Supportive performance conversations shouldn't be once a year. To be able to evaluate performance fairly and realistically, we need ongoing communication and feedback. Feedback to employees about their work and results and feedback from employees, to make sure organisational constraints (and even our management styles) are not getting in the way.
The importance of checking in
It is easy to assume that if we don't hear from our remote employees that everything must be well. On the other hand, some might think that silence means no work is done. The most challenging aspect of leading remote team members is trusting that our 'out of sight' employees are doing the work and that they're doing the job well.
To remove the guesswork, it is essential to have regular and transparent conversations to show the progress of the work. There is a need to focus on tracking the work and results, rather than monitoring when and where people are working from.
Make the work as visible as possible
Having an online space or a communication system where team members can show the progress of their work can keep the team aligned and accountable. Some of the most popular tools businesses have used is Basecamp or Trello. Other options include a checklist-type communication such as an email to note things actioned, progress and stumbling blocks. Even regular online meetings are helpful.
Creating a regular feedback rhythm
While making progress and outputs visible is essential, so are regular feedback conversations. This will help make sure the work and performance are meeting expectations and whether further support is required.
Set a regular schedule for one-on-one conversations with your team members. This will depend on your work and preferences but decide on how often you want to review the work and keep it consistent.
Using a framework for giving and receiving feedback can help you to get straight to the point and make your conversations more productive. It can also help team members structure their self-evaluation. Example, the team member can report on three things they have done well, two areas in need of improvement and one way the team or the business can help support them.
It's best to talk in real-time on video or phone. That way, you can both see expressions and body language. Otherwise, the framework can also work in writing. A real real-time chat app such as Slack, Microsoft Teams or Skype can be helpful and is an easy way to ask for immediate clarification and avoid misunderstandings.
Sometimes team members will be more candid with each other than with their managers. Why not recommend that team members arrange feedback loops with each other too?
Be proactive and detect problems early on
Holding one-on-one conversations regularly, even when things seem to be going well, is essential. It makes it easier to raise or detect problems early on. Bringing up or raising an issue early on takes less energy than trying to fix a problem much later on. Sometimes, it can be a little too late.
Asking for help is not easy for everyone, and sometimes people may not even realise they need help. A great way to end your conversations is to ask: "is there anything you need from me?"
Regular conversations and "thinking out loud" can help identify problems and constraints early on, especially when innovating or tackling new projects.
Think beyond their role and what they can do for the business
When thinking about giving feedback to employees, think about how you can help them develop professionally beyond their current positions.
For example, as remote employees, their ability to communicate online (in writing, by audio, through video) will affect how others view them in the organisation and what opportunities are presented to them.
How are team members coming across online, through their emails, on collaboration platforms? How are they coming across in video meetings? Is there anything they could improve?
Learning from success
A lot of people find sharing their achievements or 'tooting their horn' very uncomfortable. But it’s important to formalise celebrations in remote teams as it will 'give permission' for others to celebrate their success, as well as that of others.
You can also turn these achievements into learning opportunities for the whole team. The team member can go through the steps they took that contributed to the success.
Over to you
Teams are still made up of a mix of individuals with varying roles and levels of support required. It's important to have regular catch-ups with remote team members individually and as a team to help detect problems early on and provide as much support to your people as possible.