How to Have a Successful Remote Performance Review: 16 Tips
If you’re preparing for a remote performance review, you probably have a lot of questions, especially if you’re working remotely for the first time. You might be wondering what the differences between remote and in-person reviews are, or if there is anything you need to take into account when doing a video review that you wouldn’t in an office.
Ultimately, performance reviews should be a meaningful discussion about your work, says Shanna Hocking, founder of Be Yourself Boldly and the host of the career development podcast One Bold Move a Day—and that holds whether you’re face-to-face or face-to-Zoom-to-face.
Because the goal is the same, much of the advice for preparing for in-person performance reviews and remote reviews is similar, but there are a few additional considerations to keep in mind. Here’s your guide to making the most of your remote performance review—before, during, and after the review itself.
How to Have a Successful Remote Performance Review: 16 Tips
Before Your Review
Some companies will ask you to fill out a self reflection or assessment or a similar document ahead of your review. If your company does, you should set aside some time to do this so you can give the best answers possible (you can find more self-review tips and a template here). But even if your company doesn’t require this, you should still prepare for your review ahead of time. “Figure out what you want from the meeting. Your manager is going to come in with a list [of things to talk about]. You should too,” says Muse career coach Eloise Eonnet, Founder of Eloquence Coaching.
You likely have personal notes or access to some record of your last review, whether it was remote or in-person. Go over these so that you can call attention to any progress you’ve made in the areas discussed last time—whether that’s improvements or continued success. Take note of any specific skills your manager has asked you to work on, so you can come into your evaluation with examples of how you’ve done so, Eonnet says.
Hopefully, you’ve also received feedback since your last review, and you should go over that as well. This feedback could be from managers, peers, customers, and other colleagues you’ve worked with on long- and short-term projects, says Ashely Fernandez, CEO of Ashley Marie Coaching. If it was positive, you’ll want to bring it up to your manager as an accomplishment—especially if your entire team or company is remote, because they might not know about it. If the feedback talked about an area you needed to work on, you should prepare to show how you’ve done that.
“Make a concrete list of your accomplishments,” Eonnet says. “If you’re general, they’re going to hear you as general. You need to give the specifics.” The types of accomplishments will depend on your role, but they could include tasks you took on, goals you reached or exceeded, deals you closed, advancements you made, organization-wide programs or events you were part of, or great feedback you received. In any case, it’s important to also record any tangible outcomes, especially those that helped your team or the business overall.
Hopefully your employer still notices your accomplishments even if you’re not physically in the same place, Fernandez says. However, since you aren’t in the office every day, things can slip under the radar, and it’s best to be aware of this heading into your review so you can come prepared to showcase things your manager may have missed or forgotten. “Employees need to be more proactive in sharing their accomplishments and contributions while working remotely,” Hocking says, “ideally not just in terms of performance review but that’s a great place to start.”
So “remind yourself of all the great things that you’ve done heading into this conversation,” Hocking says. In addition to impressing your manager, this exercise can also help ease any nervousness you may be feeling about your review.
Performance reviews aren’t only about the good things. No matter how much you may want to avoid it, reflecting on any areas where you need to improve ahead of your review is just as important as preparing your accomplishments. This includes thinking critically about why you’re having these issues and coming up with ways to solve them. You can also use your performance review to discuss any challenges you’re facing with remote work, burnout, or other related problems, Fernandez says.
“As a manager, I always appreciate when people have already thought about where they can improve and what they need,” says Hocking, who manages—and recently held performance reviews for—a currently remote team of 40 in addition to being an expert on management and leadership. Both the manager and employee should be thinking about what additional support and resources the employee might need. Coming in knowing this will give you and your manager a chance to have a productive discussion about what you plan to do going forward and what they can do to help you.
Eonnet recommends practicing what you want to say in your review beforehand. If you say “I want [x]” or “I feel [y]” out loud a few times before your evaluation, you’re much more likely to do the same on the actual call. “Sometimes it’s as simple as muscle memory,” Eonnet says.
Performance reviews aren’t just about the past, they’re also a chance to discuss the future. “Team members should be prepared to talk about what they want to learn in the coming year and where they want to go,” Hocking says. Knowing this in advance will help your manager understand how to help you achieve your goals.
“Do you have a clear idea of what you are working toward?” Fernandez asks. This could be earning a future promotion, excelling where you are, or learning new skills through stretch assignments and projects. If you’re not clear on what career progression looks like at your company, this discussion is a good time to ask, Fernandez says.
You can also talk about your long-term career goals—particularly if there’s something within your company that can help you get there, such as working on a project with a different department or shadowing a colleague working in the role you eventually want.
Performance reviews should be a two-way conversation, Hocking says, and your boss is likely to ask you for feedback on how they’ve been doing as your manager.
“If your manager asks this and you have a good relationship you should honor that by sharing your feedback,” Hocking says. So come prepared with feedback that’s focused on how they can better support you and the team, not a list of personal grievances. You can share things like how you would like to communicate with them or what they’re already doing right but you’d like more of. This is especially important if you or your whole team is newly remote since your boss might not have as much experience with managing employees at a distance.
Depending on your company, what you wear for remote work may not be up to the standards of what you’d wear in an office. And while a performance review isn’t as formal as a job interview, it is still a bit more formal than other meetings so it’s good to take that into account, Hocking says. “I’m a bit more old school and feel most comfortable and confident when I’m dressed up,” but you should think about your preferences.
“Dress for success is a cliché but it’s also true,” Eonnet says. Just the act of pulling yourself together a bit more than usual can help put you in the mindset of this being a more important meeting than usual. Meanwhile, Fernandez suggests dressing as you would if you were in person, which will vary across workplaces.
Consider all this when planning your outfit and pick the approach that makes you feel most confident.
During Your Remote Performance Review
During your evaluation, there are a few tips to keep in mind to make sure you’re communicating clearly with your manager even though you’re not in the same spot.
This may seem like a no-brainer if your company or team defaults to cameras-on for all video meetings, but if you like to go audio only, it’s best to prepare to be on video, which will help you connect with your reviewer, Fernandez says.
Unlike an in-person meeting where you’ve likely seen your manager already that day, in a remote review, you might be coming in completely cold, Eonnet says. She recommends engaging in some small talk that’s specific to your manager and your relationship, like asking about how that project is going or how the weekend plans you discussed turned out. This will gear you both up for a more relaxed back-and-forth conversation that would happen more naturally in person.
When you’re in the same room as a person you’re talking to, connection happens in different ways, but many of those things are lost on your video call, Eonnet says. This means that what your manager can see is even more important. Pay attention to how you’re sitting and make sure that you can be seen clearly in the frame. In a video conversation, people are more likely to look for clues in body language to show how you’re responding to the conversation, Hocking says. So don’t slouch, and physically show your manager that you’re engaged.
The most important piece of this is eye contact, says Hocking. Look into your camera, not off toward a second monitor or something else. Move the video of the person you’re speaking to so it’s directly below your camera—that way you’re more likely to look at your manager as you speak. Eye contact will also make you seem more sincere as you get into the details of your review, Eonnet says.
“It’s even more important to be overly communicative,” in a remote performance review, Hocking says. “You have a literal barrier between you and the other person and it’s harder to get a reading on how people are responding to what you’re sharing.”
So throughout your review make sure you’re speaking clearly and thoughtfully and that your reviewer understands what you’re saying. One way to help your manager to understand is to deliver things like your accomplishments in the form of a story, Eonnet says. If you just list facts, they’re less likely to remember what you said as opposed to a story with facts embedded in it.
You should also ask plenty of questions to make sure you’re understanding your manager as well.
It’s important to take notes during any performance review so that you can refer to them after this conversation and before your next review. But for a remote review, you should let your manager know that you are taking notes, especially if they can’t see the paper or you’re typing them on your computer. That way they know you’re still engaged, Eonnet says.
If your manager hasn’t mentioned something that you wanted to talk about, mention it first. This applies to accomplishments, challenges, goals, and things you were asked to work on. And then don’t forget to ask your manager what they think. For example, you can give examples of how you’ve worked to improve, Eonnet says—then ask if they’ve noticed your progress and what you can be doing better.
Even if you’re already discussing your areas of weakness, sometimes you have to be proactive about asking for what you need in order to succeed or asking for specific ways you can improve. “It’s always great when an employee asks, ‘What can I be doing differently to be successful in this job?’” Hocking says.
Hopefully you’re not blindsided by any difficult feedback your manager brings up, but you still need to be prepared for how you might react if they say something that’s difficult to hear, Hocking says.
First, don’t take it personally: “Feedback is a reflection of what someone is looking for from you, but it does not define you,” Hocking says. Then you want to thank your reviewer for giving you feedback and get curious so that your manager knows you care about what they’re saying and want to improve. Ask a follow-up question like “Can you share an example of a time you’ve noticed this?” or “Can you give me a little more context around what you’re saying?” Hocking says.
Before you end your performance review, “it’s essential to clearly walk through next steps and make sure they are tangible.” Eonnet says. “For example, you might say, ‘So for next steps, I will be setting up a system to start tracking the data for project X and will send you that by the end of next week. I’ll also be taking note of the moments in my day where I can do a better job communicating clearly with the team about my needs. I’d like to check in with you about my progress there in a month, so I’ll make sure to set up a call then. How does that sound to you?’”
Setting up a plan for the most important and immediate topics you covered during your review shows your manager that you really listened to what they were saying and that you’re eager to get to work on improvement, Eonnet says. If you’re not great at coming up with plans on the spot—or you need to reflect more on the conversation first—you can tell your manager that you’ll be setting up a plan by a certain time and ask if they could review it to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.
After Your Review
Getting the most out of your remote performance review doesn’t end when you hang up. You need to act on what you discussed with your manager and prepare for your next check-in.
Once your review is over, it’s helpful to take some time to reflect on your discussion and what you’ll be working on in the coming months. Write out your plan, along with any concrete steps you and your manager talked about. Then, “it’s essential to stick to that plan,” Eonnet says. Setting reminders for yourself or creating milestones to hit might be helpful to make sure you’re moving in the right direction. You might also consider scheduling check-ins with your manager to specifically discuss these points—especially in a remote work setting where your progress might not be as immediately visible.
If you found it difficult to prepare for your remote performance review because you had to spend a lot of time gathering your accomplishments and other information, start keeping track of those things now. “Spend a few minutes at the end of your week recapping your accomplishments, project wins, collaborations, feedback, and challenges, Fernandez says. Eonnet suggests using the questions, feedback, and goals that came up in your performance review to identify specific areas for you to track.
If you take 10 minutes to capture these things now, when it comes time for your next review you’ll be even more prepared.