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How to Do (and Not Do) Performance Reviews Remotely

October 06, 2021 Talent Management
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Managing employee performance is crucial for any organization. Whether that means rewarding employees who are doing well or meeting with those who aren't, ensuring that a team performs to its full potential is necessary for today's businesses. 

Having a performance management process is necessary to give workers timely feedback and help them understand how what they are doing fits within the context of the organization. They need to know if their work is valued and what to do to turn things around if it isn't. Remote work has introduced an added wrinkle. 

According to analyst firm Gartner, "leading organizations diagnose what employees need and expect from performance management — and how those needs may shift with, for example, the move to remote work."

Here's what HR experts had to say about those shifting requirements and how performance management can be done in a remote environment, particularly as it relates to the performance review process.

Reviewing the Performance Review Process

A performance review, otherwise known as a performance appraisal, is an assessment where a manager or supervisor evaluates an employee's work performance to identify areas of strength, weakness and provide feedback for improvement. 

In a traditional office environment, a manager and employee typically sit down for an annual performance review at a predetermined time. A performance review will also include a written assessment of the employee. Some companies also do 360 reviews, where employees provide feedback on their own performance as well as the performance of their team members and their manager. 

How does the review process change when it comes to remote work? According to Logan Mallory, vice president of Lehi, Utah-based Motivosity, a provider of HR software, the only thing that changes is that the actual review is done via video. "Other than that, it should be conducted exactly the same way as if it were being done in person," Mallory said.

Regardless of how it is conducted, the key to a successful review is to create a comfortable environment for both parties. Some believe that video isn't always the best option due to the nature of a performance review.

"Performance reviews should be attempted to be done in person if possible — even if people work remotely," said Jennifer Preston, HR consultant at Johns Creek, Ga.-based FlexHR. If both parties can't meet at a location once a year, doing the video review may suffice. 

Many companies are accustomed to conducting performance reviews only once a year. But nowadays, they may need to be done with more frequency.

"Conducting an effective, remote performance review is really about the continuous conversations, feedback and recognition that occurred leading up to the actual performance review," said Andrea Lagan, chief operating officer at Redwood City, Calif.-based Betterworks, a provider of performance management software. 

She adds that continuous coaching and feedback throughout the year can be particularly useful in a remote work environment. 

Related Article: How to Restart Performance Management

Performance Review Dos

Performance reviews are common practice, but to get the most out of them, especially when doing them remotely, there are a few things you should do: 

Schedule Them

"Schedule uninterrupted time without distractions to ensure the employee knows he/she is the priority during that window of time," Preston said. The remote environment offers opportunities for employees to eliminate distractions that may creep into an office environment. Blocking out time on the calendar when there are no distractions from Slack and other things can be beneficial. 

Conduct Them Regularly

The days of the performance review happening only once a year are going away. "We recommend a quarterly cadence for conversations and feedback," Lagan said. For some managers, it may even be a good idea to provide feedback monthly in addition to a more formal quarterly review. 

Related Article: Designing Performance Management to Work for Hybrid Work

Performance Review Don'ts

Even though performance reviews may seem straightforward, it's easy to make some common mistakes when conducting them. Here are a few things you shouldn't do: 

Make It One-sided

Even though a manager conducts the review of the employee in most situations, that doesn't mean it should be a one-sided affair. When scheduling time for a review, Mallory suggested that managers should treat the review like a conversation.

"They need to leave time for the employee to ask questions and share their feedback as well," he said. Breaking up the review into pieces can allow the employee to process things and react in a reasonable way. 

Leave Surprises

Employees shouldn't be blindsided by anything that is told to them during the review process. A performance review should provide an opportunity to build on general feedback given throughout the year instead of telling the employee everything that has gone wrong or right in one instance. 

Only Review the Past

A performance review shouldn't only be a place to review the last month or year. Managers should also find opportunities to provide recommendations on career trajectory, areas for growth and opportunities for further compensation, essentially helping the employee chart their career path. 

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