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Annual Review Time is Here – How to do it for Remote Workers

January 22, 2018

At that time of year when many companies are holding their annual performance reviews. It is a time only a little less dreaded than tax season.

In a recent survey, nearly 60% of HR leaders rated their own performance management systems with a grade of just “C” or lower. Given that raises, bonuses, and promotions are tied to those systems the picture could be bleak.

Add to the challenge, the world of performance reviews has changed with an increasing number of workers being on global, virtual teams, and a larger number of remote and freelance workers.

Remote Workers are Worth the Extra Effort

The extra effort is worth it according to studies on performance. Remote workers are, in fact, more productive than their office counterparts. They perform better and faster at the same type of jobs as office workers and take less sick leave. Distributed team members also show better engagement with the work and report higher levels of personal satisfaction and happiness, which may contribute to their productivity.

Even the most skeptical study on remote work productivity gains from remote work are no less than 10%.

A Different Way to Measure Performance

Victor Lipman, management consultant and author of The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World, boils it down to one primary requirement:

[E]stablishing, and managing to, very clear, measurable and mutually agreed-upon employee objectives. In the absence of more regular in-person contact, periodic check-ins to review performance against clearly established goals becomes critically important. As I like to say, when it comes to managing for success (whether or not remotely, but especially remotely), clarity is king and queen.

The new virtual, mobile workforce will hopefully force the death of management by observation, and demand a focus on the real work, kill the culture of “face time.” Like Matt Mullenweg, CEO of Automattic, a distributed company, noted in Harvard Business Review post:

“If someone shows up in the morning dressed appropriately and isn’t drunk or asleep at his desk, we assume he’s working. If he’s making spreadsheets and to-do lists, we assume he’s working really hard. Unfortunately, none of this gets at what an employee actually creates during the day” Mullenweg says in a Harvard Business Review post

Rewarding employees just for putting in the longest hours simply doesn’t work anymore for a number of reasons.

Teams are global.

You can’t expand to dominate global markets with everyone at headquarters. You are likely to have distributed teams even in a work from the office environment.

Flexible workers.

Companies are increasingly taking advantage of a flexible workforce, bringing in talent as needed.

Work Life Balance.

It’s not just millennials that want the flexibility to work when and where they want to. It’s how you achieve autonomy, one of the three motivational drivers for all workers (the others are mastery and purpose). There are productivity gains to be harvested here, so it’s worth the effort.

How to Measure Remote Workers

Focus on Results

When you can’t be there to watch performance happen it forces you to be clearer about your expectations. Setting clear goals and expectations and then measuring them on a regular basis. You won’t know your team member is trouble just by looking at them. You have to check to keep track of progress on the work.

Balance performance with a focus on results and behavior

Dick Grote, a well-respected researcher in the field, says management shouldn’t reward employees who achieve results but break company policies to do so or reward people who follow the rules but don’t produce.

In a virtual environment, managers can be tempted to focus solely on results, because employee behavior can’t be seen and is difficult to evaluate. Virtual employees who work in physical isolation could easily be tempted to cut corners. Managers must figure out ways to evaluate both the performance as well as behavior of their team.

Make sure your metrics measure the right thing

Assess your metrics to make sure they don’t lead to counterproductive behaviors. Jim Ware, the founder of The Future of Work, cites the way call-center workers are evaluated based on the average length of their customer calls. This can lead workers to prematurely transfer or terminate calls without resolving customers’ problems. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, recognized this risk and encourages long service calls because he feels they are a sign that Zappos is building strong relationships with its customers. The metric applied is solving customer’s complaints on the first interaction.

Set goals early and often

All employees should have goals in place at all times. When a goal is achieved it should be replace with the new goal. Goals should be measured on a regular basis, not just when its annual review time. A clear set of SMART objectives and expectations supports engagement and delivering results. Goal setting should include:

  • Clearly defined individual and/or team performance goals
  • A schedule for regular performance conversations
  • Identify the timeline and format for regular reporting
  • Define minimum expectations and what exceeding expectations would look like

Design a Review Process that Engages

Engagement can be more of a challenge in the virtual work environment. If an annual review is the only time an employee is getting feedback they can easily become disengaged. Dick Grote suggest that managers involve virtual workers from the start and ask them for suggestions for performance metrics that could be used to assess both results as well as behavior.

While employee self-evaluations can be a part of the process in a virtual workforce, self-evaluations are fallible because of two types of human bias. First, people usually think they are better at their jobs than they are (the “overconfidence effect”). Second, people are likely to take too much credit for good results (the “fundamental attribution error”) and too little responsibility for things that go wrong. If employees are working in a virtual environment without regular feedback this can be even more deadly.

What if You are the Remote Worker 

Even when you work in a company you may be part of a global team, like I am. Neither my manager nor my team see what I do every day. I have to make it real for them to avoid the old saying “Out of Sight, Out of Mind.” Documenting my workstream is critical. Create a worklog. Make it detailed.

Date Assigned Project Goal Work Completed Date Completed Impact

Let you manager know that you completed your assignments on time, met the assigned goal, and made an impact on the team mission.

 Best Practices for Remote Workers conducted a study with top remote teams. Here are some of the best practices on how to assess and promote the efficiency of your remote staff:

Setting clear metrics for each team member

  • Set short-term goals according to the size of the project (daily, weekly or monthly)
  • Track on time completion
  • Regularly align on goals, plans, and challenges
  • Rate the quality of the work at delivery
  • Focusing on results accomplished and not time tracked
  • Include challenges that have been overcome

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