Reviewing remote managers

Aug 28 2014 by Wayne Turmel Print This Article

Ahhh , fall. The happy squeal of kids going back to school and leaves crunching underfoot. If you listen closely, you’ll also hear something else: the banshee wail of people waiting to do their performance reviews.

This isn’t another screed about how you can do performance reviews better. Nor is it about how, if you coach properly throughout the year and have clear objectives, they shouldn’t be a big deal. It’s actually about what performance you should be reviewing. Specifically, how remote team leaders should be evaluated differently than leaders of traditional, co-located teams.

In many ways they shouldn’t be evaluated any differently. After all, what we expect from leaders is the same whether they’re in the same room, time zone or solar system. Work needs to get done, objectives reached, sales made.

While exceptional leadership is often one of those “know it when you see it” things, leading remotely does take some skills that people may not inherently exhibit. These are the skills you want to nurture, develop and grow in your people.

While “communication skills” is a common section of any performance review, the things it looks for are often too vague to be much use. In remote teams, you have all the usual challenges of leadership (creating a common vision, accurately creating context inside the company, communicating policy without inciting mutiny) but there’s one important difference that not enough organizations pat attention to: the use of technology.

It’s stunning to think that over 80% of managers claim the use of tools like Lync, WebEx, Yammer and other collaboration tools are critical to their success, yet fewer than 10% say they’re confident they use them well. Since “what is expected is what is inspected”, doesn’t it make sense that the proper use of technology would be an expectation of the job, and subject to annual review? Yet few companies have that skill explicitly listed.

This is not a casual thing to measure. It speaks to return on investment in IT, and often is a direct factor in turnover, engagement and team productivity results.

The other thing you should be measuring is…. Whatever is important to you. This sounds obvious but it’s amazing how often people are held responsible for things they have no control over, and let slide on things they can be addressing. Turnover, for example, is higher among remote teams than co-located workers.

Often the reasons can be traced to how well the leader is checking in and taking the pulse of people before small irritations create big problems. Is the method and frequency of those conversations and meetings something you’re measuring?

If using technology (and using it effectively) is a core component of the job, is it part of the performance review? If not, why not?

While the differences between managing remotely and co-locating are few, they are significant. The things your company measures and the necessary skills they help develop should reflect that reality.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

For almost 30 years, Wayne Turmel has been obsessed with how people communicate - or don't - at work. He has spent the last 20 years focused on remote and virtual work, recognized as one of the top 40 Remote Work Experts in the world. Besides writing for Management Issues, he has authored or co-authored 15 books, including The Long-Distance Leader and The Long-Distance Teammate. He is the lead Remote and Hybrid Work subject matter expert for the The Kevin Eikenberry Group. Originally from Canada, he now makes his home in Las Vegas, US.