The Impact of Remote Work on Performance Reviews

Although employers worldwide have had time to adjust to remote work, ongoing issues still linger. Many supervisors are realizing they can’t measure their remote workers’ performance in the same way. Here’s why their standard approaches are no longer effective.

Although employers worldwide have had time to adjust to remote work, ongoing issues still linger. Many supervisors are realizing they can’t measure their remote workers’ performance in the same way. Here’s why their standard approaches are no longer effective.

Employers Must Adapt to Remote Performance Reviews

Remote work is here to stay despite the push for a widespread return to office. Even C-suite executives know they can’t prevent people from working from home — a recent survey of upper management revealed they believe telecommuting will become increasingly popular.

The survey’s respondents stated that around 24.3% of their workforce comprised hybrid and fully remote workers in 2023. They expect that percentage to increase to 27.5% by 2028. Since remote work isn’t going anywhere, middle management must learn how to adapt.

Currently, many supervisors’ most prominent issue with remote work is the disconnect — the HR department can interview, hire and train someone without ever seeing their face. This lack of connection can complicate other aspects of the job.

Supervisors who don’t feel personally invested in their workplace’s remote staff will likely view their performance critically. As a result, they might approach their reviews with little consideration for their circumstances or working conditions.

Managers who are overly critical of telecommuters’ performance can damage their connection to the workplace — potentially increasing turnover. In fact, 57% of workers seek employment elsewhere because of a supervisor. Since remote work isn’t going anywhere, adapting to it is in supervisors’ best interest.

A Remote Review’s Structure Is Fundamentally Different

The most apparent way remote performance reviews differ from their in-person counterparts is that they’re not face-to-face. Instead of calling a worker into the office, managers have to send them a document or schedule a call. It may seem like a minor difference, but only seeing a pixelated version of an employee is surprisingly impersonal.

Another significant structural difference is the frequency of feedback. For in-person employees, a single annual review is fine. Remote workers need a different level of attention because they operate with limited oversight — imagine putting off examining their performance until the end of the year only to find out they haven’t been reaching any of their goals the entire time.

Supervisors also must reconsider their questions. For instance, they can’t really ask a remote worker what a client would think of their latest interaction in the office. Instead, they must accommodate their technology-centric, decentralized position when deciding what to ask.

Why Remote Work Performance Metrics Are Different

Even if trying to keep remote workers’ reviews as similar to the standard as possible, managers still need to address the difference in performance metrics. They shouldn’t measure their productivity, engagement or collaboration the same way as for in-person employees.

Many workers’ duties and responsibilities change when they transition to remote work. At the very least, the structure of their workday evolves. Consequently, the metrics used to measure their performance must change.

Usually, managers can use workers’ past performance metrics to measure their productivity and accomplishments. Unfortunately, remote work is such a substantial shift that this approach no longer applies. Now, they must determine how to review them without a baseline.

Most remote workers deal with roommates, pets and partners while working. As the boundary between home and work life blurs, their workday interruptions become more frequent. Since these distractions can decrease employees’ productivity, their “normal” efficiency levels may start to look entirely different.

Challenges of Conducting Remote Performance Reviews

Remote performance reviews can be challenging even when structured differently. For starters, technical difficulties can often interrupt meetings. And even if people avoid technical issues, they’ll likely still experience interruptions. Remote employees may work out of their living rooms or bedrooms, meaning pets, people and passersby will be abundant. Both parties have to make an effort to stay on task.

Frequency is another common challenge in conducting performance reviews with remote workers. Unfortunately, they receive 20% less feedback than their in-person colleagues. Finding the opportunity to provide timely insights can be challenging when they’re never at the office.

Similarly, most supervisors tend to favor in-person staff. Since remote workers’ contributions aren’t as visible, proximity bias can be an issue. Supervisors may be more critical of them and view their accomplishments less favorably.

Finally, remote workers may have different expectations. Since they’re at home all day, they may believe showing up in pajamas, getting up to do chores or being out in public while in a meeting is OK. This behavior can complicate meetings.

Remote Performance Review Tips for Supervisors

While navigating performance reviews with remote workers can be challenging, it’s not impossible. A few minor changes to the standard approach can dramatically improve the process.

Value Results Over Process

Adjusting to a lack of supervision can be challenging. Supervisors might feel tempted to critique remote workers’ methods during performance reviews to justify their lack of involvement in their day-to-day work. Instead, prioritize their results.

Managers shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken. If remote workers accomplish their goals, stay connected to their colleagues and maintain positive client relationships, there’s no reason to criticize their process — even if it’s unusual.

Have Reasonable Expectations

Management should set reasonable expectations with remote workers. While the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and involuntary telecommuting isn’t as prevalent, many people are still adjusting to working from home. Distractions and technical issues will inevitably impact their performance to some extent.

Reflect on Similarities

It might be beneficial to reflect on the small inefficiencies of office life that keep staff members motivated and connected. Remote workers take breaks to pet their dogs and have snacks. On the other hand, in-person employees stop for water cooler chats and get up to make coffee.

While physical and remote work are very different, supervisors should be careful not to hold telecommuters to an entirely disparate standard. Sometimes, minor productivity loss, inefficiencies and unscheduled breaks are necessary to maintain job satisfaction.

Consider Their Circumstances

Be gentle with poor performers. Consider how their circumstances may impact their performance before deciding to criticize them. Remember, while low productivity and project completion rates are unacceptable, leveraging constructive criticism and addressing the root issue will be more beneficial in the long term.

Meet Face-to-Face

Managers should make it a rule to always hold remote workers’ performance reviews over video. Simulating a face-to-face experience rather than sending a PDF of feedback makes the experience more personal.  It also enables them to ask questions and offer input, which may provide crucial insight into their daily lives.

Performance Reviews for Remote Workers Must Evolve

Remote work undoubtedly impacts the structure and style of performance reviews. Instead of using that as an excuse, supervisors should make an effort to accommodate telecommuters. Even minor changes to their current approach can make a massive difference.