5 Tips for Conducting Performance Reviews Remotely

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5 Tips for Conducting Performance Reviews Remotely

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The nature of the workforce is continuing to change rapidly. Company leaders are moving faster, pivoting more often, and building a more distributed workforce. 63% of companies now have remote employees, in fact.

Annual performance reviews have some catching up to do.

Annual reviews still cater to corporate companies. Those companies operate with in-office employees, a clear hierarchy, and static goals. Most growing companies don’t operate this way anymore. Employees have noticed the discrepancy — only 14% of employees strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve.

To be clear: Reviews aren’t obsolete.

In fact, reviews are critical for keeping a distributed team grounded and engaged. Employees who strongly agree that their manager holds them accountable for their performance goals are 2.5X more likely to be engaged. Reviews are also a key component in an employee’s ongoing learning and development.

Here are five ways to conduct performance reviews for your distributed team.

First, a note on performance reviews

Here at Hone, we believe learning and development is an ongoing journey. But only 30% of employees strongly agree there’s someone at work who encourages their development.

Look at your performance reviews as a way to encourage ongoing growth. Reviews are a chance to look back and reflect — they’re also a chance to steer the future.

To encourage growth, your reviews should focus on the employee’s:

  • Achievements
  • Learnings
  • Development
  • Feedback from teammates
  • Feedback from you
  • Self-reflected feedback from the employee

Your reviews shouldn’t focus on:

  • Rumors
  • Perceptions
  • Who the employee is as a person
  • Unsubstantiated negative feedback. Always have an example.

How to conduct annual reviews on a distributed team

Set expectations ahead of time

Annual reviews are scary. Employees may feel unsure of their performance and nervous about discussing it with you. Conducting a review over video may feel even more nerve wracking than doing it in person.

Ease employees’ nerves by setting expectations ahead of time. Over-communication is key for a distributed team.

  • A month ahead — Walk your team through the review process. Make time for Q&A.
  • A few days ahead — Send each employee an agenda
  • In the first five minutes — Walk through the agenda. Explain your intention: To review the employee’s achievements and discuss how she can continue to develop.

Focus on achievements

Remote teams can move away from outdated concepts of what a ‘good employee’ looks like. Hours worked, time at desk, business casual dress — these are no longer viewed as direct indicators of performance.

Automattic, a remote company, has embraced this shift in its reviews. “As Automattic we focus on what you create, not whether you live up to some ideal of the ‘good employee,” said CEO Matt Mullenweg. The key, Mullenweg says, is to give employees a clear goal outside of hours spent working.

Those goals could be blog posts written for a content marketer, employees hired for a recruiter, or commits made for a developer.

Discuss learning and development

Reviews should do more than discuss past achievements this year. They should look towards the future.

The best way to do this? Ask your employee. Here are some questions to ask. Send these ahead of time so employees can prepare their answers.

  • What are you most proud of having learned this year?
  • How can we continue building on what you’ve learned this year?
  • Are there more areas you’d like to develop next year? What are they?
  • To achieve [employee’s goal], you should develop [related skill set]. Thoughts on how we can do this?

Brainstorm with your employee. What should learning and development look like on your remote team? Consider e-learning platforms like Hone that cater to distributed teams.

Conduct a 360 review

Working remotely can be isolating.

Employees may struggle to gauge their performance without in-person indicators and context. When working in the same office, for example, employees can ask for casual feedback with a peer over coffee.

That peer input has incredible impact. People with a “best friend” at work are 7 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs.

Don’t just give your feedback in the annual review. Pull feedback from your team too.

Phil Haack is an engineering manager at Github, a remote company. When preparing for reviews, he asks each employee to recommend 3-5 peers they’d like feedback from. He then asks those peers for 3 types of feedback (all optional):

  1. What the employee should start doing
  2. What the employee should stop doing
  3. What the employee should continue doing

As a result, employees will better understand how they fit within the team and within their peers.

Make it more often than annual

Ongoing feedback is important for any employee. It’s critical for distributed teams. Because remote work can be isolating, employees may be out of touch with how they’re performing.

As a leader, you need to over-communicate what’s working and what’s not. Make sure your 1:1s always include casual feedback loops — give feedback to your employee, but also ask for feedback on yourself.

Using great tools helps ensure regular, open conversation. Turn to video conferencing tools like Zoom or Skype for business to make calls more personable.


As a team leader, conducting annual reviews go a long way towards keeping employees engaged and motivated.

On a distributed team, the impact of a well-conducted review is even higher. Shift your approach to adapt to your team make-up, and you’ll see the results.

To learn more about remote management, join us on December 11th for our webinar on Developing and Engaging Distributed Teams with executives and HR leaders from InVision, Dashlane, CultureIQ. Click here to register.

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