Tips for Conducting Virtual Performance Reviews

Performance reviews can be one of the more challenging meetings to conduct virtually, but they can be done effectively with the right structure and approach.

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3 leaders share how their companies deliver virtual performance reviews

As many of us enter the second month of working with remote teams due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity of holding performance reviews and other meetings digitally is becoming more real.

Even companies that regularly conduct business with remote teams can find this challenging.

“Performance reviews are one of the more challenging meetings to conduct virtually,” says Sid Soil, founder and CEO of DOCUdavit Solutions, a cloud-based document scanning and storing company. “Employees tend to be nervous and if the employee didn’t do everything perfectly, which few do, the conversation can get awkward.”

We talked to Soil and others about how to conduct performance reviews virtually.

Set clear expectations

Whether working remotely or on-site, staff members need clear expectations.

“We start each year setting up key performance indicators for every individual’s role,” says Tricia Sciortino, CEO of BELAY, a virtual assistant company that has operated with a remote team for the past decade. “Everybody at the start of every year is clear on what the company goals are and the key performance indicators they will be held to.”

Track performance in real time

BELAY conducts monthly and quarterly check-ins. Their employees have access to online documentation so they can track their own progress in real time.

“We don’t think you wait until the end of the year and then surprise anybody,” Sciortino adds. “If you’re a high performer, we want you to know it. With under-performers, we want to nip it in the bud and help people grow out of missing expectations.”

Allow for small talk

Many people are craving social interaction right now, especially if they live alone. Before diving into the meat of the performance review, Soil recommends leaving a few minutes for chit-chat.

“Ask them about their family or fun plans coming up, topics completely unrelated to work,” he says. “This may seem like an inefficient use of time, but it lightens the mood and sets the stage for a more productive, amicable discussion.”

Before diving into the meat of the performance review, Soil recommends leaving a few minutes for chit-chat. “Ask them about their family or fun plans coming up, topics completely unrelated to work.”

Have a backup option

Video conferencing is often better than a phone call because it provides visual cues.

“We want to see people’s faces when you’re talking about performances,” Sciortino says. “Be on video so they can be engaged and a have a really good dialogue.”

But if someone has a spotty internet connection or the video app fails, you may need to call instead.

Video conferencing is often better than a phone call because it provides visual cues.

“It’s important to maintain the normality of these one-on-one slots during a crisis like this and the best thing you can do to maintain normality is to ensure there are no interruptions caused by tech issues,” says Mark Webster, cofounder of Authority Hacker, an online marketing education company.

“Do not let either side use this as an excuse to not move forward with a performance review.”

Use screen sharing to display data 

BELAY emails quarterly performance sheets beforehand to allow for discussion about the metrics during the performance review.

“We share the screen and walk through the document together, which allows for conversation,” Sciortino says. “We make sure to screen share and walk through everything as we’re talking about it, so they can see where we’re pulling data from. It’s as if we were sitting at a desk together.”

Build in breaks

If your performance reviews last longer than 30 minutes — perhaps because multiple people are giving feedback — schedule in some breaks. Webster says staring at a screen while sitting upright for a long time is not healthy and your team will need a break.

“Aim to have a 5 to 10 minute break after 45 minutes or so to allow your team to stretch their legs and give their eyes a rest.”

End on an upbeat note

Employees working from home may be distracted by restless children, wandering pets, or other concerns, so restate important messages to make sure they absorb that feedback and understand how to move forward. Soil also suggests ending on an upbeat note if at all possible.

“If you conclude the call on a negative note, they will be nervous that their job is at stake, become less productive, and not have anywhere to turn for support besides the four walls in their homes,” he says. “In a remote environment — especially during unstable times — concluding on a positive note is imperative to boosting employee self-esteem and performance.”

Soil also suggests ending on an upbeat note if at all possible. “If you conclude the call on a negative note, they will be nervous that their job is at stake, become less productive, and not have anywhere to turn for support besides the four walls in their homes.”

Follow up in writing

“It’s important to leave a record of everything you discussed, especially if you’re discussing sensitive topics like salary or bonus,” Webster says.

“There should be no ambiguity about the commitments you have made and those you’ve received from your employees. This is particularly important for online performance reviews because it’s easy for smaller details to get lost in translation, especially if you’re not on a particularly strong connection.”

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