The pandemic has forced leaders to recognize the need for effective hybrid and remote team management strategies for the future of work. The old style of performance evaluation, quarterly or annual reviews that relied to a great extent on presence in the office, will no longer apply.
That will be a relief to those who endorse evidence-based business practices and a boost to employee productivity, retention, and engagement. Research has shown (1, 2, 3, 4) the benefits of moving away from large-scale quarterly or annual performance reviews. Instead, systematic, frequent, and brief reviews focused on task performance, effective feedback and coaching, and guidance in wise decision-making, will replace it in organizations that want to survive and thrive in the post-COVID world.
Successful leaders, therefore, need to benchmark to best practices on managing hybrid and fully-remote teams after the pandemic. The best practices described here stem from extensive research; they also come from interviews with 61 leaders at 12 organizations I helped guide in developing and implementing their strategy for returning to the office and their post-pandemic mode of collaboration.
Hybrid Is Our Future
Hybrid and, to a lesser extent, fully-remote work will be the norm post-pandemic. Of course, that applies to the large majority of employees whose roles allow them to do at least tasks remotely. During the pandemic, surveys show (1, 2) two-thirds of all US workers worked remotely some of the time, and over a half full-time.
With the pandemic winding down, two-thirds to three-quarters of surveyed employers intend to have a mainly-hybrid schedule after the pandemic ends. Plenty of large companies announced a switch to a permanent hybrid model of two to four days of remote work after the pandemic. They include Citigroup, Ford, Microsoft, Siemens, Salesforce, Target, and many others.
A smaller but still sizable number of big companies – ranging from insurance giant Nationwide to tech firm Facebook to major drugmaker Novartis – decided to let many or all of their currently-remote employees work from home permanently.
That combination of hybrid and fully-remote work largely matches worker desires. A set of high-quality surveys (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) show that two-thirds of all employees want a hybrid schedule permanently after the pandemic. A quarter of all employees want a fully-remote schedule. The latter desire is likely to be accommodated. Many of the companies that announced a primarily-hybrid model indicated they are willing to let a substantial minority of their workforce work full-time remotely.
We can thus anticipate that the large majority of the two-thirds of all employees who can do their tasks remotely will, on the whole, work most of their hours at home. But how will their performance be measured?
Performance Evaluations in Remote Team Management
Too many managers and companies still rely on “time in the office” as a primary measure of evaluating performance. That transformed into “time logged on” during the pandemic’s remote work.
Such a focus led to a race to the bottom of employees logging in more time, including after hours. Doing so not only compromises work/life balance and mental health. It also fails to measure what truly matters in employee performance: how much they contribute to the company’s bottom line.
As survey responses show, many employees feel concerned about the possibility that working remotely might undermine their career growth. Top leaders also feel some concerns about this potential problem. A focus on contribution to the company in performance evaluation, combined with regularly scheduled evaluations, will allay such concerns.
Move your employee performance evaluation system away from relying on time worked. Instead, focus on employee productivity. On the one hand, that involves their performance on individual tasks. On the other, that involves their contribution to collaborative projects. The latter will mostly be in their own team, but also in temporary cross-functional project teams and ad-hoc committees.
The companies I helped guide transitioned to regular, usually weekly or at least every 2 weeks, performance evaluations of team members by team leaders. Some also added an occasional 360-degree evaluation component by one’s teammates and other stakeholders once every month or couple of months.
The weekly performance evaluation takes place during brief check-in and review meetings of 15-30 minutes of each team member with their team leader. These should be in-person for hybrid workers and virtual for fully remote workers. 24 hours before each meeting, the employee submits a concise report, containing:
- Their top three accomplishments – whether individual or collaborative – for the past week, and any other relevant accomplishments, compared to what they planned to accomplish
- Any challenges, anticipated or unanticipated, that they experienced in achieving their goals for the week
- How they addressed these challenges and/or how they plan to address these challenges going forward
- Their efforts to improve their professional development against goals that the employee agreed to with the team leader on their quarterly review
- A numerical self-evaluation of their performance for the week on all of these areas, typically on a range of 0 to 4 (0 = greatly below expectation, 1 = somewhat below expectations, 2 = meeting expectations, 3 = somewhat exceeding expectations, 4 = greatly exceeding expectations)
- Their plans for next week’s top three accomplishments, addressing challenges, professional growth, and any other relevant plans for next week
The supervisor then responds to the report in writing at least two hours before the meeting. That involves:
- Comparing and assessing the accomplishments for this week against the plan from the prior week
- Evaluating how the team member addressed any challenges remaining from the past week, as well as new ones arising this week
- Assessing their professional growth against previously-set goals for the quarter
- Approving or suggesting revisions to the employee’s plans for next week
- Either approves the employee’s self-evaluation or suggests they discuss it at the weekly meeting
During the check-in meeting, the team leader and member discuss anything that needs to be clarified from the report. The leader coaches the employee as needed on improving their ability to accomplish weekly goals, address challenges, make the best decisions, cultivate relationships effectively, and grow professionally. The supervisor also addresses any issues surrounding the self-evaluation, revising it up or down. They explain their reasoning, give the employee a chance to respond, and then the supervisor makes the final call.
This rating is important, as it gets fed into the team member’s quarterly performance report. The report is largely determined by the weekly evaluations, which make up anywhere from 60-80% of the employee’s final score for the quarter. If you have team evaluations, they should make up about 20%. The supervisor also gives an overall score for the quarter, which makes up the remaining 20%.
With this task-based performance evaluation system, each employee knows, very clearly, how they’re doing at all times. They know what they need to do to improve, both in their tasks and in their professional growth. Problems can be caught and addressed early, rather than blindsiding team members in their quarterly review. This system minimizes concerns about career growth via proximity to supervisors by team members who come to the office a couple of days per week vs. those working remotely. You’ll want to evaluate how well this system functions for your context over time, and adapt it to your needs.
Major corporations and leaders have realized that pre-pandemic in-office practices cannot be transposed on hybrid and remote teams. Performance evaluations are a key indicator of any office’s productivity levels. However, the old style of performance evaluation simply doesn’t work in hybrid and remote team management. To address this issue, leaders need to adopt research based best practices for performance reviews to ensure employee productivity remains high for all hybrid or full-time remote working employees.
Leaders need to reevaluate their old methods of conducting performance reviews. Remote team management calls for the adoption of innovative best practices to be able to gain maximum productivity from remote and hybrid working employees.
Questions to Consider (please share your answers below)
What innovations have you recently adopted to bolster hybrid and remote workers’ productivity?
How have you conducted performance evaluations for employees working remotely during the pandemic?
How do you plan to facilitate remote team management based on this article?
Image credit: Matthew Henry
Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is a world-renowned thought leader in future-proofing, decision making, and cognitive bias risk management. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which specializes in helping forward-looking leaders avoid dangerous threats and missed opportunities. A best-selling author, he wrote Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019), The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (New Harbinger, 2020), and Returning to the Office and Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, and other languages. He was featured in over 550 articles and 450 interviews in prominent venues. These include Fortune, USA Today, Inc. Magazine, CBS News, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Time, Fast Company, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for mid-size and large organizations ranging from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, including 7 as a professor at Ohio State University. You can contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, LinkedIn, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, and gain free access to his “Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace” and his “Wise Decision Maker Course” with 8 video-based modules.