Successful appraisals can often be characterized by holding open discussions and building trust in the process. They should be carried out it in a manner that allows for a two-way personal dialogue. In practice, this means that the discussions are often held face-to-face. But how can you achieve the same result online in a world where remote working has increased, and many teams are scattered over different locations?

Shifts in our working practices require a new kind of thinking when it comes to managing and leading team members. Fortunately, there are many digital tools around to support remote leadership. But do appraisals really work online? Even with increased technical flexibility, is it possible to have the discussion remain personal and of equally high quality as a face-to-face conversation?

The answer to both questions is yes. However, as with all digital tools, you have to be mindful of how you use them. Successful online appraisals require good preparation. To help you get started, we gathered our top five tips for successfully transforming the appraisals format from face-to-face to online.

Shifts in our working practices require a new kind of thinking when it comes to managing and leading team members.

1. Ensure a calm and personal setting

The requirements for good appraisals are the same online as they are for face-to-face meetings: both parties must ensure a good setting for the discussion.

Choose a time when neither is rushing from another appointment or moving fast on to the next. A calm location also makes it more natural to turn on the video connection and ensures that there is no excess noise.

In some remote meeting situations, participants start without having their video connections on. This may be because it has become a habit in the organisation, the internet connection is bad, or participants may avoid presenting their home clothes and uncombed hair to others. However, seeing each other makes the discussion more personal, so make sure to encourage the use of a video connection.

2. Careful technical preparation

A successful and efficient appraisal discussion requires both parties to carefully prepare. In addition to preparing the actual content, it is essential to ensure technical functionality in advance.

Make sure you know how to use the key functionalities of your conferencing tool of choice. Do the video and sound work for both participants? Can you share the screen views you want for joint viewing?

The main focus should be on the content of the discussion, not on the technical details. This is self-evident, but often overlooked: we have all been in meetings that start with technical difficulties, which eats up valuable time from the actual discussion and steers the focus away from what really matters.

Technical preparation is self-evident, but often overlooked: we have all been in meetings that start with technical difficulties.

3. Structure and steer the conversation with different tools

Online tools have a lot of offer when it comes to developing your appraisal practices in general. Perhaps this might present you with the perfect opportunity to finally ditch the pen and paper and go fully digital?

It’s easy to create a clear and transparent structure for your discussion by using digital HR tools such as an HR solution, and it’s also easy to look at the chat agenda or appraisals questionnaire together on a shared screen. You can take advantage of pre-structured online questionnaires and form templates and edit them as you wish. Easy access to other discussion-related materials stored in an HR system facilitates the review of goals and development at the individual, team, and even organisational levels.

Including some offline elements can be fun, too. Enjoy a fresh cup of coffee during the discussion or agree on some other physical setting that will create a similar context for both of you. This creates a feeling of really being in the same space, even though you are sharing it through an online connection.

4. Remember the main principles of an equal dialogue

The same main principles of a good appraisal discussion apply even if when the discussion is moved online: a good appraisal process should be individual, consistent, fair, data-driven and forward-looking.

An online discussion that is more independent of time and place is even easier to organise based on the needs and wishes of the employee. Some like a close and systematic style of conversation, others want to chat more broadly and freely. Give your team member the opportunity to influence the timing, duration and content of the discussion.

While technology offers new possibilities, it is good to keep the dynamics of previous discussions in mind. If your team member has been satisfied with your previous appraisal discussion, try to stick to the elements that made them successful in the first place also in the online format.

Pay particular attention to how the dialogue is being carried out online and who takes up the space. An experienced online conversationalist may suddenly lead the conversation and take up space from the more inexperienced. Be sure to give the other party enough to contribute. Since social signals are harder to catch online, make sure you really encourage the other party to actively participate in the conversation, and avoid unnecessary interrupting.

Pay particular attention to how the dialogue is being carried out online and who takes up the space.

5. Take advantage of new possibilities

You get the most out of technology when you let it help you to handle the aspects of your conversations that require less of a human touch or use it to add value that offline tools don’t offer.

For example, you can set up reminders and follow-up to agreed goals, ask for feedback in the form of pictures and emoticons, or even gamify your conversation. The online format offers virtually limitless options on how to spice up your discussions in a suitable way.

Have fun with it and enhance as you go

When both parties are well prepared for the situation and are open to the possibilities the online format can offer, online appraisals can be very successful.

The best way to develop your appraisals model further is always to ask for direct feedback. At the end of each discussion, ask if the employee is satisfied with the discussion, the agreed issues, and the technical execution.

Since online appraisals might actually take less time and are less place-bound, it is possible to have them more frequently and in a more agile way. All in all, taking some appraisal practices online might even provide you with a great opportunity to review your current appraisals practices in general. Good luck!

Looking for more inspiration?

Read our complete Appraisals eGuide or get familiar with Sympa HR and how we can help you step up your HR game.