How COVID-19 should impact performance reviews

When a team is remote, it can be harder to accurately measure activity and results. But that doesn’t mean regular feedback is less important.

How COVID-19 should impact performance reviews
[Source image: janjf93/Pixabay]

Whether it’s in a formal review or a simple weekly or monthly check-in with their manager, employees want more feedback on their performance. According to a Joblist study, nearly 60% of employees said getting feedback on a regular basis is very motivating. When a team is remote, however, it can be harder to accurately measure activity and results. Should performance reviews be put on hold during COVID-19?


No. In fact, they’re more important now than ever, says Rhiannon Staples, chief marketing officer for Hibob, an HR management platform. “A lot of employees are missing real-time feedback,” she says. “A lack of immediate access to a manager increases the need for organizations to put these types of mechanics in place to force them to happen versus organically.”

The performance evaluation process secures the idea that the business is healthy and cares about the future of its employees, says Debora Roland, vice president of human resources at the hiring and outplacement services provider CareerArc. “People need assurances, and with so many people being laid off, it’s a bit of a scary world right now,” she says. “Performance reviews are a great time to take a deep breath, see where you’ve been, and assess where you’re going. People who still have jobs are likely working really hard and that should be acknowledged in a formal way.”

Pre-COVID-19 assessments were easier to deliver because many times teams were in the same workplace. But interactions aren’t as visible when they’re done over Slack or email, says Staples. As a result, leaders must take a more intentional approach to gather information and connect with employees.

Collect perspectives

To get a 360-degree review, managers will actively need to solicit feedback, and peer perspectives can be helpful during a performance review, says Blakeley Hartfelder, research director for Gartner for HR, which provides talent supply and demand data.

“There is a 3.5% increase in performance management utility—usefulness—when employees are evaluated by peers with interconnected work and shared goals,” she says, adding that 99% of respondents to a 2019 Gartner survey said that direct managers evaluate employee performance but just 17% said they are evaluated by their teams.

“If a manager wasn’t soliciting feedback from other members of the team, they need to start now,” says Staples. “As a manager, think how an employee engages laterally and vertically, and reach out to those people to get feedback on where the person has strengths and where they have areas for improvement.”


While you shouldn’t deviate from your company’s core measures of performance, you may also want to collect information on an employee’s ability to work remotely, says Paul Glatzhofer, vice president of talent solutions at career development provider PSI Services.

“We need to ensure that employees are being effective and efficient,” he says. “Questions around working remotely should be included in the performance measurements as a way to give feedback and improve.”

For example, Glatzhofer suggests asking questions such as these: Has the employee been effective at communicating while working remotely? Have they been responsive when they are needed? Have you seen a performance increase or decrease since moving to remote work?

Get face-to-face

Performance reviews are usually done in person. Since that’s probably not possible right now, make sure the meeting is at least done over video. “This allows the manager and the employee to observe visual cues on how the conversation is going and to make adjustments where needed,” says Roland. “Using a phone or having just audio signals is handicapping the process for both parties. The full process of performance reviews should be somewhat intimate and special. It is a real time of focus, growth, and appreciation for all involved.”

Also, agree on a time of day when the employee can focus and you will have their full attention, adds Staples. “A lot of employees are balancing eldercare and childcare with the workday,” she says. “Agree with the employee that they need availability to fully focus.”

Approach the review with empathy

When gathering feedback, keep context in mind, says Hartfelder. “If an employee has faced extenuating circumstances outside of work, such as a family member with COVID, how does that factor in?” she asks. “If an employee has been asked to work remotely but can’t do their full job remotely, that should be factored in. Ideally, managers and employees should have these conversations about context and its impact on expectations before a performance evaluation so that the evaluation is based on the most updated expectations.”


During the review, show compassion when discussing areas that could use improvement, says Tim Hubbard, assistant professor of management at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

“It’s important to remember—and set the expectation—that this performance review cycle is unusual and does not set a precedent,” he says. “Compassion and empathy are going to be important factors that don’t come up as often as one would hope in reviews.”

For example, some employees are taking care of children at home, suffering stress and anxiety, and are less productive remotely, says Hubbard. “[Managers] must recognize that not everyone is in the same situation,” he says. “Be compassionate in the review; employees will appreciate it and may become more engaged with the organization.”

But make sure it doesn’t backfire

During this crisis, nearly all of us are operating under some level of added stress or even duress, says Tamra Chandler, partner and principal at the professional services firm EY. “When we humans are in a state of stress, we don’t behave or react as we normally would,” she says. “Traditional performance management that is likely to disengage your people in normal times will likely do far worse harm today.”

If your organization is conducting traditional performance reviews, as in setting annual goals and common once- or twice-a-year sit-downs, you may need to rethink the goal of your performance review. Before you get too carried away with performance measurement, ask yourself: Measurement for what purpose?

“Measurements are often intended to inform our approach to pay increases, promotions, and other talent actions. Are these actions still on the table?” says Chandler “If so, what do we need to know to make trusted decisions today? It’s quite likely that the priorities and needs have changed, so the relevance of annual goals, set pre-COVID, is questionable. What everyone needs now is connection and clarity.”