I’m not going to sugar-coat this. In normal times, staff appraisals or performance reviews are seen by many of us as being horrendous! So, the idea of staff appraisals with remote workers leaves me fearing the worst for all involved.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I have sometimes bounced into my own performance reviews brimming with personal pride at what I had achieved in the last 12 months…yet I leave with a limp and about as much motivation as a dead slug. Within the space of a 45-minute meeting my spirit has been crushed, my confidence snuffed out and I wonder what else I could do with my life.
A staff appraisal should be motivating. Yet even in the best of times, it seems they are anything but. Data shows just 14% of employees feel strongly motivated and inspired to improve their performance after a staff appraisal. More worrying is that over a third of employees report their performance actually declines after a staff appraisal.
So…in a world of remote working where employees report increased isolation and disconnection from their employer, a lack of direction and communication from management and the pressure of homeschooling, dodgy internet connections, and zoom meeting fatigue. How is that performance review going to go down? Yep – line managers and HR professionals have a challenge on their hands.
HOWEVER…maybe, remote working is the moment to revolutionize staff appraisals and actually deliver what everyone wants from them. To do that requires a change in mindset and approach, so read on if that interests you!
What Is The Purpose of a Staff Appraisal With Remote Workers?
Let’s start at a base level; what is the goal of staff appraisals with remote workers? In fact, what is the goal of staff appraisals with any worker?
It’s not actually about weeding out poor performers, chastising the weak, or deciding how big a pay rise an employee receives. The goal is to help an employee improve in a way that benefits the business. You want to highlight the company culture and the values employees should demonstrate day-to-day. And, you want to outline the future and how employee’s successful performance will benefit the business and take it to where it wants to be.
Therefore, sit back and think about your staff appraisal with remote workers. How are you going to communicate and reinforce those messages?
What Are You Evaluating?
The goals, targets, and achievements you asked employees to strive for pre-covid are redundant in today’s world. Did you redefine expectations when everyone was asked to become a remote-worker? Was it effectively communicated with them? Probably not, but do not be too hard on yourself. I doubt many of us actually understood how long remote working would be around for and the challenges it would present.
The staff appraisal for remote workers could be an excellent moment for both parties to recalibrate. But, If you try and measure current performance against goals set pre-covid you will have a disaster on your hands.
I am not saying recent historical performance is ignored, rather, it becomes a smaller part of the appraisal focus. Both sides have to acknowledge the world has changed and new challenges have to be addressed. If you focus too hard on business output you potentially risk demotivating an employee trying their hardest in tough times.
While the evaluation and focus on ‘performance’ may be lightened, you probably need to increase the evaluation of soft skills; resilience, ability to adapt, communication, teamwork, and a willingness to collaborate or volunteer in the business. These are the skills that organisations need their remote workers to demonstrate in order to navigate such challenging times.
Data is for many the key to effective evaluation – the numbers don’t lie and all that. You still want the data, but you need to look in different places for it. Don’t just look at the spreadsheet of commercial activities that have or haven’t been achieved.
Tone and Perspective
You cannot ignore an employee’s homeworking situation. Do they live alone and feel isolated and/or depressed? Are they looking after young triplets and are trying to home school? Do they share a flat with others who are a distracting influence? Do they actually have a space in their home to work? You ignore the individual’s home situation at your peril.
An employee could literally be giving their job everything. They may feel incredibly stressed as they also try to home-school their children. If you take the wrong tone and focus on the wrong things, the staff appraisal will demotivate.
Therefore – show some compassion. Show some flexibility. Be lenient. Sympathise with how remote workers are having their work and home lives meet head-on.
This tone is going to be much better portrayed in a video call rather than a telephone call. Is everything you said being understood? Did the last comment crush your employee’s spirit or was it taken out of context? A video call allows you to show some non-verbal communication that a telephone will miss. In short, a friendly voice at the end of a phone is good, a friendly face and voice are better!
Rock Stars Vs Underperformers
When you undertake an appraisal with an absolute rock star (you know the ones I mean) – don’t hold back.
No matter what discipline or level their career is at, if they are truly great, they will be capable of finding a job in any market. Therefore, reassure them, praise them and map out the future with them. The “not knowing” what the future holds in the current world is what makes many unhappy, therefore make it clear they are part of your plans. Highlight the positive behaviours and achievements that impress you and others in the business and encourage them to keep repeating them.
When you have an underperformer, do not berate them. Do not read the riot act. Just find out what the problems are. The staff appraisal is after all meant to foster an environment for coaching, improving, and motivating. You may not be able to solve the problems you are told, but if you can understand the issues all parties will benefit. Underperformers may need extra support (from peers and/or management), some space, a different approach, or simply just a bit of slack at this time!
You are not ducking a difficult decision or delaying the inevitable. You are simply showing common sense (and some heart), building trust, and acknowledging issues beyond work are impacting on the employee. Find what good behaviours are being shown and encourage them. Find out what the pain points are and work the problem. You recruited this employee because they had something to offer, so work with them to find that spark.
It’s a Two-Way Conversation
As the section above highlights, the more you listen to your employees the better you can support them in the challenges they face. Few organisations have made the transition to remote working without experiencing some bumps in the road. Take time to learn what those bumps are and how they are impacting performance. How can you ask for improvements from your team if you are not taking responsibility for organisational failures?
Employees will feel valued, their engagement will improve and a performance review becomes a collaborative effort.
In addition, by listening to your employee your able to adjust your feedback to the information you’re gathering and find the right goals that motivate and improve performance.
Staff appraisals and performance reviews have a terrible reputation at the best of times. Yet, remote working could be the moment to change the rhetoric. HR and line managers need to review what they actually want from their staff appraisals with remote workers. With that vision in mind, the process needs to be managed with more heart and more understanding. Failure to do so means the rock stars of your organisation may look to perform on someone else’s stage!
About The Author
Simon Royston is the founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab (A recruitment agency with offices in Aldershot and Brighton that offers employment services across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and beyond). Simon lives in Guildford and has worked in Recruitment for over a decade. He has a degree and a masters in psychology as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management. If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would simply like to express your own thoughts and opinions do not hesitate to contact Simon through The Recruitment Lab website.