As we near the end of the year and annual performance reviews loom on the horizon, many managers are facing a newfound challenge: They’ve never met their direct reports in person. And as teams continue to work remotely or transition to a hybrid model as the pandemic continues, managers have to find a way to share meaningful feedback and career advice with employees they don’t have the luxury of sitting next to in the office every day.
But even without this in-person time, the show must go on. Performance evaluations are a vital part of an employee’s career development and overall success at your organization, but sometimes unfair perceptions of and biases against remote and hybrid work can affect how employee performance is assessed. One Stanford-led experiment from 2015 found that while remote workers were more productive and worked longer hours than their in-office counterparts, they were only promoted about half as often as in-office employees.
In order to ensure bias doesn’t make its way into hybrid performance reviews, companies need to consider and implement a few guiding parameters so reviews are both fair and valuable for all employees, regardless of their location. While there’s no substitute for face-to-face time, here are a few ways your company can give managers what they need to conduct meaningful performance conversations with their hybrid employees.
6 Tips for Hybrid Performance Reviews
1. Establish clear evaluation criteria.
A blank review form can result in managers improvising or not taking the time to share meaningful, constructive feedback with their team members. In order to ensure every one of your employees — regardless of where they work — has the same accurate and fair review experience, you need to establish clear evaluation criteria or questions to guide your managers through the process.
Using a performance management system like Lattice can streamline the review process by giving managers a standardized set of questions to answer for each employee, so they know exactly what criteria to assess their teams against. If your company uses manual performance appraisals, you can manually share questions with your People leaders or pull some from our Annual Performance Review Conversation Template or Quarterly Review Template. Establishing clear evaluation criteria can help ensure your managers give more thorough reviews that are customized to help each of their direct reports grow professionally.
2. Evaluate success using goals.
In order for your employees to have clarity around what they need to do and why they’re doing it, they need a combination of both short- and long-term goals. While employees continue to work from home, the office, and a mix of both, these goals become an objective and straightforward way to measure employee performance and success.
“In the absence of face-to-face coaching, [employee goals] should become one of the focal points of your hybrid performance reviews,” advised Tina Hawk, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at employment background check company GoodHire. “You can measure their performance against the goals they’re working toward, and use this information to deliver accurate and relevant feedback.”
For example, if an employee has met or exceeded their quarterly and annual goals, they have performed strongly for the review period. If an employee regularly falls short of their personal OKRs, this should open up a larger discussion about their performance and goal-setting. Using a tool like Lattice Goals can help align your entire team by making strategic objectives crystal clear and giving your team one centralized space to set, track, and reflect on goals so there are no surprises come review time.
Just be sure to pay close attention to the goals themselves. If your managers deliberately ask their team members to set lofty, ambitious goals that they then consistently fail to meet, this should not result in those employees receiving low performance scores. Instead, remind managers to take the complexity of each employee’s goals into careful consideration in order to accurately evaluate their success. And when it’s goal-setting time, managers must work closely with each individual on their team to set relevant — yet reasonable — goals.
3. Focus on what you do know.
Just because you haven’t met someone face to face, doesn’t mean you don’t know a lot about them. In fact, you probably know more about them than you think, according to Lattice customer LifeLabs Learning, a New York-based leadership training company. “Even if you’ve never met a direct report in person, you probably still have great insight into what it’s like to work with them,” said the LifeLabs Learning team. “For example, things like showing up prepared for meetings and meeting deadlines, and the quality of the work they produce, are all things that you likely have insight into even if your whole relationship is virtual.”
Managers’ constructive feedback to their employees should not be shaped by what they think their direct report should or shouldn’t have done differently, but rather based on what the manager has directly observed in their interactions with them.
4. Take notes throughout the year
Recency bias can result in a manager disproportionately evaluating an employee’s overall performance based on their contributions and accomplishments over the last few weeks and months, rather than over the course of the entire review period. This is a biased way of assessing employee performance and is unfair to employees who consistently performed their best throughout most of the review period, but, for example, may have fallen short of their goals in the past month due to, say, a new health issue or family emergency.
Keeping track of employee tasks, issues, and feedback in scattered notebooks, or even worse, only in your head, makes it difficult if not impossible to revisit your notes and observations when it’s review time. Conversely, having a way to digitally document and store historical employee day-to-day performance data will enable you to draw upon more detailed, accurate information — and therefore result in more unbiased reviews.
With Lattice’s 1:1 tool, managers can share feedback; track points of discussion; and note project progress, employee contributions, and more. This will make it a lot easier when it’s time for performance reviews — managers can easily search past meetings to reference feedback they’ve previously shared with their direct reports, review previous employee updates, and more to help shape their reviews.
5. Leverage 360-degree feedback.
Having only one person have the final say in an employee’s performance rating can not only lead to a biased review, but it can also keep that employee from receiving valuable feedback that can help them grow professionally and personally. One of the easiest ways to reduce bias and create a more equitable review process is by conducting 360-degree reviews, or performance reviews made up of self, peer, and manager assessments. This can be especially helpful for hybrid managers who might not work closely with their direct reports. It will allow them to incorporate feedback and ratings from a peer who is familiar with the employee’s day-to-day efforts and give a more holistic review as a result.
In fact, technology research and consulting company Gartner found that when an employee is reviewed by peers who perform similar work and have interrelated goals, there is a 3.5% increase in the utility of the performance management process and a 14% increase in employee performance. However, despite these findings, a Gartner survey revealed that only 17% of respondents were evaluated by their teams — with 99% saying that their performance was evaluated by their direct managers.
To help your managers give more balanced and fair reviews of their hybrid teams, consider introducing 360-degree reviews at your company. Managers can present a more complete picture of employee performance by collecting and sharing team input in performance conversations. That way, employees can hear from the very people they work closely with every day and learn how to be a better colleague and teammate. Not to mention it gives managers an opportunity to recognize inconsistencies between an employee’s self-evaluation, team input, and their own managerial assessment, so they can identify bias or pinpoint where expectations are not being met.
6. Don’t compare employees.
Lastly, remember that each of your employees is unique. Their roles, responsibilities, skillsets, strengths, and weaknesses are all different so it’s impossible to compare your workers to one another. While this can be particularly tempting, especially when you get so much more face-time and visibility into an in-office employee’s day-to-day work than that of a remote or hybrid employee, it’s crucial to steer clear of this pitfall.
“Avoid the in-office and remote worker comparison conversation,” stressed Sharon Terera, PhD, an HR consultant currently working for AfroLovely, an online blog dedicated to natural hair. “Focus on individual work performance, not their work settings. Such conversations have a way of inducing conflict between office workers and remote workers and this is not good for hybrid work environments.”
Evaluating employees based on their own past performance can keep unhealthy competition and resentment from growing within your team and ensure that all your employees find your reviews fair — regardless of whether they work an in-office, at home, or on a hybrid schedule.
That said, when reviewing a remote employee, be sure to only include factors that the individual can control. “For example, glitchy Internet might be something that’s worth addressing with an employee at some point, but shouldn’t count against them in a review since the quality of the Internet in their area may not be something they can control,” noted the LifeLabs Learning team. “Similarly, someone who is able to come into the office when coming in is optional shouldn’t be rewarded more than an employee who may not be able to come in because of health or family circumstances.”
To avoid the untrue, inaccurate bias that in-office work is somehow better, instruct managers to reflect on the feedback they’re going to be sharing with their team members and make sure it’s something employees actually have the power to improve, rather than factors they have no control over.
With companies continuing to have employees work remotely — and many firms planning to maintain at least some hybrid component into the foreseeable future — it’s important to invest in building an exceptional employee experience for every worker, and performance reviews are a great place to start. Creating fair and just performance reviews helps ensure that all employees have an equal opportunity to earn promotions and raises based on their skills and contributions, not the amount of face-time they’re able to have with management.
After all, for a company to reach and surpass its goals, it needs to set up all of its employees for success, and make sure that they feel valued and appreciated in the process. That’s why building fair performance reviews is a powerful step in creating a more equitable and engaging workplace for hybrid employees.