You may have evaluated tons of performance cycles over the course of your career, but in the era of COVID-19 everything is different. How do you now conduct performance reviews for remote employees? How much would the impact of the pandemic be on employees’ functioning? Should performance cycles be continued the same way, stopped altogether or conducted differently now?
Would it benefit to have frequent or infrequent performance evaluations? And how do you ensure you’re fair-minded given everyone’s different circumstances? In this article, we provide some perspectives, options and strategies to consider before you begin your next performance cycle!
Why performance management is different and difficult now?
During a time of crisis, it can get challenging to operate business as usual. Despite certain sectors being more resilient to a contingency due to their inherent nature of work, every organization feels the pinch in varying degrees. And within organizations, Human Resources faces the challenge of being pulled in different directions – from managing communications and crisis response planning, to maintaining some level of continuity of business operations. Undoubtedly, the goal of every organization during such times is to manage operations with minimal loss and disruption to the business flow by uniting and motivating employees.
The pandemic has confronted organizations with unprecedented issues on various fronts. To be more adept at handling situations, many organizations are currently reassessing their feedback strategies and will need to weigh in on a variety of factors to meet their unique organizational needs. It isn’t unusual for businesses around the world to go berserk given this situation, but its effect is directly reflected on performance reviews for remote employees which is:
1) either being completely abandoned;
2) is conducted as planned with no change;
3) is in the form of uniform ratings for all employees.
Most of the components of the quintessential performance evaluation have been discarded during the COVID-19 crisis essentially because managers are unaccustomed to supervising employees from afar and hence face challenges in evaluating performance and providing feedback accordingly. In addition to this, with remote employees escaping the performance management process, companies are faced with a second challenge of making the process less irritating and more motivating for employees.
Purpose of performance reviews for remote employees
Intrinsically, the main purpose of performance evaluation is to follow a process that contributes to the effective management of individuals and teams for achieving their goals and organizational success. A healthy performance management review should aim at creating alignment and a shared understanding of the objectives, must-do’s and values to be successful.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” - Peter Drucker
Performance evaluations help measure employee’s achievements against expectations and determine their functioning standards across different types of roles in order to manage employees efficiently. These cycles are non-negotiable and are a useful tool to differentiate between low and high-performing employees.
Besides gauging consistency in employees and variations in behaviors and skills, they provide an insight to the manager to determine where in the organization employees are excelling, in which areas they are struggling and where there is a scope for improvement. By giving employees a reality check and steering them back in the right direction, performance evaluations act as a foundational component for the distribution of compensation, promotions and development opportunities.
Although performance management heavily relies on a stipulated set of goals, during a pandemic these organizational priorities are bound to change. Since it would be unfair to judge employees against the company’s pre-pandemic objectives, it is ideal to concentrate on employees’ growth and learning on a personalized level. By being empathetic, adaptive and motivating employees, cycles can be made more humanized during this challenging period.
The aim of conducting performance reviews for remote employees is not to weed out poor performers or decide who gets a raise. Instead, it is to strengthen the organization’s culture and reinforce its values. Employees are always going to remember the way the company treats them during such times and this in turn is what will make or break the company culture. So, the aim of achievement with performance evaluations takes a slight shift from business objectives to employee experience.
“Performance review cycles are like anchors to the corporate ship on which employees embark on their journey. The ship stays afloat only due to the anchor and the latter’s location shifts at the start and end of the journey signifying workers’ learning and experiences along the way.”
Communication between employees and managers about their short and long term goals should be the focus of performance reviews for remote employees during the pandemic. Needless to say, attributes like fairness and transparency are crucial for fostering trust.
With a balanced dose of employee tracking and constant recognition and developmental coaching, feedback provided with the performance cycle will be something that both parties are looking forward to. This way employees wouldn’t treat their performance reviews as ‘feedback’ - something that pulls them back, but as ‘feedforward’ - something that pushes them ahead to do better!
“Good performance accountability is about having a positive conversation between manager and employee. A manager is a coach and communicator, not command and controller.” - Dave Ulrich
Evaluating and managing performance reviews for remote employees
The option of canceling performance reviews altogether that has been opted by many businesses after the onset of COVID-19 is extremely detrimental. Doing so would only result in the loss of continuity and communication that regular feedback enables. Ongoing feedback doesn’t just keep employees on track and working towards the agreed-upon goals, but it also helps them feel a sense of connection and psychological safety, which is particularly important during emergency times.
During a pandemic, employees might not be as productive due to crisis-induced circumstances. With adjustments to fully-remote working, dealing with unexpected life changes, or juggling caregiving responsibilities, performance evaluations during work from home can get challenging. Rethinking the performance framework can lead managers and employees to reset expectations around work hours, responsiveness during the day, and prioritization of tasks.
Giving each employee the same rating and bonus after the performance review cycle should never be on the table due to a plethora of negative consequences. While the high-performing employee could lose motivation with no recognition leading to a productivity drop, the low-performing employee could perceive a mediocre performance as something that is accepted. The entire purpose of performance review gets defeated should the process be abandoned or standardized.
The humane aspect in performance reviews should be activated for remote employees by fully acknowledging the vastly different and varying circumstances team members are operating under. This approach calls for
“A little more flexibility, a little more heart, and a little more leniency.”
Although the biggest setback at first was in communication, that gap has been bridged now with video conferencing applications that are more personal and humane. However, the Zoom fatigue cannot be turned a blind eye to. Employers should be cognizant about employees juggling client calls with entertaining their toddlers, caring for elderly family members and having a cacophony of background noises.
At such a point in time is where exercising values like compassion, empathy, understanding and flexibility speaks volumes about the organization. At the same time, workers should not take advantage of the work-from-home protocol by not giving their best due to lack of constant monitoring and should aim to outperform themselves in comparison to their previous performance evaluation.
Performance evaluations during work from home ought to function as a motivating tool and not as a judgement-based one. Another version of virtual performance reviews that has emerged with the pandemic is providing “in-the-moment” feedback for employees. This is the best time for companies to motivate their employees to learn and broaden their skill set and pinpoint on what they're doing right and where they can improve, rather than waiting until the end of the year to provide feedback.
Flexibility is another given with the pandemic where the taking up of new roles and responsibilities are commonplace amidst employees. By diversifying themselves into various sectors of the business and being accountable for their functions, performance management reviews should measure if employees are growing on the personal as well as professional levels.
In normal times, job reviews are a chance for managers to confront poor performers by demanding improvement. But these uncertain times are not for beating up someone who is not performing. It is necessary for employers to make a conscious decision which battles they want to fight right now. Instead, if someone on the team is not delivering, it would be ideal to find out why by asking what’s going on in his or her life. Offering a “time-bound grace period” for employees to pull up their socks and turn things around would be the way to navigate a company’s route.
However, there’s no doubt that tough calls would have to be made after a point. On the flip side, keeping high performers’ morale boosted would be a non-negotiable for organizations to retain them. Appreciating employees who are working hard, engaged, committed, and are offering their support to others will go a long way. Besides, no one would mind a piece of praise!
Should virtual performance reviews be frequent or infrequent?
For some industries, such as hospitality, entertainment, and sports, it is impossible to operate business from the comfort of one’s home. In these cases, with goals and expectations being heavily adjusted, it would make sense if performance review cycles remained relatively infrequent. However, they would need to take place at least once in a quarter. On the other hand, organizations that are able to move a large part of their employee population to remote work can anticipate much fewer disruptions to their business and comparatively more frequent virtual performance reviews. This approach could benefit the employee experience with a sense of normalcy and slight stability and would also guarantee their jobs in the future. Depending on the business context and the maturity of performance management process maturity, adapting evaluation processes to suit significant changes in the organizational environment would be ideal!
The solution for an effective performance review is right in front of you!
To mitigate bias, peopleHum offers top features within performance management like 360-degree feedback, which democratizes the appraisal process and incorporates the perspectives of many voices, regardless of their position in the organizational ladder. Confidentiality and holistic feedback is garnered from co-workers and managers alike. The self-assessment surveys also give employees a sneak peek into self-reflection and a process of mindfulness where they become cognizant of their capabilities and flaws and would be the best to judge areas wherein they require improvement.
Apart from an array of feedback templates to choose from, this one-of-a-kind HCM software also lets you customize feedback templates. The feature of 1 on 1s, where the manager gets a personalized chat with each employee proffers more connection and fosters a healthy work atmosphere between people at every level of the hierarchy.
Performance reviews for remote employees is undoubtedly the need of the hour, irrespective of the area of work. A sense of connection and encouragement should always prevail for workplaces to foster better integration of employees. The provision of feedback mechanism would also benefit workers on a personal as well as professional front. Lastly, it is imperative to be cognizant of the fact that performance evaluations should happen more than just twice a year through thick and thins of organizations!