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Conducting employee performance reviews remotely

How do you evaluate employee performance when they have been working remotely for months under extremely difficult circumstances filled with uncertainty? Working from home is likely to remain the new norm for the foreseeable future, and leaders now need to rethink how they conduct performance reviews as the new working arrangements might require more frequent and less formal reviews to drive engagement and motivation.

Work and life have changed significantly, so it would be unfair to judge employees purely based on pre-Covid objectives. Instead, leaders need to also consider looking at their employee’s capacity to adapt, be resilient and empathetic during the pandemic. As circumstances are different for each employee, it’s about the bigger picture and not just the deliverables. Some are juggling client calls while entertaining young children, others might be struggling with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Compassion is key, not just during performance reviews and leaders can’t ignore the psychological impact of the pandemic and individual home situations.

Looking back to see forward

Great leaders have always been invaluable, but Covid 19 reinforced the urgent need for the evolution from a boss to a coach. Unfortunately, many managers still don’t have open conversations with their employees. Discussing weaknesses with employees once or twice a year is not coaching. Employees need extra help during the pandemic and leaders need to learn to inspire and empower them through ongoing coaching conversations. Remote working makes it harder to measure activity and results, but that doesn’t mean that feedback is less important.

Performance reviews are a great opportunity for leaders and employees to pause and reflect on their journey so far and asses where they are going. They are not just about communicating metrics and correcting problems, but more importantly about engaging in developmental conversations. Conducting performance reviews over video calls makes the experience more personal and allows leaders to see employees where they are, helping them better understand their working conditions and feelings through their body language and tone of voice.

Managing underperformance

Confronting under-performers is never an easy task. It’s even harder when they are working remotely, and conversations can’t happen face to face. Whilst under normal circumstances, leaders would focus on improvements, during the pandemic it’s important to understand what other factors outside of work are affecting employees’ lives and performance. Many employees who aren’t doing well will have a vague feeling that something is wrong, but they probably don’t know which behaviours are not working and how to improve them. Leaders can help them by being specific about what they need to do differently and use examples to help them learn how to improve their own performance.

Even if they have been with the organisation for a while, it’s important to ask about their goals and what they care about, as these change as circumstances evolve. Scheduling regular meetings to discuss progress is on the leader, as going quiet after sharing negative feedback can deteriorate performance even further. Imposter syndrome and burnout are things to consider during reviews too, because many employees might be at risk as the lines between work and personal lives are blurring in new ways.

At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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