Remote Performance Reviews: Challenges & Recommendations

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Lachlan de Crespigny
Lachlan de Crespigny
Co-founder and Co-CEO

Table of Contents

Remote performance reviews of software developers can be difficult for both the interviewer and the employee. Here's how it's done right.
Published on
August 10, 2021
Updated on
April 11, 2024

Performance reviews are essential to your company’s success. They’re an opportunity to reward your top performers, help struggling employees grow and improve, and are proven to increase job satisfaction and fulfillment.

At the same time, conducting performance reviews can be stressful and difficult for many managers. You need to keep your employees comfortable, motivate them to do better, and often have some difficult conversations.

The performance review process is even more tricky when you have full-time remote employees. You need to properly measure their performance and communicate it to them in a helpful way, all through virtual methods.

That leaves many managers wondering how to do remote performance reviews successfully… but thankfully, there are some strategies to guide you.

Why Remote Performance Reviews Are So Challenging

So why are virtual performance review meetings so difficult?

First, it’s harder to connect and build trust when you’re not meeting face-to-face. It’s crucial to help your employees feel at ease within the first few moments and establish the tone for the rest of the meeting. This can be difficult when you’re only speaking virtually, especially if the employee is already nervous.

We rely on nonverbal cues like tone, body language, and facial expression every time we have a conversation. Even if you conduct your online performance reviews on a video call, it’s impossible to communicate the same amount of information remotely.

This can lead to miscommunication or frustration on your employee’s part, which is why you need to be extra prepared for remote reviews.

Finally, you might not know all the little details of your remote engineer’s performance: after all, you haven’t been working side-by-side with them every day. This can make it more difficult to get an accurate picture of their performance and to provide helpful suggestions for improvement.

What Makes a Good Performance Review (and a Bad One)?

You’ve most likely been on both sides of a performance assessment. Take a moment to think about it: which meetings left you feeling motivated, and which were just frustrating?

A strong performance review process won’t just help your remote team. It will play a key role in the success of your business as you build trust, loyalty, and more effective work habits.

On the other hand, a weak performance review will leave your employees feeling uninspired, angry, or confused.

Bad Performance Reviews

What does a poor performance appraisal for remote employees look like?

You might be missing out on opportunities for growth and success if you:

Give a one-sided lecture. Performance reviews should be a productive discussion about improvement, not a recitation of all the things they could have done better.

Are overly negative. Always be empathetic and show compassion in your performance reviews. If an employee isn’t doing well, ask why they’re struggling and how you could help. This is especially crucial for employees that are new to remote work.

Only use subjective feedback. Your perceptions of them are important, but be sure that you use plenty of objective data that illustrates where they could be performing better.

Don’t give any constructive criticism. Your employees want to do better, but they need your insight. Giving feedback like “you’re fine, just keep doing what you’re doing” can actually cause more harm than good.

Are biased. Make sure that you use the same standards for every software engineer. Prepare your reviews in advance and check for biases based on length of employment, demographics, or remote vs. in-person employees.

Don’t give feedback regularly. Don’t save all of your feedback for one annual review. Check in frequently with your employees and give suggestions over time so that feedback in performance reviews doesn’t come as a surprise.

Good Performance Reviews

Empower your staff to do more. Make the most out of every performance review with these best practices:

Let employees share. Invite them to ask questions or share their own viewpoints on the work that you’re discussing. Remember that you might not have the full picture, so give them a chance to illustrate that they’re capable.

Mention positives and negatives. Don’t spend the entire meeting focused on what an employee did wrong: it’s demotivating and just plain upsetting. Be sure to dedicate some time to the things they’re doing exceptionally well.

Use objective feedback. Employees will appreciate the chance to be measured against dedicated expectations and goals. Creating a software developer performance review template or rubric will ensure that each evaluation is equal and fair. Bonus points if your feedback ties to the mission and values of your organization.

Give meaningful, specific feedback. Even the most talented engineer has room for improvement. The more specific you are with your advice and feedback, the more helpful it will be to your employees and your business.

Encourage growth and set goals. Your remote employees have career goals and aspirations. How can you help them get there? Spend a portion of every performance review talking about the future.

Good vs bad web developer performance reviews

But How Do We Conduct Performance Reviews With Remote Employees?

Now you know how to conduct a fair and balanced performance review. But you’ll need to tweak that process to meet the challenges of a remote working performance review. Here’s how:

Always use video calls. Since in-person meetings aren’t possible, you need the next best thing. A video meeting can make both parties feel comfortable and help ensure that nothing is lost in communication.

Be present. Avoid the temptation to check your email in another tab or respond to a quick message. Make it clear that even though you aren’t in the same room, you’re dedicating 100% of your attention to the employee.

Open with positive feedback. Your employees are going to be nervous when the meeting starts. Make them comfortable and set the tone for the rest of the meeting by beginning with their recent wins.

Do it regularly. Good feedback is continuous, not an annual event. Remote employees in particular can suffer from imposter syndrome: feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy. Regular performance check-ins (think weekly, monthly, or quarterly) can alleviate these feelings and help remote software engineers improve more quickly.

Set expectations early. Don’t leave your remote employees wondering what a review will be like. Tell them about the review well in advance, and let them know what to expect in terms of format. Give them the opportunity to ask questions before the session starts.

Prep in advance. Performance reviews are most helpful when there are plenty of specific examples and recommendations. Gather your information well in advance, and consider sending it along before the meeting so your employees can be prepared, too.

Check in after the performance review. This is especially important if their performance isn’t quite where it needs to be. The more you can communicate with your employees and support them in their growth, the more beneficial they’ll be to your organization.

How to conduct performance reviews with remote software engineers

Preparing for Remote Performance Reviews

As a manager, the most important thing you can do for a work from home performance appraisal is lots of preparation.

You can actually begin as soon as an employee starts:
What are their goals and motivations?
What are their strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities?

Understanding each employee is essential to providing them with good feedback down the road.

Setting expectations throughout the employee’s journey with the business is also crucial. If there are well defined goals and employees understand how you measure and evaluate their performance, reviews are simply a two-way discussion about information that both sides already know.

As the performance review approaches, start gathering information on their work in the last few months.

Think about the following:

  • What projects have they worked on? How did they contribute and what were the results?
  • What outputs (such as code) have they produced? Is it up to the company’s standards?
  • What are other employees and managers saying about them?
  • Can you find specific examples of both good and bad work?

Coming into the performance review with this information prepared shows that you’re truly invested and care about your employee’s performance.

It also provides an opportunity for employees to fill in any gaps, so you can work together on setting new goals and establishing areas for improvement.

If your performance review is very detailed, consider sending it in advance so the employee has a chance to digest the information before discussing it with you.

Many managers also ask their employees to prepare a self-evaluation. This is a great way to start the conversation and identify accomplishments that they’re most proud of or that you may have missed in your preparations.


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Better Performance Reviews in Your Business

Successful performance reviews are a crucial part of creating and maintaining happy employees.

When you don’t properly prepare for the challenges of remote evaluations, you’re missing the opportunity to empower your remote engineers for greater success.

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