The rise of hybrid work models, which combine work done in person and work done from home, has changed how organizations do performance reviews. Virtual performance reviews are flexible and easy to use, but they also come with their own problems.
One of the notable drawbacks of virtual appraisals is the absence of personal interaction that traditionally occurs during in-person evaluations. This lack of face-to-face interaction can hinder the formation of personal connections and impact the overall appraisal experience. Shalini Seshadri, VP, Human Resources, State Street outlines strategies to overcome these challenges, including communication barriers, technology issues, and the lack of personal interaction. By leveraging effective techniques, organisations can ensure fair and meaningful performance evaluations in a hybrid workforce environment.
The importance of clear and frequent communication
Clear and effective communication lies at the heart of successful virtual performance appraisals. According to a 2022 Gallup report on the dynamics of hybrid work, frequent manager-employee conversations are a top contributor to employee engagement. “This is doubly important when it comes to remote and hybrid workers, who depend on frequent feedback to feel engaged and prepared to do their job. Of course, the quality of those conversations matters too. Sometimes managers may think they are communicating well, but employees do not know what’s expected of them,” the report stated.
Seshadri believes one of the most important factors in determining the trajectory of an organisation is how well its culture has been communicated. “In a hybrid work model, it is crucial to project and reinforce the organisational culture, emphasising the distinct traits and values that define the organisation,” she says. “Even while working remotely, employees should imbibe these traits and actively participate as integral members of the team.” She points out that managers must also keep the demographic in mind when communicating these values: “With millennials and Gen Z comprising a significant portion of the workforce, it is essential to provide instant feedback to meet their expectations for prompt communication and development,” she says.
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“As managers, it is important to offer timely feedback, whether it is related to performance or any other aspect,” she emphasises. “By providing immediate feedback, both positive and developmental, in just a few minutes, managers can help employees better prepare for their next tasks and become more mindful of their actions. Supporting feedback with examples enhances its effectiveness and ensures clarity,” Seshadri says. “Implementing a ‘just-in-time’ feedback approach, alongside monthly conversations, allows for a continuous feedback loop. During these conversations, managers can discuss what employees are doing well, areas for improvement, suggestions for personal growth, and actions managers can take to support their teams. This structured approach provides employees with valuable insights and helps them track their progress, promoting self-awareness and accountability.”
Indeed, many organisations have transitioned from traditional evaluation systems to on-the-go appraisal methods. This approach eliminates the element of surprise and enables employees to track their performance regularly. Thus, by having ongoing, bite-sized conversations within a structured framework, both managers and employees benefit, as these conversations foster open communication, address immediate needs, and support individual and team development.
Overcoming technology issues at State Street
In a survey conducted by PwC in 2022, HR leaders almost unanimously agreed that remote work is here to stay. 95% have either implemented new methods to track and report on productivity and performance metrics for remote workers, have the plan to do so, or are developing a plan now. In this changed environment, technology glitches and connectivity problems can hinder the effectiveness of virtual performance appraisals.
“In the context of virtual performance appraisals for a hybrid workforce, organisations must address communication barriers and technology issues to ensure effective and meaningful conversations,” Seshadri says, and sharing that her organisation is operating on a hybrid model, she highlights their approach to tackling these challenges. “Face-to-face conversations are prioritised for important discussions, although communication technology like Zoom is predominantly utilised. In cases where technology fails, alternatives such as phone calls are employed,” says Seshadri.
Seshadri lays great emphasis on the value of conducting developmental feedback and performance appraisals in person to accurately gauge emotions and understand the broader context. “This approach allows managers to assess work-life integration, balance, and potential stressors affecting the younger generation. By engaging in larger conversations, managers play a crucial role in supporting their employees’ well-being and addressing such concerns.”
“Our goal is to align employees’ career aspirations with suitable roles, fostering an enhanced experience for them. We are actively promoting internal mobility and have started with 40 employees, with plans to extend this initiative to the entire organisation.”
To overcome any hurdles posed by interacting via technology, State Street provides comprehensive training and support to managers responsible for conducting virtual performance appraisals for their hybrid workforce. “This training extends beyond first-line managers, encompassing officers and other personnel through a dedicated programme known as Leadership Essentials. The intensive programme spans two to three weeks, and covers our organisation’s cultural traits, performance indicators, and addressing challenges that may arise when dealing with difficult employees in a virtual environment and so on”.
The leadership programme serves as a crucial resource and approximately 600 to 700 managers are currently undergoing training. “We encourage managers to actively participate and provide feedback on any challenges they encounter, as this valuable input helps us continuously improve our employee engagement score,” says Seshadri.
Employee well-being and development
The flexibility offered by remote work can enhance work-life balance, reduce commuting stress, and provide a sense of autonomy. However, it can also blur the boundaries between work and personal life, leading to potential burnout or feelings of isolation. “Efforts to support employee well-being thus become crucial,” says Seshadri.
State Street has thus implemented comprehensive policies that encompass various aspects of employee welfare. “For instance, we have extended our leave policy to provide employees with up to 10 days of leave, an increase from the previous five-day limit. We are also actively working on revamping our paternity leave policy to better support working parents. Moreover, our medical benefits policies have undergone significant enhancements, now covering a wide range of services such as egg freezing, gender change, IVF, and more, making them fully inclusive,” she says.
From a well-being standpoint, the organisation has partnered with Benefit Me and arrangements have been made to have in-house counsellors readily available for employees. “We also offer access to external counsellors for employees and their families, providing support during times of stress or difficult situations. Additionally, we organise yoga sessions and other relaxation activities on-site to help employees unwind and recharge.”
Career journey is a must
State Street has also implemented a structured career framework that focuses on both vertical and lateral growth opportunities for employees. “Our goal is to align employees’ career aspirations with suitable roles, fostering an enhanced experience for them. We are actively promoting internal mobility and have started with 40 employees, with plans to extend this initiative to the entire organisation,” says Seshadri. “By facilitating career transitions and providing opportunities for growth, we aim to empower employees to pursue their desired career paths within our organisation”.
The absence of in-person interactions can lead to a lack of personal connection during virtual performance appraisals. Employees may find it challenging to establish rapport and express themselves fully. State Street’s comprehensive approach is a good way to get around these challenges and create an environment where employees can thrive and feel supported throughout their professional journey. “Consistently connecting with employees on a personal level goes a long way in strengthening relationships and fostering a positive and productive work environment,” as Seshadri puts it. If there’s one thing the organisation’s approach underscores, it is the value that it places on building strong connections with employees.