Performance reviews, employee appraisals or staff evaluations – whatever your company calls them, meeting regularly to review the performance of your team is absolutely essential to keeping them engaged, motivated and productive.

However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting shift to remote working presents unique challenges when it comes to conducting performance reviews virtually. As businesses and employees adjust to the ‘new normal’, it is arguably more important than ever to communicate regularly with your employees to manage uncertainty and performance expectations.

In this guide, we’ll give you some tips for conducting performance reviews with your remote workforce.

Show your face

Ideally, reviews should be conducted via video call, rather than a phone conversation. This can give managers an opportunity to maintain eye contact and read facial expressions during the appraisal process, providing insight into the employee’s reactions and engagement. So, turn that camera on if you can.

Allow some time for small talk

Working from home and being separated from friends and family has left many people feeling isolated and craving social interaction. Set aside some time at the start of the meeting for non-work-related chit-chat. It’ll put them at ease and set a precedence for comfortable, open and honest conversation.

Ask for 360-degree feedback from colleagues

When you’re physically separated from your employees, judging their performance and productivity can be challenging. To get the whole picture, ask for feedback from your employee’s peers – ideally those they work closely with on regular basis. So-called ‘360-degree feedback’, this can offer line managers a wide-ranging perspective and help to make performance evaluation more objective.

Be sensitive and empathetic

Workers have been under extreme and unusual circumstances, both at home and at work. Your employees may have lost loved ones or are worrying for their vulnerable or elderly family members. Maybe they’re juggling home schooling with their day job or struggling to adjust to this new way of life.

While it’s always important to make sure your employees are doing their jobs, you may wish to be a bit more understanding if your employee hasn’t met all of the goals set in their last appraisal.

Consider how you evaluate employees

If you usually use quantitative metrics such as sales targets, website traffic or revenue growth to measure success, these may not be applicable during a global pandemic and economic downturn. These targets that were set last year before the Covid-19 crisis emerged may no longer be achievable as the goalposts have shifted and people’s buying behaviour has changed.

Instead, you may find it more useful to appraise your employee based on their so-called ‘soft skills’ -their positive attitude, resilience or time management, perhaps. Have they communicated well with their colleagues during this time? Adapted quickly to remote working? Maybe you’d like to praise them for their teamwork and collaboration skills. These behaviours can be hugely valuable during a crisis and should be acknowledged and rewarded.

Communicate clearly

People communicate without saying a word. During an in-person conversation, the brain focuses partly on the words being spoken, but also on dozens of non-verbal cues, such as body language, hand gestures and eye contact. These cues help paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed.

Without these cues, it can be difficult to process information – there’s a literal barrier between you and your employee and it’s harder for them to interpret your words and their intent.

When communicating via video call, it’s important to be overly communicative, explain your points thoroughly and ask your employee if they’ve fully understood what you’ve said. In return, listen carefully to what your employee communicates to you and relay what they’ve said back to them to verify your understanding.

Build in breaks

This year has seen many new terms enter our vocabularies – ‘furlough, self-isolate and test and trace’ to name a few – but have you heard of ‘Zoom fatigue’? Zoom fatigue is a unique kind of exhaustion that comes from communicating almost entirely by video call.

Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor at the graduate business school Insead, explains: “Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.”

If the performance review is going to last for more than one hour, consider allowing time for a quick break midway, so you can both have some respite from the screen.

Manage performance year-round

Performance management is an ongoing process. It doesn’t start and end with yearly performance reviews. As working from home becomes a permanent or regular arrangement for many businesses, checking in regularly is really important. Conducting regular 1-on-1 catch up meetings with your team members can be a great way to increase motivation, engagement and productivity.

If you’re looking for other ways to keep your staff engaged, you may want to look at the employee benefits you offer.

Providing a good benefits package that motivates employees whilst being cost effective to the business can be good way of promoting your company culture and values, which is arguably even more crucial to convey when employees work remotely.

Death in service insurance could offer several benefits to both employers and employees. Also known as ‘group life insurance’, death in service insurance is designed to pay out a lump sum to an employee’s loved ones should the worst happen to them.

A death in service insurance policy covers employees at no cost to them and may offer them peace of mind by ensuring their loved ones will receive financial help in the event of their passing. It is a low-cost way of providing a highly desirable benefit for your employees, which shows you care about your staff and their loved ones.

We provide the means for you to compare death in service insurance quotes from leading providers, quickly and efficiently.