When you are in the same room as your employees, providing feedback, or asking questions is a simple and straightforward process. You can see them, gauge their response by looking at their body language and you get a fair idea of the progression of tasks.
But in a remote setting, things are different. Feedback takes a back seat. Your employees may be waiting for a response for a longer time, trying to figure out where they might have gone wrong. Employees may even see the green dot indicating that their managers are logged in and online and still hide their anxiety.
It’s difficult to see the progression of tasks and engage in organic course corrections unless you check the time reports, task schedules, and more every time. It’s also difficult to get everyone working as a team unless there are clear task descriptions and explicit conversations. Getting through a regular workday – from the ubiquitous emails, chats, to video/audio calls – depends heavily on technology.
The nature of remote work makes it harder to collaborate, yet employees have found a way to get over it and undertake their work efficiently. With a 115% increase over the last 10 years, remote work is here to stay. And, that means it’s vital for you to know how to manage employee performance remotely.
After all, it’s up to you to ensure that they have all the resources they need to excel in a challenging work environment.
The Shift in Performance Management Due to Remote Working
Even in the best of times, managing and measuring employee performance is often a herculean task. Now, amidst a global pandemic and economic crisis, wherein remote working is the new norm, performance management presents an even greater challenge.
Work From Home (WFH) is not a novel concept. However, when managers and employees are continuously working out of the office for a prolonged period, how do you begin evaluating your employee’s performance? Given the varied circumstances of this flexible work arrangement, making a fair-minded assessment of the employee’s performance is key to ensuring that processes and tasks flow without any major impact.
When it comes to evaluating job performance remotely, there’s no template and it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is natural for people to feel stressed or overworked. So, they need to be reassured that the goal of performance assessment is not to bog them down further. Rather, it should focus on evaluating empathetic assessments based on ‘where your people are’.
Rather than leaving performance assessments for the end of the year, it’s vital for HR managers to view them as an ongoing process of communication between all stakeholders so as to accomplish the overall business goals.
The switch from the traditional performance management system to remote performance management involves extensive coordination and collaboration between HR and operations to ensure minimal impact on employee productivity.
Top 12 Remote Performance Management Best Practices
The nature of remote work is such that you can never be sure of what your employees are up to – are they completing tasks on time or doing their household chores? This proves that there usually is a lack of trust in the willingness or ability of remote employees to consistently deliver the desired output.
Leading remotely is, by and large, a skill that managers and HR teams will need to develop. Several concerns arise in this regard including:
- How to evaluate a person whom you have never met?
- How to collaborate and communicate?
- How to ensure work continues seamlessly?
- How to ascertain whether an employee is prone to burn-out or good to continue?
Here are some effective ways HR teams can foster the switch to remote performance management:
1. Identify the Disparate Needs of Remote Performance Management
There are pronounced differences between conventional performance management and remote performance management. Performance is basically a measurement of success against a set of goals. Therefore, it’s essential to be clear about the factors that you are basing the assessment on.
To do this, evaluate how your organisational objectives have changed since the COVID-19 crisis and the inevitable shift to remote working. For instance, will you be measuring productivity and adherence only or will you also focus on positive behaviour and teamwork? Which approach will be best suited to rewarding and reinforcing the behaviours that will help your team accomplish those goals?
2. Set Clear Goals and Expectations from the Onset
When employees are aware of what is expected, they can align their performance accordingly. One of the biggest challenges remote workers face is understanding the parameters of their role. Unlike working in the office, they don’t have a clear direction and cannot observe their peers or learn from their managers.
This is why it becomes crucial to set clear expectations and delineate explicit goals and task descriptions from the beginning.
3. Track Completion of Goals
Once you have set the goals, it’s important to track whether the employees are consistently meeting them. You can devise weekly goals as part of the overall objective or targets that the organisation is trying to accomplish and then have the employees send weekly progress reports. This will enable you to identify who consistently delivers and who lags behind.
The tools that can help you track task completion can be as basic as Google forms and Google sheets or as advanced as software such as Tasks in Microsoft Teams, HiveDesk, Jira, Time Doctor, and more.
You can also schedule regular status updates if preparing reports prove to be too cumbersome. This will drive transparency and accountability within the team and serve as an important reference point during performance evaluations.
4. Extend Trust to Employees
The inability to physically monitor employees can keep managers guessing about their everyday schedules. Consequently, managers may feel the urge to micro-manage or over-monitor team activities in order to gain visibility and control over their employees.
This is where the HR can make a difference, by helping managers learn about the best team management practices for the remote working environment. The following are some effective team management strategies to foster employee trust:
- Build the right tech stack – Utilising right tools like voice, video, work from home platforms, and file-sharing software, you can ensure your remote team members have an engaging and productive work experience.
- Accommodate flexible work schedules – Show respect and understanding for other team members’ working schedule and don’t try to tie them to a strict timeline.
- Make collaboration and communication simple and natural – Communicate, follow up, repeat. Don’t let anything slip through the gaps.
- Take regular feedback – Provide 360-degree feedback so that remote employees can motivate themselves for doing better.
- Take out time for small conversations – Small conversations with your team members demonstrates that you care and this will also help in clearing doubts for faster execution of tasks.
- Gather in-person as a team – Bring together a few team members at least once in a while to foster face-to-face interactions.
- Lead with Empathy – People might be going through tough times that you know nothing about, so it pays to be an avid listener to help employees open up.
Managers need to trust their team and inspire them to work without exerting too much pressure or control. Empowering employees with greater autonomy and flexibility as long as they get things done on time are important signs of trust that they will certainly notice and appreciate.
5. Adopt Technology for Remote Performance Management
The rise of remote working has been met with an unprecedented rise in tools and apps to help manage remote employee performance. In order to maximise employee efficiency in telecommuting and support your team, you need visibility over what they’re doing. The best automated tools offer exactly that without being intrusive or creepy. A few essential remote employee management tools include Trello, Slack, Timely, etc.
Ensure the performance management tools you use don’t create extra work for your team. They should be as easy-to-use as possible – being intuitive, simple, and doing one job really well. Look out for those that use AI and automation to minimise duplication of effort.
6. Understand that Performance can Vary from Employee to Employee
Switching to a remote work environment is not easy. With the flexible work arrangement, your approach to performance management should also be flexible and compassionate towards your employees.
As employees come to terms with remote work and balancing their personal lives, it’s vital to give them a little more latitude. You should not focus on the deliverables alone but also need to help them adapt to change.
With that in mind, it’s best to make performance assessments more subjective with a flexible performance rating system that takes into account the hardships that employees face while transitioning to remote work. Instead of explicit ratings or rankings, it’s recommended to undertake a narrative assessment that acknowledges the employee’s efforts and provides specific information about where they could improve.
7. Gather Different Kinds of Performance Data
One of the most challenging aspects of conducting performance evaluations remotely is that you don’t have much data to work with. There is also the risk of past events and ingrained biases influencing the evaluation process.
To tackle such challenges, it’s important to consider alternative sources of data. For instance, self-evaluations, peer evaluations, and manager assessments can serve as effective data points. Along with this, training expense, revenue per employee, time to completion rate, etc. can also be considered.
All in all, build a comprehensive picture of the employee with the help of data from various sources and make a fair assessment.
8. Frequent Performance Conversations are Critical
It may be tempting for managers to postpone or even call off performance conversations due to tremendous work pressure or busy schedules. However, performance conversations should not be isolated or one-off meetings.
HR should make it mandatory for managers to hold performance conversations on an ongoing basis so that employees can make course corrections at a natural pace rather than wait for the end of the year when it is too late to improve.
In fact, frequent, informal manager-employee performance conversations can increase performance management usefulness by up to 19%.
9. Deal with Non-Performers
In a normal work arrangement, performance reviews are a great chance for managers to directly interact with non-performers and discuss ways for improvement. But in a remote work environment, you cannot be demanding in a similar way and chase non-performers. Take the time to have an engaging conversation with them to understand what is preventing them from delivering their best.
Perhaps, the employee needs some time to adjust to the remote working tools. If so, give non-performing employees a little extra time to turn things around. Also, ensure that you provide sufficient development coaching to help them improve certain skills that they may be lacking to perform their job.
10. Recognise Star Performers
On the flip side, ensure that you actively recognise top performers for their contribution. This will go a long way to improve employee morale and boost your organisation’s ability to retain top talent. So, seize the opportunity to show appreciation for your employees and encourage a positive work culture.
If an employee only gets attention in a negative context, it makes for a poor employee experience. In contrast, regular positive feedback and recognition can amplify employee experience.
11. Deal with Virtual Harassments
While performance is important, behaviour is another important aspect that organisations sometimes fail to consider. You might be tempted to think that with the absence of in-person interactions, there are no chances of inappropriate behaviour that might constitute bullying or violations of someone’s space.
The reality is different. Virtual harassment is on the rise, and it requires special attention. Organisations should set the right decorum and improve awareness to address instances of misconduct and virtual harassment in the remote workplace.
12. Look Ahead
As organisations pivot to remote performance management, it’s important to consider the long-term vision and adopt their position accordingly. The remote environment calls for frequent performance evaluations at regular intervals such as quarterly or monthly check-ins.
Such evaluations set the stage for candid feedback that the employees value. It enables them to make quick calibrations to improve performance. Keeping this in mind, devise the right remote performance management strategies with a futuristic perspective.
This is the best time for you to adopt a people-oriented performance management system that is built around resilience and adaptability rather than just efficiency and competitiveness. The former is better suited than the latter in the long-term.
Key Takeaways of Remote Management Principles
Performance management measures for remote workers need forethought and smart execution. The key lies in making constant, consistent, and constructive performance evaluations with the help of flexible performance management tools and best practices.
Above all, remember that everyone works differently. so tailor your approach to ensure that you are making a meaningful impact on employee experience as well as the bottom line.