Better Performance Management for Remote Teams

By Casey Pechan
November 18, 2021
3 minute read

The shutdown from the pandemic accelerated a global shift to remote work that was already on its way. While some companies still intend a complete return to the office, many have embraced long-term remote at least part of the time. Gartner forecasts that, by 2022, a little over half (53%) of the U.S. workforce will be hybrid or fully remote.

Now that remote work is a long-term reality, rather than just a short-term solution, we need to become more deliberate about remote performance management. Just re-creating legacy performance review processes in a digital format won’t improve performance for remote employees. They have specific needs that remote performance management has to meet to help them succeed.

Here’s how to revamp your performance management for remote teams to enable team members to become more engaged and productive.

Adopt a Frequent Feedback Model

Frequent communication is an essential lifeline for remote employees. They might feel isolated from the workplace or feel like they’re operating in a vacuum, which can lead to disengagement and burnout.

However, workplace communication between managers and employees has to have a purpose and be constructive. If it’s not, employees will feel like they’re being micromanaged.

Remote workers benefit most from a frequent feedback model of performance management. Employees crave helpful, actionable feedback, especially when they feel isolated in a remote environment, and a frequent feedback model provides that.

Using this model, managers provide feedback that drives solutions. Rather than criticizing an employee for poor performance on a task, for example, the manager would investigate why it happened and suggest changes to prevent that behavior from happening again.

Frequent feedback also builds trust between managers and their reports, allowing them to have more honest and productive conversations.

Train Managers to Lead Meaningful Conversations

The success of a frequent feedback model of performance management depends on the manager’s ability to have productive conversations. Train managers to focus on the bigger picture rather than micromanaging specific aspects of employee performance. 

Managers need to know how to ask leading questions that reveal weaknesses in processes or habits that could impact performance. Since they can’t physically see their direct reports at work, diagnosing the causes of poor performance takes more tact.

Once they’ve identified problem areas, managers must be able to help employees improve their performance outcomes. Train managers to function more as performance coaches who can help employees set personal goals to improve performance.

Remote performance conversations should focus on performance goals, which should link to business outcomes. Managers should create a sense of shared responsibility for helping employees reach their goals.

Shift to Outcome-Based Performance Appraisals

Traditional signals of high performance, like constant activity, can be misleading. Seeing an employee stay late, for example, doesn’t mean their performance is any better than their colleagues who finish work on time. In many cases, it instead signals overload or poor performance.

When pandemic-related shutdowns began, many managers felt they couldn’t gauge productivity if their employees weren’t directly in front of them. But good managers don’t need to see their reports to know that employees are working.

Remote performance management should focus on output rather than assessing or micromanaging input. Using objectives and key results (OKRs) can help because key results are concrete, measurable, and indicative of progress toward a specific objective.

Frequent feedback conversations shouldn’t dwell on input unless it directly impacts output, such as a manager helping an employee find a better, less stressful work process.

Schedule Formal Performance Reviews Quarterly 

While remote performance management relies on frequent personal check-ins, you still need formal remote performance reviews to collect performance data, set a baseline, and measure continued growth of the remote teams (including nonIT and software development teams) to enable team members to become more engaged and productive.

These reviews should happen much more frequently than the annual review of yesteryear. Conducting quarterly performance evaluations is frequent enough to keep employees engaged and track their growth over the year. 

Since the substance of formal quarterly reviews is drawn from daily or weekly check-ins, nothing in the evaluation should surprise the employee. And if managers have a robust performance management tool for tracking daily conversations, the evaluations themselves become much easier to write and track.

By the time these reviews roll around, the employee should feel comfortable having a face-to-face meeting via videoconferencing software to create a better sense of personal connection.

Encourage Healthy Boundaries

When working remotely, employees might have trouble setting clear boundaries between their work and personal lives. They might feel like they have to work more to prove themselves. As many as 44% of employees currently working remotely feel prompted to log into work earlier and stay online later to demonstrate productivity to their manager, research by Achievers found.

Over the long term, this can lead to burnout. By developing a more deliberate remote performance management approach, you can curb this behavior and help employees create healthy and sustainable work habits. 

Effective remote performance management clarifies an employee’s priorities, making it easier to manage their schedule.

Together, all of these factors can help drive sustainable performance.