The pandemic has propelled millions of people into remote work without notice or preparation. Employees, as well as managers, have been adjusting to circumstances for which there is no playbook. Today's remote work environment is a far cry from the pre-pandemic remote work environment. Employees are wondering if their managers will evaluate them fairly. At the same time, managers are pondering how to navigate remote performance reviews.

Some managers are inexperienced in conducting remote performance reviews. Even managers with relevant experience have not dealt with pandemic constraints in the past. Therefore, it is safe to assume that most managers are in unfamiliar territory when it comes to evaluating the work performance of remote employees.

The ideas mentioned below will help managers to conduct adequate remote performance reviews.

Frequency of Performance Reviews

Annual performance reviews in stable work environments are usually enough to monitor, guide, and develop employees. However, the pandemic has pushed many people into remote work without choice and preparation. Most remote employees are tasked with attending to family responsibilities while working. Competing home and work responsibilities can affect employee performance and productivity. Management will not be doing themselves or their employees any favors by waiting an entire year to give pointers to underperforming employees.

Therefore, managers need to transition from once-a-year performance reviews to more frequent performance reviews. For example, quarterly check-ins with individuals to monitor performance, provide guidance, and set realistic goals will help management to make the best use of their organizational talent. Frequent check-ins will help employees to develop more familiarity and trust with management. Multiple one-on-one performance reviews can also lead to increased employee engagement.

Increasing the frequency of performance reviews means that managers can decrease the the length of all performance reviews. Managers can also focus on or two pressing areas for an employee to build on. This strategy can help employees to meet goals and expectations in bite-sized pieces. It is also an effective way of keeping employees focused on self improvement and development throughout the year.

Type of Performance Rating

It is possible that once high-performing employees will not be able to work as much as they used to. They might not even work as productively as they did when they were working from the office. Consider the plight of a parent who has infant and young, school-aged children. If they cannot find child care or help with tutoring, then they simply might not be able to work as much as or as well as they used to. Imagine the dip in morale when such an employee sees a poorer performance evaluation for the first time. Management can help navigate this situation by adjusting how they evaluate employee performance. Management can switch to the satisfactory/unsatisfactory type of rating assessment versus using the traditional numerical method of rating.

Employees often get to read their documented performance evaluations before their managers discuss them in person. Verbal and non-verbal in-person communication helps managers and employees to have honest and clear discussions about goals, guidance, and expectations. In-person exchanges also help to build trust between both parties. Remote employees can lose out on such benefits.

Even if managers mostly communicate with remote employees by writing, it is essential to conduct remote performance reviews in live settings. Videoconferencing with clear and loud communication is essential for employees to understand their performance reviews in context.

Assess The Job Description

Managers must always assess the accuracy of job descriptions before conducting performance reviews. As employees transition to remote work, they may or may not be performing certain tasks that they performed before. Their workload or responsibilities may have changed. Nothing upsets employees more than managers who are clueless about individual workloads as well as an unfair distribution of work.

Have Employees Compile Task Lists

Managers get busy and can at times lose track of who is doing what at work. Sometimes there are staffing changes and task redistribution. It is not as easy for managers to keep up with remote employees when compared to those who work for them in person. Therefore, it is a great idea to ask employees to submit a list of all the tasks that they perform on the job.

Managers should obtain these task lists a few weeks before conducting performance reviews. This will give managers time to examine discrepancies between job descriptions and the actual tasks being performed by employees. It also allows for  enough time to assess and plan for any changes regarding the employee being evaluated.

Update Job Descriptions

As managers become aware of the discrepancies between job descriptions and the tasks performed by employees, they must update job descriptions. Updated job descriptions have several effects. They improve management’s understanding of what their actual labor needs are. Next, they make hardworking employees feel acknowledged for the extra tasks that they perform in addition to the outdated job descriptions. Finally, underutilized employees can be given more tasks to help even the workload between everyone.

Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is an important part of a happy, healthy, and productive work environment. Employee engagement becomes even more important with a remote workforce. As employees have fewer opportunities to interact with one another when working remotely, it is easier for them to feel isolated. The sense of isolation may deter them from feeling as though they are an integral part of their work organization. Managers must take time to create opportunities for bonding between employees. Meaningful bonding will increase trust between employees. It will also build trust between employees and management. Employees tend to work harder and with more dedication when they feel that they can trust fellow employees and management.

Therefore, when navigating remote performance reviews, stop to think if you provided the groundwork upon which productivity can be built. Did employees get enough time to interact and become familiar with one another? Did they get a chance to work as part of an integrated team? Or were they working as disconnected pieces of a whole? Did they know who to reach out to for clarifications and   Did they get the chance to learn from one another? Was there any peer-to-peer support available for employees during difficult times? Was anyone able to mentor another employee?

Sometimes a dip in employee performance can easily be reversed with a management that is aware of the need to increase employee engagement within the organization.

Consider putting off remote performance reviews and increasing employee engagement right away. If managers have been swamped with work themselves, they may not have been able to create a fertile ground for employee engagement. Begin the process of increasing employee engagement and bonding by playing social games. Incorporate icebreakers and team games to get people to know each other. Ask employees to meet each other for virtual coffee breaks. And encourage them to engage with one another for moral support, advice, and mentoring.

Employee Input

Employees are often aware of what hinders performance, progress, and development within the workplace. They may not feel empowered to verbalize these sentiments in group settings or during performance reviews. Therefore, managers need to create more one-on-one meetings so that employees can feel relaxed enough to voice their concerns. For example, employees may identify time-wasting procedures at work.  Then managers can reform these procedures to streamline work. Streamlining work contributes to employee productivity.

Life-Changing Events

Managers need to be cognizant of any life-changing events that may have affected their employees during the pandemic. An employee’s household may have lost a significant source of income. Someone may have lost a loved one in the pandemic. Yet another person may be relocating out of necessity.

Going through life-changing events is tough enough during any period. However, the pandemic just magnifies the difficulties for those who are struggling or suffering. Remember that the employees who are struggling cannot access services that are usually available. For example, it is difficult to find mental health providers and counselors during the pandemic. People are not able to get away from abusive home environments because staying in shelters will just increase the probability of contracting coronavirus.

Going through life-changing events while trying to hold on to a job is going to affect the quality of someone’s work. Besides, we cannot see what remote workers are going through privately. They may be projecting an image of strength while they are falling apart. So show compassion while conducting remote performance reviews.

Organizational Change

Managers need to consider if recent organizational changes are a factor in contributing to changes in employee productivity. Are employees overwhelmed with big changes? Are changes being communicated to them openly and honestly? Do employees know where the organization is heading? Are there any familiar, trustworthy faces in management? Do employees even know who to contact for what at work anymore? Bear these questions in mind when navigating remote performance reviews after the organizational change.

Measuring Productivity

As employees work from home, they may not be able to answer phone calls, texts and emails as promptly as they did when they worked at the office. Employees are often squeezing in work, household chores, caregiving, and teaching during their waking hours. Tasks may overlap. So when conducting remote performance surveys, focus on measuring results over time logged in to work programs. If work performance is adequate then do not push an employee too hard. Be grateful for their ability to juggle multiple demands and still be an asset to your team.

Multitasking And Adaptability

Of course, as remote employees multitask at home, their once undivided focus on work is a thing of the past. No one can focus and perform detailed, error-free work with babies screaming in the ears. Allow a buffer zone for errors and enough time for employees to review and correct their work.

Adapting from being laser-focused on the task at hand to attending to multiple competing tasks is no easy feat for employees. Employees who take great pride in doing detailed, error-free work can be especially disappointed with juggling so many tasks. So be generous with such employees when navigating remote work performance. They might need some time to get their groove back.

Micromanaging Is Toxic

Saving time and money by not commuting is the main reason people enjoy working from home. They get few extra hours of sleep or squeeze in more work as they like. However, working remotely from home is no picnic. Those who live alone might experience immense sadness and loneliness. Those with a full house might stretched thin with working, teaching, and caregiving. Either way, employees are not getting a free ride in life. Do not compare a pre-pandemic remote work environment to the current remote work environment. People are not free to have fun, socialize, or engage in group activities. People feel trapped and are doing their best to not lose their sanity. So do not micromanage employees.

Give employees the freedom to complete their tasks as they see fit. Of course, they need to follow guidelines and deadlines. However, dictating their every move will be akin to doubling the effect of pandemic-related restrictions on them. No manager in his or her right mind wants to magnify the stress levels of their employees. So do not push employes to log into work related programs just so you can account for their whereabouts for 8 hours a day. Micromanaging will only lead to feelings of distrust between employees and management. Focus on productivity and results when navigating remote performance reviews.

Positioning For the Future

The pandemic has popularized the remote work arrangement. Many businesses are realizing the cost savings from not having brick and mortar operations. Employees are learning to find work/balance. They are also saving time and money from not commuting. Since both employees and businesses are benefitting from this arrangement, remote work might become the norm for most office jobs.

This means that businesses across the board will have to adopt new ways of training, developing and evaluating their employees. Given that we are still in the flux of the pandemic, this is an ideal time for businesess reorient their workforce and practices to remain competitive in the future.