance evaluations more of a fluid and ongoing process than a once-a-year event.

Performance Evaluations Becoming More Fluid

Performance feedback can take a variety of forms: a 60-day new hire review; a midyear review; an annual review; and, increasingly, in some companies, multiple check-ins throughout the year.

At Fracture, a modern décor company based in Gainesville, Florida, continuous feedback using traditional processes such as performance management, including meaningful, professional, and timely content, is provided throughout the year.

Karen Oakey, director of Human Resources at Fracture, says, “We don’t believe in waiting for an annual review of performance but allowing everyone the opportunity to address performance where gaps or misalignments exist.”

Oakey notes that Fracture is in the early stages of building out its performance management strategy and process. It has run through a few cycles already and has added in new performance aspects to help the company kick off discussions about what the process will ultimately look like.

The biggest difference for the company since the pandemic, she says, is that “the reviews will be done 100% virtually as Fracture’s non-manufacturing-teams are currently working form home while we continue to navigate the pandemic.” Although the virtual option will still allow for the use of visual and verbal engagement, it won’t be quite the same, she acknowledges.

“Managers and employees will miss out on the in-person body language and added personal touch to the exchange of feedback.” Because of this, even in a remote environment, she adds, it will be “important for managers to kick-off the review by setting a relaxed environment and using a personal approach.”

At Mammoth HR and Think HR, two recently merged on-demand HR companies, Carla Yudhishthu, VP of People Operations based in Portland, Oregon, says the company has offered tools to leaders to help in setting goals, measuring success, and staying connected.

“This includes using daily standups for teams, more frequent 1:1 check-ins and making video conference the default,” she says. “We have a broad framework of company-wide strategic imperatives and objectives that filter down into OKRs for our individual teams.” Ongoing connections and communication are critical. “By staying consistently close, we’re able to constantly monitor progress,” Yudhishthu adds.

Pivoting to Remote Performance Management

Susan W. Stang, PhD, vice president of consulting solutions at PSI Online, a testing program provider based in Glendale, California, offers some tips to help organizations pivot from face-to-face to remote performance management.

Consider old goals and the new reality. “Just because we are now working remotely and dealing with obstacles that we could have never imagined even just a few months ago does not mean we need to ignore goals and objectives previously set,” says Stang.

It’s still important to reinforce and review priorities, initiatives, and strategies that remain key and central to the mission and purpose. This, she says, can help maintain continuity and ensure employees are still grounded.   

Look to the future. “While performance evaluations necessarily look back, they also provide an opportunity to look ahead and set goals for the coming year,” says Stang. Goals should set the stage for the next performance evaluation period.

In this environment, she says, the goal-setting process should also allow managers to clarify expectations for working remotely, to discuss changes in the way work is done, and to explore competencies likely to be critical in the months and years ahead—resilience, adaptability, digital dexterity, and connection. 

Reflect on purpose. Performance evaluations, says Stang, should provide employees with the information they need to enhance their performance and reach their potential. Developmental feedback is very important. Yet, she says, “many managers gloss over improvements needed and/or opportunities to grow because they see them as criticisms and the conversation as uncomfortable.”

In a remote environment, this tendency may be even more prevalent, she says. Developmental feedback, adds Stang, “can help employees—and those they work with—to minimize stress, errors, inefficiencies, miscommunications, and rework.”

Build engagement. In a remote work environment, engagement is more critical than ever and, potentially, more elusive. Managers should structure evaluations to be ongoing conversations, Stang advises. 

Fracture’s Oakey offers some additional tips for supervisors and managers navigating the “new normal” of remote performance evaluations:

  • Stick to the fundamentals. “Make sure it’s continuous, timely, meaningful, professional, and respectful,” she says.
  • Offer emotional intelligence training for employees. This, she notes, “will assist in guiding everyone to not take feedback personally, to look through to the fundamental feedback being given and to approach the feedback with the intent of resolving the gap or misalignment.”
  • HR should support managers to ensure reviews include both qualitative and quantitative metrics. “HR should also review whether or not goals are being met on time and with quality,” says Oakey. “These evaluations also determine how each position contributes to the success of the company objectives and strategies while ensuring the employees have a safe environment for feedback.”

Finally, Oakey adds, invest in a tech platform that’s right for your organization’s performance strategy, size, and repository for review.

“Managers and leaders must be aware that performance feedback and reviews are conversations that can be pulled into legal processes,” she warns. “It’s important to keep the feedback tied to the business as the first documents likely to be called into a wrongful termination lawsuit where an employee is fired for poor performance are your company reviews.”

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