Working Remotely: Evaluating Employee Performance

by rocketmatter-admin May 15, 2014

This series on “Working Remotely” is inspired by “Remote,” the book by the 37Signals guys, and by my own experience working remotely for many years.
How do you evaluate employees you don’t see or talk to every day? How do remote employees get on the radar of those responsible for evaluating their performance?
The short answer to both questions is the remote employee’s work product. And, this is where remotes are at a disadvantage. No one sees when you arrive early or leave late (though the shift to focusing on what and how work is being done instead of face time, and devoid of office politics, can be a positive if exercised company-wide).
But, should performance evaluations of remote workers be based solely on results? What about behavior? More on behavioral standards later in the post.
Also, intangibles such as under-the-radar mentoring, and helping out on myriad little projects that don’t show up on tasks checklists – all of which would be duly noted in an office setting – are usually missed during the evaluation process.
Another disadvantage during review time is the missed opportunity to add to the company’s culture. If you have a personality that is nurturing, patient, and encouraging, it largely becomes a non-factor when working in your own little corner away from colleagues that you rarely see. Or, you may be an energetic, engaging, extrovert, who’s all about planning or participating in team building activities in and out of the office. That light is hidden under a bushel for remote workers.
So, how the heck does one evaluate the performance of a remote employee?

How the employee can help

Be prepared: Highlight the daily grind as well as major accomplishments – Remember that remote workers are evaluated almost exclusively on the work they produce. For many, that means keeping the wheels greased and the ball moving forward. This grinding, non-sexy, but necessary, work can easily be missed during evaluation time. Keep a list of recurring and other activities that may seem mundane. Don’t assume that your employer knows about them. If they are, great. If not, it’s good to be prepared.
Highlight your major achievements. This is a no-brainer. When you start cataloging them, you’ll be surprised at how much you accomplished. Keep a running tab in an Evernote folder during the year so you don’t miss anything.
As the Remote guys note, the problem with passionate remote workers is trying to do too much and getting burnt out:

“A manager’s natural instinct is to worry about his workers not getting enough work done, but the real threat is that too much will likely get done…That’s the great irony of letting passionate people work from home.”

Keep tabs on your time – A lawyer records everything she does for a client in 6-minute increments. She also records administrative functions that don’t get billed, but is necessary for evaluating how time is spent. Do the same, though not necessarily accounting for every 6 minute increment of your time. A practice management system can help.
When recording your time, don’t hesitate to acknowledge that some processes and tasks take more time than you’d like or is expected. A good manager will recognize the outstanding quality of your work because of it. Though, you should be ready for the inevitable “why are you taking so long to do this?” question. It’s worth a discussion if it results in ways to speed up the process without sacrificing quality.

How the employer can help

Set clear goals, objective, and expectations – It all starts here. This is true for all workers, but especially important for remotes. There’s no way to acknowledge or measure success if there were no goals to begin with. This is not a static set-and-go policy. Goals and objectives must be evaluated and massaged throughout the year to make certain that expectations can realistically be met.
Behavioral standards – Managers should come up with a set of behavioral standards such as reliability, trust, time management, accessibility, and so on. Laying out these standards will help to establish expectations and provide another benchmark besides work results for performance evaluation.
Create a safe space for speaking candidly – Again, this is true for all workers, but remotes don’t get the day-to-day face time and serendipitous engagements that result in trustworthy relationships. They should feel safe to speak candidly about the work and process, particularly during review time. Managers should welcome employee suggestions about how to craft and conduct better performance reviews and benchmarks.
Very little of what we’ve discussed is possible without creating a company culture that understands and supports remote workers. We’ll cover this in detail in the next post. Some companies offer one-off opportunities to work remotely to accommodate talent shortage locally, cost, or other factors. These remote workers will face more challenges since the company will probably not be invested in creating a nurturing environment for a practice they’re not fully committed to or invested in. But for those that are, here’s a good example from none other than 37signals whose entire workforce is remote:

“What a manager needs to establish is a culture of reasonable expectations. At 37signals, we expect and encourage people to work forty hours per week on average. There are no hero awards for putting in more than that…One way to help set a healthy boundary is to encourage employees to think of a “good day’s work.” Look at your progress toward the end of the day and ask yourself: “Have I done a good day’s work?””

Answering that question can be liberating and satisfying.
Specific evaluation processes, along with goals and objectives, will vary depending on the industry and type of work being done, but the principles remain, though always a work-in-progress. I’d love to hear from remote workers and employers about how they handle the evaluation process. Is face time – or management by observation, as it’s sometimes called – still important as results? If so, how does that apply to remotes? Should behavioral standards be a factor in performance evaluation for remote workers? How is that measured? Other factors? Please add your comments below.
POSTS IN THE SERIES:
Working Remotely: The Many Benefits
Traits of an Effective Telecommuter
How to Manage Work-at-Home Employees
A Productive Home Office
Managing Solitude
Communication and collaboration
Managing Distractions
Managing Time, Boundaries, and Balance
Evaluating Employee Performance
Company Culture Beyond the Office Walls
How Lee Rosen Moved His Law Firm to an All-Remote Workforce
Working Remotely: Have Computer, Will Travel

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