By Joe Issid
Employee evaluation has been a contentious topic for as long as the workplace has existed. Even under the best of conditions, evaluating the performance of an employee is a very subjective and complex endeavour. How does one best quantify the contribution that an individual makes to a collective? How does one accurately identify the qualities that allow an employee to succeed? To add a further wrinkle, modern businesses are rapidly introducing a new element that is making these processes even more difficult: remote workers.
At a glance, it can seem almost impossible to stay on top of what your remote employees are doing on a day-to-day basis. Without regular visual and verbal contact, a large disconnect can grow between team members. Naturally, this begs the question: are there any fundamental performance management strategies that can be employed to ensure the success of a virtual team while, concurrently, promoting the continued growth and success of the individual?
Many of us have had jobs that required us to show up and leave at fixed hours. Many businesses still revolve around these principles. And many of these said businesses still factor punctuality and attendance as part of their employee evaluation programs. But what happens when you have a virtual team and you cannot monitor their physical presence? This is a fundamental concern that many businesses cite when discussing their policies on remote workers. If you are part of enterprise that is looking to employ a virtual staff, you need to ensure that you establish a clear set of evaluation matrices before making that decision.
Establish the rules
Managing a virtual team can appear to be, on the surface, less taxing than being physically surrounded by said staff. However, ensuring the success of the team can involve a greater amount of effort and organisation. Before casting your team out into the ether, there is no factor more critical than establishing clear expectations. Without the luxury of daily (even hourly) interactions, keeping your team motivated and performing well is a challenge. To do so requires an upfront and agreed upon set of requirements, objectives and expectations and clear instructions on how each is to be measured and evaluated. Naturally, these expectations need to be determined specifically for the needs and specific circumstances of the team.
Physical proximity allows for anecdotal employee evaluation. As an office manager, it is often clear when an employee is struggling on a project and requires assistance. Much can be determined by body language, tone and overall presence (not to mention ad hoc conversations). In a virtual office, this is a lot more difficult to determine. As such, it is a good idea to schedule frequent – albeit informal – checks with your staff to monitor their progress, motivation and overall satisfaction. While this can be a fairly time-consuming task, the value can be tremendous.
At a former job, one of my performance objectives was to ensure that I completed a weekly timesheet. And regular completion of this task was rewarded. Not only was this task fairly time-consuming, it was often inaccurate and provided little value for both the manager and the employee. Additionally, this task undermined the trust that we felt from management and decreased our overall motivation to work. As a small business owner, I employ remote employees and, admittedly, frequently feel the urge to request that my staff justify the time that they spend working on our projects. But I am able to resist this urge as it does not, ultimately, offer me any additional insight or output. Instead, I have established a set of easily measurable deliverables and have clearly communicated them to my staff. As long as these criteria are being met and my business goals are achieved, I am happy.
Managing remote staff certainly has its challenges. Adopting a more open and communicative approach is essential to the evolution of the remote workplace. If you are able to determine the circumstances under which your virtual workers will operate and what they are expected to deliver, you will be in a good position to evaluate their performance.