Performance Appraisal System for Virtual Teams

Performance appraisal is considered as a challenging task by many business managers. It becomes all the more daunting in case of virtual workplace. With the virtual team members distributed globally and coming from different cultures and backgrounds, it is important to ensure that the entire process of performance evaluation is perceived as fair and upright by all the stakeholders. Let us look at the below example to better understand where the real challenge lies:

Steve Brown is a Module Lead in a reputed IT firm based in US. He has two software engineers reporting to him, Justin & Peter. Justin works out of the same office as that of Steve, while, Peter sits at another remote location. Steve has never met Peter face-to-face, though they regularly stay in touch through work-related emails and phone calls. On the other hand, Steve meets Justin everyday and they get more opportunities like coffee and lunch breaks to have casual discussions. During these sessions, Steve also gives informal feedback to Justin. Thus, Steve feels a higher degree of personal connect with Justin while he finds the talks with Peter more serious and mostly, task-oriented. Also, he never gets to see Peter’s working style, additional efforts or how long he stays in office etc. At the end of the year, when the time for performance review comes, Steve finds himself in a dilemma. He realizes that though both Justin and Peter have met their pre-defined goals but his opinions are favorably inclined towards Justin.

This usually happens because visual images have more profound impact on human mind. Thus we see from the above example that managers should think objectively for comparing and assessing the individual performance of co-located and virtual team members. Each process stage is equally critical for a fair and just performance appraisal.

The virtual team leader should set clear and precise SMART goals where S stands for Specific, M stands for measurable, A stands for attainable, R stands for realistic and T stands for time-specific. All the goals have to be 100% result-oriented without any scope for subjective assessment. It is better to explicitly define all the success criteria in consultation with the team member at the project’s kick-off stage itself. Both the leader and the team member should agree to the defined objectives. This would command greater commitment from the employee. The goals have to take into account team accountability as well as individual performance. Team accountability goals will promote group interaction, team cohesion and collaborative efforts. The seven critical competencies of virtual team members (discussed earlier) should also be factored-in when deciding the goals.

The leader can monitor the performance of their virtual team members by using a combination of traditional methods like daily/weekly progress reports, frequent review meetings and keeping specific time for weekly informal feedback sessions & more innovative ones like tracking web activity and computer usage. It is advisable to seek utmost discretion while adopting innovative performance monitoring approaches which usually jeopardize the trust demonstrated in the employees.

Rather than the single source assessment by the manager, it would be highly beneficial to use 360 degree performance assessment for virtual project teams. This gives a comprehensive picture with inputs from oneself, line manager, functional manager, project leader, client and team members.

Managers should not forget that the performance reviews serve as opportunities for - giving and receiving feedback about goals achievement, creating individual development plans, providing inputs for reward & recognition program and defining future action plans. None of these basic objectives should be neglected in cases of virtual team members. A poorly done performance review makes the employee sitting at a far-flung location dissatisfied, hence decreasing his energy and motivation to perform. How a performance review is completed by a manager has huge impact on the productivity levels of their team members. For a successful virtual team, the onus lies on the leader to ensure that the good performance is recognized and fairly rewarded even if he has not met the individual in-person.


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