How to do remote performance management right

Managers and employees alike tend to view performance management negatively. For example, one study notes that 77 percent of employees believe performance management at their organizations could use a facelift. When you add remote work into the mix, it only becomes more difficult.

Below, we walk through how the work environment impacts employee performance and discuss several approaches to remote performance management.

In office vs remote: Factors impacting employee performance

“In an ideal world, there would be no difference between assessing employee performance in the office and remotely,” says Michael Alexis, CEO of TeamBuilding. However, the reality is that this assessment can be more difficult with distributed teams.

Paul French, managing director of Intrinsic Executive Search, says the lack of interpersonal interactions in a remote work setting can contribute to poor performance. “Not working alongside an employee can make it difficult for managers to identify and understand the personal and work-related issues employees may be struggling with that impact their performance.”

For example, if someone is disengaged and not working productively at the office, then you will likely have visual cues early on. An employee may often be in a bad mood or easily get distracted. On the other hand, remote workers could be disengaged for some time before you notice.

The lack of physical presence can have a significant impact on team and individual performance. Jessica Armstrong, PR and social media manager at CuddlyNest, notes how teammates in an office setting can ask a question or get assistance on a task without having to worry about whether someone is available.

“They have immediate access to one another with few barriers to communication,” she says. “People can visibly see whether you’re busy in the office — whereas that’s not as apparent when working remotely.”

Neal Taparia, CEO of Solitaired, believes there are other in-office factors to consider — ones that may negatively skew your judgement about employees. He says cues like when an employee arrives at and leaves work and how much time they take for lunch may subconsciously impact how a manager thinks about the employee’s performance.

“Good managers, though, focus on output and delivering on expectations,” he says. “When working remotely, you don’t have such in-office bias. Instead, you’re forced to rely on more objective data, such as team members delivering work on time.”

Still, even if your team is delivering as expected, it doesn’t mean you have the best communication and teamwork skills. Taparia says remote work quickly brings to light whether your team lacks these skills, which can reduce overall quality and efficiency.

“To succeed with remote work,” according to Taparia, “you have to adapt to the new environment. For example, you can’t assume everyone has all the information you have, like what happens with in-office bulletins and watercooler talk. You must develop proactive communication policies to ensure everyone is on the same page.”

Armstrong also calls out a commonly cited issue in work-from-home arrangements — that when working remotely, teams are bound to experience delays due to time differences. But she says this is easily remedied by instituting a few rules:

  • Team hours. She allows her globally dispersed team to have a flexible schedule, but she requires them to share at least half a day’s worth of working hours. “Overlapping work hours help us organize our work better and ensure we’re able to easily schedule team meetings.”
  • Daily check-ins. Whether through Slack or Google Meet, team members check in with her once or twice per day to provide updates or stay connected.
  • Weekly reports. At the end of each week, her team sends a brief report detailing what they accomplished that week and what they plan to achieve the following week.

5 remote performance management approaches

1. Create objective measurements

Alexis says the most effective way to assess performance for remote workers is to create objective measures. For some team members, this assessment could be a daily goal. For example, writers could have a target of producing 1,500+ words per day.

“A more sophisticated method I use with managers is four-week cycles, where at the beginning of the month we agree on a certain set of projects that must be completed by the end of the month,” Alexis says. “These projects take priority. If they aren’t completed, then it’s a strong indication that employee performance is not where it should be.”

2. Set weekly goals and track their completion

Taparia’s remote performance management comes in the form of weekly goals. Every week, he works with each team member to set goals for them as individuals and as a team. Then he tracks whether each person meets those goals.

“Over time, you can identify patterns of who consistently delivers and who doesn’t,” he says. “Then you can start to compare employees to one another. It’s a reflection of which employees need to step up their game.”

3. Monitor important KPIs

“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t matter,” says Adam Sanders, director at Successful Release. You need to have metrics that are relevant and easy to measure if you want to hold your team accountable to them. 

Distance only makes it more important that these metrics are as specific as possible. “The clearer you can be, the easier it will be for both you and your team when it’s time to assess their performance,” Saunders says.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) tie in well with remote performance management. Tyler Lewis, burial insurance specialist at NoExamBurialInsurance.com, pays closer attention to his agents’ KPIs when they work remotely to determine how effective they are in their sales efforts. He uses a customer relationship management system (CRM) to track these KPIs:

  • Number of calls made
  • Number of hours spent talking to clients
  • Number of sales closed

“These are metrics I always look at, but especially when remote work is involved,” Lewis explains. To probe for potential issues, he reviews how many leads an agent has called compared to the other two metrics. “If there’s not a lot of talk time, or if there’s plenty of talk time and not many sales, I know to work with the agent to identify areas for improvement.”

When his team first started working remotely, Lewis took a proactive approach to remote performance management. The first thing he did was require agents to record a certain number of calls each day. 

“Specifically, I was looking for calls that had a lot of talk time but didn’t result in a sale,” Lewis says. “This allowed me to listen to those calls and email the agents notes I would otherwise have given them in real time in the office.”

In addition to his notes, Lewis sometimes has agents listen to their own recorded calls to see what improvement areas they can identify on their own. “Oftentimes they can spot these areas on their own with a second listen.”

4. Gather feedback

“Now more than ever, it’s important for managers to give and receive feedback,” says French. Effective feedback loops can help you gain a better understanding of areas where remote workers are excelling or falling behind and arm employees with the insights they need to improve their performance and productivity.

Additionally, regularly holding one-on-one meetings with employees provides an opportunity for real-time feedback. French explains that these meetings help foster a sense of community and alleviate isolation, which can have a positive impact on employee satisfaction and productivity. “With readily available tools and proper planning, providing real-time feedback doesn’t have to be a costly or time-consuming affair.”

Sanders adds that you should take extra care when giving feedback over video so you can better gauge an employee’s overall mental state. Video is a useful substitute for in-person meetings, but you don’t get the full scope of body language. 

“Ask more questions to understand their feelings and point of view and make sure they understand what you expect in turn,” Saunders says. “Spend more time with them if needed to ensure they’re comfortable and handling their work arrangement well. Connect with them on a personal level.”

Need a way to gather feedback effectively? JotForm has a number of useful performance evaluation templates you can try.

5. Use collaboration or project management software

Whether you use standalone project management software or a collaboration tool that includes project management features, these solutions provide a means to track work regardless of what your business does.

Armstrong uses a project management tool at her company. She says it enables her to clearly track the performance of her team. “I can directly see and follow their progress without having to inquire about their activities every step of the way.”

Using the advice above can help make remote performance management less stressful and more effective for both you and your employees.

Image by: Magnet.me

This article is originally published on Aug 27, 2020, and updated on Sep 09, 2020.
AUTHOR
Ex-nomad finally managed to settle. Been to 51 countries and counting. Doesn't like to be stuck in an office. Cappuccino aficionado.

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