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Pivot to remote performance management: 10 tips

The switch from traditional performance management to remote performance management isn't going to be easy. Here are 10 tips on how to make the transition smoother for employees.

Remote performance management goes beyond typical performance management, which is already complex and difficult to do well. HR teams need to get on the same page with managers to ensure a switch to remote performance management doesn't affect employee workflow and productivity.

Performance management is an ongoing process of communication between a supervisor and an employee to accomplish goals and communicate the objectives expected in a specific role. Remote performance management removes the in-person observations and meetings that are a key part of traditional performance management since employees are working in a different physical location than their managers.

There are several ways HR teams can foster an effective switch to remote performance management. Here are 10 tips to accomplish just that.

1. Embrace remote performance management

Traditional performance management is a complex blend of tools, policies and evaluations based on personal observation. Applying that mix to managing and rating remote workers' performance is considerably more difficult.

Since it's becoming clear that remote work is likely here to stay for many organizations, tackling that difficulty is critical.

As HR teams make changes to their performance management strategy -- including changes to tooling -- they need to consider that these strategies will be in place for a long time, said Conner Forrest, senior research analyst in HR tech and corporate performance management with 451 Research, a part of S&P Global Market Intelligence, based in N.Y.

Embrace the new normal, he said. Don't make it a goal to get back to where the company was in the past.

2. Learn what remote performance management requires

There are pronounced differences between traditional and remote performance management. Companies may need to do things differently once they begin to manage an employee's performance remotely.

If HR is not successful in controlling the switch from traditional to remote performance management, employee and manager confusion may derail the effort.

"Consider your company's pre-outbreak culture and approach to performance management," Forrest said. "Make a list of all the aspects that may be missing ... with a mass-scale shift to remote work, and begin adopting tools and implementing policies that will help fill in these gaps."

If HR is not successful in controlling the switch from traditional to remote performance management, employee and manager confusion may derail the effort.

3. Extend trust to employees

Managers may be used to having a certain degree of visibility with their employees. They may find that switching from that in-person exchange to monitoring their employees virtually is a difficult transition.

"One of the biggest changes for managers moving to a remote environment is losing visibility into their team's work," said Blakeley Hartfelder, research director in the Gartner HR practice.

Not being able to see in person what employees are doing and check on their progress can make it difficult for some HR professionals to make the pivot successfully. However, HR teams should perceive the change as a progression rather than a reversal of the norm.

"Decreasing manager visibility has been a trend in organizations for some time," Hartfelder said. "The role of the manager has been evolving to include larger spans of control with more direct reports and more varied work on their teams."

This can leave managers somewhat removed and not always in tune with the everyday work of their team members, he said. A sudden move to remote work has intensified the challenge.

Managers may feel inclined to micromanage and overmonitor work activities.

"Managers may be reluctant to give up the level of visibility into and control over employees' activities they were used to having in the office," Hartfelder said. "Before embracing employee monitoring technologies to bridge that gap, HR leaders should consider whether the benefits are worth the risks of causing employees stress, damaging employee-manager relationships, and enabling a culture of mistrust and suspicion in the digital workplace."

4. Understand performance may suffer

Losing employee visibility is only one of many changes in the shift to remote performance management.

Employees know that things are different now, and they will expect HR to make the changes necessary that acknowledge that shift, Forrest said.

Many employees have struggled with the switch from working in the office to working from their homes.

"Transplanting a traditional team to a remote environment is not as simple as drag and drop," said Matthew Dailly, managing director at Tiger Financial, a U.K.-based property finance broker.

The biggest mistake [an HR leader] can make is failing to adjust HR's performance management strategy to accommodate changing workforce dynamics.
Conner ForrestSenior research analyst, 451 Research

If employees were primarily in-office employees before the pandemic, HR's performance management strategy needs to address any new performance roadblocks, Forrest said.

"The biggest mistake [an HR leader] can make is failing to adjust HR's performance management strategy to accommodate changing workforce dynamics," he said.

5. Allow for flexibility

HR teams need to understand employees face different challenges when working remotely. Diversions and work disruptions are of a different nature at home than they are at the organization's office. These disruptions may make it difficult for workers to keep to a traditional work schedule.

Some new problems workers have faced during the pandemic include sudden, around-the-clock childcare, home-schooling demands, health concerns and increased anxiety, which may have affected productivity.

Rigid schedule demands can be a serious performance damper. By allowing remote workers to choose their work hours to fit the ebb and flow of their home lives, performance and morale may improve.

"Give people the flexibility to get their work done when they can," said Dr. Kevin Rockmann, professor of management at George Mason University's School of Business in Fairfax, Va.

Another option is asking teams to be available during a few core hours to allow for meetings and easy communication but allowing for flexibility for the remaining hours.

6. Schedule fewer meetings

Too many meetings can stress out remote workers and lead to early burnout. HR teams should encourage managers to put fewer meetings on their employees' calendars.

"Meetings are for decisions, not updates," Dr. Rockmann said. "[Managers should] include only those employees in a conference call that are absolutely critical."

Too many managers think that their job is scheduling meetings when, in reality, their job is getting their employees to produce at the highest level possible while taking care of them at the same time, he said.

However, streamlining the meeting schedule and reducing both the number and length of emails do not mean managers should skip the performance review meetings.

7. Understand performance conversations are critical

A type of meeting that's become more critical is ongoing performance discussions between managers and employees. The trend toward continuous performance management was gaining steam before the COVID-19 pandemic. With remote work, ongoing discussions are critical.

continuous performance management has become critical
With more employees working remotely, continuous performance management has become critical.

"While it may be tempting for managers to postpone -- or even cancel -- performance conversations due to the tremendous personal and professional impact of the coronavirus, they should not," Hartfelder said. "In fact, frequent, informal manager-employee performance conversations can increase performance management usefulness by up to 19%."

HR teams should ask managers to make performance conversations ongoing rather than isolated events so that corrections and rewards arrive at a natural and steady pace rather than dumped into a single meeting or report.

"In performance management conversations, context is key," Forrest said. "Look for new software or features in an existing license that enable embedded communication between managers and employees."

8. Create strong communication

Managers should be sure to have open lines of communication with their employees.

Managers should make themselves available so employees feel comfortable contacting them to discuss any issues or to ask questions. HR should encourage managers to set aside time for casual conversations over the phone or through communication channels, such as email or Teams. This consistent, open communication can help streamline performance management conversations about goals and objectives.

9. Embrace performance management software

One of the most profound changes in workforce dynamics is using new social tools to keep managers and employees connected.

"In an office setting, performance management software is often used as one tool in a much larger toolkit for supporting employees," Forrest said. "In-office employees may have regular one-on-ones with their manager or have brief, unplanned conversations in the hallway that keep them connected and in sync on the employee's work and development goals."

However, in a remote work situation, the toolkit is much different, he said. Performance management software itself carries more weight and may take a more central role in employee development.

10. Encourage positive feedback

Managers should have regular conversations with their employees, frequently recognize their efforts and achievements, and share that recognition with the entire team.

"If an employee only gets their manager's attention in a negative context, it can make for a very poor employee experience," Hartfelder said.

HR teams should also expect variations in how employees react to the changes in workplace, workflow and performance strategies.

Have managers talk to each employee about what their unique challenges are and what they can do to support them so that they, in turn, can support the company, Rockmann said.

Employees generally want to work, he said. They just need help right now figuring out exactly how to do that.

"Aim to strike a balance between letting remote employees work autonomously and keeping them visible and connected to the rest of their team," Hartfelder said.

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