6 Best Practices for Conducting a Remote Employee Performance Assessment

Remote working changes where business is conducted, but it doesn’t alter the fundamentals of good management. Employees need, and deserve, performance assessments.

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Remote work isn’t a new concept. Managers have led teams virtually for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced more managers to lead staff from physically distant locations. We are living in what Time magazine has called "the world's largest work-from-home experiment."

An April 2020 Gallup Panel report shows more than half of U.S. workers were working from home. The “work” has continued and employee management is a critical component of that.

That trend is likely to continue. Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics forecasts that “25-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”

In remote working situations, business may be transacted in a different location, but don’t abandon the fundamentals of good management. Employees need, and deserve, performance assessments.

Reviews ensure an individual’s work aligns with and supports company goals. More importantly, performance reviews are as much about exploring employee satisfaction and personal development goals.

In-person meetings are often the most powerful way to discuss an employee’s quality of work. But when done correctly, remote employee performance assessments can have the same impact. In this article, you’ll find six tips for conducting a virtual employee evaluation.

With so many people working from home, managers may wonder how to evaluate employees working offsite.

1. Check in regularly

Employee management strategies traditionally centered on annual performance reviews. These may soon become a thing of the past. Adobe replaced annual reviews with ongoing dialogues between leaders and staff to connect on employee-driven priorities.

Instead of top-down goal setting, employees are asked to input on how their work and expertise can support company-wide initiatives. For remote workers, frequent check-ins are more critical as employees cannot drop by a manager’s office.

Check out these tips for implementing regular check-ins with your remote staff members:

  • Don’t set an agenda. Instead, ask the employee how they feel and let them express their concerns or accomplishments, which supports talent management.
  • Use video conferencing. Phone calls are the next best option, but avoid email.
  • Choose a realistic frequency. Schedule at least quarterly check-ins. Monthly, bi-weekly, or weekly can be more effective when possible.
  • Schedule check-ins in advance on shared calendars so they’re not overridden by other commitments.

2. Personalize the conversation

Gallup research finds frequent conversations yield the biggest improvements in engagement. The study reports “remote workers are three times more likely to be engaged if they receive feedback from their manager at least a few times per month.” The quality of the interaction is as important as the frequency.

Personalize the discussion by:

  • Asking how they are feeling.
  • Establishing a rapport by asking how things are going at home.
  • Learning what challenges they are experiencing while working remotely.
  • Making it a conversation rather than a strict dialogue focused on goals and performance metrics.

3. Recreate the connection

In-person conversations offer subtle clues to whether an employee is feeling anxious, stressed, or confident to discuss performance measures. Remote meetings require greater effort to pick up on nuanced, non-verbal cues. With a few simple strategies, it is possible to create meaningful connections and discussions around performance from a distance.

  • Use video meeting platforms. Video gives visual clues, allowing you to judge how the conversation is going. Video also forces both participants to focus. It’s much easier to be distracted by email or the internet during audio-only interactions.
  • Pick up the phone and talk when video conferencing isn’t an option.
  • Avoid using email for starting or continuing discussions around performance assessments.

4. Set clear expectations

Establish clear and realistic goals when remotely managing employees. That includes identifying timelines, priorities, and milestones. Employees look to their managers for behaviors such as whether, or when, to respond to off-hours texts and emails. Be clear about your expectations.

Remote employees expect their managers to provide guidance on performance metrics and company policies. HR software makes this information available to employees regardless of where they are working from.

5. Encourage two-way conversation

Many times, managers think they are listening to their people, but they’re actually focusing on how to respond to a comment or question. Practice active listening to understand the person before responding. It fosters stronger relationships. It’s especially important in remote employee assessments to encourage two-way conversation, to better identify a person’s strengths and weaknesses, challenges, and triumphs.

  • Encourage dialogue and candor. For example, ask your direct reports what challenges they may be having in balancing a remote working arrangement.
  • Ask what training and development opportunities would support their personal and professional goals as they relate to the organization’s performance management strategy.
  • Recognize accomplishments, identify strengths and weaknesses, and establish goals.

Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” is one resource to better understand how to interact with others. While it’s not a performance management book, the chapter on active listening skills is invaluable. Active listening demonstrates to the other person you’re listening without an agenda and understanding the essence of their communication.

Practice active listening by:

  • Being curious about what the employee has to say and asking questions in a non-judgemental way.
  • Putting yourself in their shoes by asking what is important to them.
  • Paraphrasing to confirm or clarify that you heard what the employee said to avoid misunderstandings.

6. Address underperforming employees

In an office setting, it’s easier to see the actions of underperforming employees. It’s obvious when a deadline is missed or the person is never at their desk. For some underperforming employees, the distractions of working from home can intensify their propensity to procrastinate.

Addressing poor performance takes up to 17% of a manager’s time and focus. Starting with empathy puts the focus on the person and helps start difficult conversations.

  • Consider what might be different for the employee that is hindering their success.
  • Ask the employee, “What would you change if you could?”
  • Find out what the company can do to help the employee improve their performance.

Official performance improvement plans (PIPs) aren’t only for office settings. When check-ins and a mid-year performance assessment have not motivated underperforming employees to step up, PIPs may be necessary.

Get comfortable with remote assessments

Embracing remote management and employee assessments will prepare you for what could become the new normal in the workplace. Even if remote arrangements are limited to a few days a week, experts predict they’re here to stay.

It’s an arrangement 74% of respondents to the International Workplace Group study identified as the new normal. The study even found that “80 percent of workers in the U.S. would choose a job which offered flexible working over a job that didn’t.”

Keeping track of interactions is as important as the outreach itself and workforce analytics can support remote employee assessment processes.

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