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How to conduct effective performance reviews virtually

Elissa Dennis
11th November 2021
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Performance reviews, whether they happen annually, bi-annually, quarterly or more frequently, are a chance for line managers and employees to step away from the constant treadmill of everyday work and take a moment to consider long-term objectives and ambitions. These are conversations that can be very intense and personal. It’s important all involved feel comfortable and have the confidence to be open, honest and secure in their surroundings.

Traditionally, this would involve sitting down together somewhere private, such as a meeting room or a somewhere away from the office, where it would be possible to talk freely and without being overheard. In an era when so many more people are working remotely, many people may now be facing the prospect of virtual performance reviews for the first time.

Not being in the same room does present certain issues, but these are not insurmountable. With some careful planning and willingness to adjust, conducting reviews virtually can be just as productive as those that are held in person.

To help line managers overcome this new challenge, we’ve put together the following tips to help make virtual performance reviews just as effective as those conducted in person.

Find the right time

  • Arrange the review at least a few weeks in advance, so you can easily find a time that suits you both.
  • Make sure that you can both be somewhere comfortable and private during the review so that you are able to talk freely.
  • Try and hold it at a time when it is unlikely that you will be disturbed and when there are no pressing deadlines looming. It’s important that you both give it the attention it deserves.
  • Reviews are important, so if something does change after it is arranged that might affect your focus or ability to concentrate fully, don’t be afraid to move it and encourage your employee to do the same.

Be clear about the purpose

  • Performance reviews should be a positive experience for all concerned, with the emphasis placed on how to improve going forward not focusing on past mistakes and passing judgement. Reassure your employee that the session is about helping them develop and not something to be feared.
  • Reviews should not be about simply telling an employee what to do. They are far more powerful if their employee is supported to come up with their own development plan, which they are invested in. They should also have the opportunity to provide their own feedback on your performance and what you can do to support them further.
  • These have been far from “normal” working times. Many people have had to cope with additional stresses, such as looking after children or elderly relatives or having Covid-19 themselves. Make sure you fully understand what experiences your employee has gone through and talk about how you can support them effectively in your review.

Be fully prepared

  • The more you can prepare before a review, the better the discussion will be. Previously you may have been sitting near your employee and observed their working first-hand; how they interacted with colleagues and went about their business. If they are now working remotely, you won’t have this background, so it is more important than ever to do your homework to get a balanced, fair view of your employee.
  • Speak to a wide range of people who work with your employee to get as full a picture as possible on their recent performance. Make sure you canvass colleagues and, if relevant, external partners/agencies that they work with to gauge what they are doing well and if there are any areas where they could improve.
  • Ask your employee to think about their performance and do a self-evaluation, so they can identify for themselves any areas they would like to discuss, or feel they need more support with.
  • Review action points from your last review and make sure all have been followed up. If any are still outstanding, make resolving this part of the review discussion.

Take advantage of video calls

  • If you can’t conduct the review in person, the next best thing is to hold it over video. Effective communication is about so much more than the words used. Body language is hugely important. How someone looks when they speak, tells you so much more about how they feel than just the sound of their voice.
  • Vision is by far our most dominant sense, with about 80% of our perceptions created by sight. Appraisd has an in-built video function, allowing you to conduct your reviews while on the system, so you can add comments as you talk.
  • While many people have become more comfortable with video calls over the last 18 months, there are still some people who feel uneasy using them. If your employee is hesitant, reassure them that conducting it over video will benefit the quality of the discussion and make the review more meaningful.
  • Make sure your equipment is well set-up before the call. Remove anything distracting from the background, check the lighting and position your screen so you are sat comfortably.

Embrace change, be flexible

  • Approach the review with an open mind and prepared to change how you conduct them. What works in person, might not be suitable virtually. We have all experienced Zoom fatigue. Being on long video calls can be much more tiring than a meeting in person, so think about what it is reasonable to discuss within your time frame.
  • Without regular contact in the office, where any issues can be more easily addressed and resolved on the spot, it might be worth considering shorter review cycles with more regular catch ups. These will help keep remote employees in close contact with the office and ensure any issues don’t fester or get forgotten.
  • If this is your first virtual review, candidly assess how it went and ask your employee for their opinion. Think about how it might work better in the future. This is a new experience for all concerned, so be prepared to adjust and learn what works as you go.
  • Treat each employee as an individual. Some adapt easily to change, while others find it more challenging. Think about what motivates each one and how you can engage them with their own development.

Discuss poor performance, but do so with empathy

  • If an employee hasn’t performed as well as they have done historically, it is important that this is addressed, but be mindful of what reasons may be behind this. It has been a difficult period for many. Talk about what has happened and what could be improved going forward. Explore what help and support you can offer to bring performance back to previous levels. This could be a change in working patterns or a need for additional training.
  • The psychological impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is only just being realised and is likely to be felt for some time to come. Use your review to talk to your employee about how they are feeling. Make these private, two- way discussions a safe place for employees to ask for help if they are struggling.

Give plenty of praise where it is due

  • While working remotely has many benefits, there are also downsides. Employees are more likely to experience feelings of loneliness and a loss of connection with their colleagues. It is much easier to feel that they are being overlooked or forgotten. A performance review is a great opportunity to pass on praise and positive feedback.
  • Ahead of the review, make a point of finding areas where the employee has displayed exceptional performance and pass this on during the discussion. Make sure they know that their efforts are appreciated and have not gone unnoticed.
  • Ask your employee to think of others who they have worked with who deserve recognition. Passing on positive comments to their colleagues helps maintain that sense of connection that is so important in maintaining a healthy company culture.

The most important relationship any employee has in an organisation is with their line manager. Performance reviews play an important part in building this relationship and setting for the tone and nature of it. If this relationship turns sour, it can have severe consequences, often leading to an employee leaving the organisation. If an employee is working remotely, it’s important that a line manager changes their style of management and reassesses how best to support their employee from distance.

Maintaining an ongoing dialogue with remote employees is vital. More frequent review discussions can play an important part in keeping this connection in place. Think about setting more short-term objectives, to help keep employees who are working remotely focused. Regular check-ins where progress can be discussed and any issues raised, can also be very useful for remote employees. These help to replace the day-to-day contact that is possible when you work in the same location and ensure that employees still feel like they belong in the organisation and understand where their efforts fit in with the overall business objectives.