A remote manager’s guide to managing performance
April 26, 2024
min read

A remote manager’s guide to managing performance

Boni Hock from Camunda
Boni Hock from Camunda

Managing performance is undoubtedly one of the key tasks of every people manager. When done right, the rewards are numerous: Effective performance feedback accelerates both the organization’s and the employee’s growth, increases employee engagement, allows for the development of skills and contributes to continuous improvement across the company, both on a personal and on an organizational level.

If there’s so much to gain from managing performance - why do many leaders struggle with this fundamental task then, especially in remote work environments?

Why performance management can be hard

Let’s face it: Giving performance feedback is not everybody’s favorite task. While many people managers are comfortable enough with praising good results, addressing negative situations can call forth all kinds of emotions like stress, anxiety or avoidance.

These feelings can be amplified by working in a remote setting: It takes more effort to oversee and recognize the achievements of individuals in distributed teams, interpersonal tensions are not always as obvious as when sitting in the same office and interpreting asynchronous communication comes with a different set of challenges in comparison to face to face dialogue.

Managing performance remotely shares many characteristics with traditional feedback, but it also incorporates elements that are particularly relevant to remote work environments.

Features of effective remote feedback

Most people managers are familiar with the basics of traditional performance reviews like timelines, clarity and providing context to understand the feedback better. When managing remotely, taking the following additional aspects into account will level up your feedback noticeably:

Meaningful use of technology

Make the most of the technology that you have available. When setting expectations, drafting goals or addressing (good or bad) results, share your screen as you e.g. refer to metrics that have (or not) been hit, pull up your goal/OKR/metrics systems or go over a relevant Slack message or email in real time while looking at the same screen. It will greatly contribute to a shared understanding of the situation.

Being present

Remote meetings typically don’t happen in pre-booked meeting rooms with tidy desks anymore, but often in the comfort of your own home, which can include messy desks, 20 open tabs on each device and numerous notifications on Slack and social media. In effective feedback conversations, these are all turned off and you focus 100% on the person on the other side of the screen. Mute apps, close the door behind you if possible and turn on your camera so the other person can see that you are looking at them.

Virtual empathy

Emotions are part of the remote workplace too. If your team member looks upset or starts crying - don’t pretend it didn’t happen just because you are in another time zone, but acknowledge these feelings and show empathy. Offer a short break to the person or encourage them for example to get something to drink and continue the conversation once emotions have leveled again.


Symptoms of poor remote performance management

Similar to effective feedback, poor performance management practices share characteristics in on-site and remote workplaces. Watch out for and avoid these behaviors when managing a performance concern in a remote organization:

Relying on asynchronous communication alone

When overseeing a remote, distributed team, synchronous meetings are a scarce resource that should be used in a mindful way, which can lure leaders into thinking that e.g. a message with links to the respective dashboard is enough to deliver feedback on poor figures at the end of the quarter. That being said, addressing performance concerns should be worth a manager’s time to ensure that the message is being received as intended. Schedule meetings on purpose when asynchronous collaboration has been exhausted.

Lack of clear documentation

Without transparent documentation of the takeaways and action points, even the best call or video meeting can end up being meaningless, especially when discussing performance concerns. Never end a call without summarizing your key message (i.e. you being concerned about the individuals performance), the improvements you need to see by a certain time (e.g. improved metrics, different behavior) and highlighting the urgency - don’t sugarcoat that the inability to improve might impact somebody’s ability to do a certain job successfully.

Underestimating the importance of trust

Observing performance concerns can easily lead to micromanaging the respective employee, where you end up pinging them repeatedly for status updates or spend unreasonable time in reporting tools. This will not only impact your own productivity as well, but creates pressure when ignoring time zone differences or personal working hours. Demonstrate trust in your remote employees and grant them autonomy and ownership even when you have to address negative feedback - this will give them the opportunity to improve and demonstrate receptiveness to feedback.


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