Virtual teams: a preview of how your new annual review should look

Just over the past 10 years or so, people have witnessed traditional brick-and-mortar companies test out and adopt virtual modes of getting the job done, just as they’ve seen startups and brand-new businesses begin at the outset with an offsite model – some never having a central office or satellite locations.

Employers have made great strides and are setting the tone for a workforce whose members are apt to work from home, a coffee shop or a co-working space.

But organisations largely have some catching up to do when it comes to instituting talent management and feedback loops conducive to this paradigm. Some might say that the cart has been put before the horse, leading us to a quandary so many companies face today: Managers and supervisors may lead distributed, off-site teams, yet they are still evaluating performance according to an in-office, conventional model.

In general, our performance management processes haven’t caught up with the real ways so many businesses, people leaders and professionals operate in an agile work world that is not location dependent.

At eaHELP, the national virtual assistance company, all corporate staff and virtual assistants work from home.

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This is because the company started out as a remote organisation, the offsite model has been truly organic. The business has learned through a combination of experience, trial and error, and, yes, some emerging industry practices.

Still, many acknowledge that neither this company nor some others have perfected the management and development of remote teams. Most are learning as they go.

That’s why eaHELP has not completely eliminated longstanding ways of assessing employee performance, like annual reviews. (Instead, the company times yearly evaluations with each employee’s anniversary date.)

On the other hand,  some adjustments and refinements have been designed to address the unique considerations of a remote workforce.

These strategies have been effective in managing, inspiring and supporting those colleagues and team members who may never meet in person or who do not see each other every day.

Talk more routinely

Managers would be advised to set a recurring meeting for one-on-one conversations with each staff member.

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The frequency may be affected by people’s availability, project demands and other needs, but these chats should take place routinely – be it bi-weekly, monthly or every couple of months. Having intentional, deliberate chats with team members about their individual performance, contributions and development builds in other benefits, too.

These include strengthening mutual rapport, creating a stronger sense of trust and community, and reinforcing employee commitment, which is essential for engagement and retention.

Be prepared

Managers should not haphazardly have performance-oriented check-ins with team members without context.

Supervisors can pull notes from their own personnel files to refresh their memories, so they can cite specific examples when it’s time to give praise as well as particular problems when it’s time to coach through an issue. It conveys care and intention for the employee, while also creating a baseline of reference points.

Use technology

When supervisors and team members are in different locations, it can be tempting to just pick up the phone to conduct check-ins. But they shouldn’t.

Instead, encourage them to leverage webcams and video technology, whatever platform of choice. When both sides can see each other, communication is more focused, clear and effective. Viewing facial expressions and body language sometimes says more than words ever could.

Have a plan

Virtual or remote workgroups sometimes fall into a common dilemma – getting too casual with each other.

So managers should avoid improvising scheduled one-on-ones; instead, they should create a roadmap for the planned dialogue, a loose agenda of sorts with room for relevant sidebars or tangents that may arise.

Setting intention will help staff members come prepared with questions they may have as well as meaningful responses to constructive critiques.

Be co-stars

Discussions among managers and staff about performance don’t have to be one-way streets. Leaders can share the stage by allowing employees to begin.

They can ask if the employee has any questions. Then, as the chat progresses, team leads can strike a chord with inquiries that demonstrate their investment in members’ personal and professional experience.

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For example, mangers may ask questions like, “How are you? What are your wins? What are you struggling with? How can I help you?”


The more frequently supervisors have one-on-ones with team members, the more likely these meetings risk becoming increasingly easygoing over time.

Managers can build in accountability and keep matters in perspective by following a few practices: 1) Provide a verbal summary as part of the wrap-up process, which ensures clarity on any next steps. 2) Take notes during and after the talk. Write down important takeaways, including employee milestones, accomplishments, developmental needs or performance gaps.

This helps to develop an accurate accounting of an employee’s total performance over a sustained period of time, rather than just for the prior few weeks or recent months.

Address and act on issues

If a routine employee check-in reveals a matter of significance, managers must act immediately. They shouldn’t wait until the next scheduled meeting to recall or be reminded of what could become a pressure-cooker problem.

Lines of communication and progress must be kept open, so that employees remain accessible, connected and involved in tackling any thorny workplace concerns.

There are few signs that our workplaces will go back to the format in which many of us came of age, so companies must adapt. Part of getting up to speed with where technology is and where modes of work are going is to reorient the way performance is assessed and tracked.

The employee evaluation probably shouldn’t go away entirely – that might be shortsighted and premature – but leaders would be myopic, too, not to shift how they appraise team members. If they tweak well-established processes, and commit to using technologies and tools for mutual benefit, these hurdles may be crossed without missing a beat.


Sourced by Tricia Sciortino, president, eaHELP

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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