Recently, organizations have had to make significant business adjustments in an effort to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, including transforming all or most employees into remote workers and quickly implementing software such as Google Meet (formerly Google Hangouts) and Slack to keep teams connected while working from home. 

Though Canada’s provincial governments continue to slowly reopen the economy, organizations don’t yet have the go-ahead to safely return to work in their physical office spaces. 

If you have annual performance reviews coming up soon, you might be considering postponing them for another few weeks (or possibly months). 

That may not be the best approach. 

Even with clear communication that outlines your reason(s) for postponing annual reviews, employees may see it as a lack of confidence in the organization’s continued success… and become demoralized and demotivated as a result. 

Which means that remote performance reviews are your best bet. Read on to learn how to evaluate an employee in our current challenging times and deliver concise, constructive and inspiring feedback. 

Evaluate quality and quantity, not time  

Circumstances often dictate productivity. An employee who has a home office and no dependants is likely to be more productive than someone providing childcare or assistance to at-risk family members. 

When considering how to evaluate an employee for their annual review, give significant weight to their pre-pandemic job performance. You have the advantage of past knowledge. You’re not evaluating a new remote employee—just a newly remote one—and you’re already familiar with their work habits, their typical productivity levels and their degree of engagement. 

Related reading: How Coaching Can Improve Upon the Annual Performance Review

Focus on output, meaning the quality and quantity of the work, rather than presenteeism and the colloquial “butt-in-chair” time. When putting together your annual review, keep the following questions in mind:  

  • Is my employee meeting the goals I clearly set out for them?  
  • Are they following my direction and prioritizing projects that I’ve flagged as critical? 
  • Does the employee keep me and others in the loop about their availability during the workday? 

Another thing to remember is that none of the feedback in your employee’s annual review should come as a surprise to them. If you’ve seen some relatively new behaviour that requires performance management and you haven’t brought it up in conversation with your employee yet, you should strongly consider leaving it off the annual review and addressing it separately. 

Related Reading: Employee Recognition Ideas: A Little Goes a Long Way

Don’t rely on just your personal observations 

Asking others in your organization for candid but fair feedback is a valuable performance measurement tool. Put together a list of team members who either work closely with your employee or who typically request projects from them, such as other department heads or managers. 

A popular format for asking for feedback is the Start-Stop-Continue behaviour model, where the reviewers write down feedback in each of the categories. For example, someone might write: “Stop checking in daily on a project, it puts too much stress on me and I don’t feel trusted to do my job.” in the Stop category. 

Reviewers can leave any category blank as the goal isn’t to create feedback where none exists. Once you’ve gotten everyone’s feedback, read it over carefully and look for any patterns or similarities. 

Reword the feedback into major takeaways and actionable advice. Continuing the example above, a section of your annual review can be about “Following up on projects” and the advice something akin to “Be mindful of how often you ping someone for a status update. Make note of when the project was delivered and set a reminder on your calendar for a few days or a week away and only then reach out for updates if you haven’t heard back by then.”. 

Next, ask your employee for a self-evaluation using the same Start-Stop-Continue model and see if there’s any overlap with the feedback you’ve already received. This can give you an idea of how self-aware your employee is and how likely they are to correct or continue any highlighted behaviours. 

Related reading: Adopting a New Approach to Employee Performance Reviews

The how and who of employee performance evaluation

Video is one of the most important communication tools available to you right now. Since you can’t conduct an annual performance review face-to-face, i.e. the most preferable way, a video call is the next best thing. 

Have a backup plan in place, ideally another video software. If you’re having trouble connecting through Google Meet, switch over to Slack’s built-in video conferencing or jump on a Zoom call. Rescheduling the annual performance review should be your last resort.   

Block off more time than you think you need for your evaluation, at least another extra half hour to be sure you’re not rushing through feedback or putting your employee under additional stress. 

Provide guidance for your employee on when they can ask questions. Do they interrupt you or will you be prompting them after reading out a portion of the performance review? 

Before you end the call, give your employee the opportunity to digest the feedback and come back to you with any questions or comments. You can also ask that your employee put together a concrete plan for addressing any concerns with their performance or interpersonal skills that you’ve identified in their annual review. 

Related Reading: Employment Evaluations: How to Determine Salary Increases for Employees

 

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