Managing Distributed Teams

How to run effective employee reviews on distributed teams

We share our top tips for success.
August 20, 2021
Oyster Team
Two people speaking in front of a whiteboard

Running a distributed team presents a unique set of challenges, like collaborating over many time zones, and video fatigue. 

Companies who give feedback have a 14.9% lower turnover rate than those who do not. This makes it imperative for you to run effective employee reviews on your distributed teams, regardless of the challenges. 

But what’s the best way to run employee reviews on remote teams? We’ll dive into best practices, from providing clear and ongoing feedback to crafting a framework for employee reviews, and more in this article.

What is an employee review?

An employee review is an official document that assesses an employee’s productivity and efficiency using questions and other talking points. 

Graphic that says employee reviews help both employees and companies

Employee reviews are not just for the company to evaluate their employees. They help employees understand their roles better, including the areas they’re excelling in and areas that need improvement, and they also provide an opportunity for the employee to give feedback to their managers. 

On the company's part, employee reviews help you identify an employee’s strengths, weaknesses, provide feedback, and set goals for tracking future performance. Employee reviews are useful tools for both companies and employees to improve and grow when done right.

How to prepare for an employee review for distributed teams

Conducting employee reviews for distributed teams differs from non-distributed teams. Taking a traditional employee evaluation mindset to remote teams may damage team morale. Here is how you get ready for your employee appraisals:

Open communication

In a non-distributed team, you get to sit down face-to-face and have body language cues to rely on during the review process. Being face-to-face means you pick up on major events in your employees’ lives and account for how it affects their work. 

For remote teams, video is the only face-to-face communication available and may not provide the most accurate body language cues. For example, an employee stealing a quick glance at a pet or a painting on the wall may lead you to misinterpret their body language. 

To prevent miscommunication on your distributed team, use direct language that leaves no room for ambiguity. This means fostering a culture of communication that is open, direct and leaves no room for misinterpretation.

One-on-one meetings

Because you don’t meet in person daily like non-distributed teams, it's easy to lose track of major events in your employees’ lives. 

Make frequent one-on-one meetings a part of your company culture. This way you have a pulse on major life events and changes with employees and can support them during trying times. For instance, having regular meetings with employees can help you notice employee struggles, like isolation from remote work. 

Ongoing feedback

Unlike in-person teams where you can pull people aside to give frequent feedback on performance, ongoing feedback is a habit that has to be cultivated in remote teams. Ongoing feedback can boost the confidence of top performers and help struggling employees improve in weak areas. 

Another benefit of ongoing feedback is that it helps you track employee performance journeys throughout the year.

By having frequent meetings where you touch base on performance, productivity, and personal life, you can provide honest feedback that drives growth. 

A framework for employee reviews

To create a framework for employee reviews in your remote team, you’ll need to know which questions to ask. 

First, start with a self-evaluation. You need to know if your employee understands their role and how their efforts contribute to the company. Their assessment of themselves allows you to see things through their eyes. 

Graphic that says "Have employees undergo self-evaluation to see if they understand their role and how they're contributing"

Second, have team members do an evaluation of other teammates. While a self-evaluation is important, it is not free of personal biases. Sometimes, employees may downplay their achievements because they do not see their efforts as a big deal. Having assessments from coworkers enables you to get an overall picture of how well your employee functions in their team. This can be essential in your efforts to promote team cohesiveness. 

In both evaluations, do not rely solely on ratings. Use questions and scenarios to give employees the opportunity to provide in-depth answers. A rating system alone may deprive you of nuanced answers that you can implement to boost team morale.

These evaluations will help you set the tone of individual employee reviews. Because you have data on employee performance, employee self-assessment, and coworker assessments, you can craft a review framework that can be used for different employees whilst being unique to each. 

How to track performance

Before you can track employee performance, you need to set goals. And not just any goals. You need to set SMART goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound goals. 

For example, Employee A’s performance can be measured if you set her a goal. Their goal is to read three articles a week from Industry C to improve understanding of industry trends in Q3. 

This goal is measurable and you can track employee A’s performance on this metric. Should employee A struggle with this goal, say by reading 2 articles instead of 3, tracking their performance will help you see what is happening and how best to provide support. This support may come as freeing up employee A’s time by reassigning or deprioritizing some of their tasks.

Employee review examples 

Employee reviews aren’t just helpful for evaluating performance, they can also boost collaboration, support employees’ career development, and more. 

Take, for instance, a member of the marketing team at Company A. This employee’s review can include their role performance, how well they collaborate with teammates and their career development goals. 

Career development goal example

A career development goal can be: Take 75 minutes each week for the next 60 days to complete Google’s Customer Segmentation and Prospecting Course. 

Graphic that reads, "Having career development goals for employees not only allows them to upskill, but also shows them that you're serious about their growth."

Career development goals help employees to upskill and remain relevant in their industry. It also shows your employees that your company believes in growing and nurturing its workers. 

Collaboration goal example

A collaboration goal can be: By Friday, August 20, help coworker B choose topics from the repository for the first month in Q4. Sit in on two calls with them. Use the company framework to show them how to manage their chosen topics from writing to publication.

Collaboration goals boost team cohesiveness, productivity, motivation, and performance. They can help your employees work better together to achieve goals. 


Employee reviews are helpful to both employers and employees. They help employees understand their roles and achieve goals set for their roles. Employee reviews enable companies to support and nurture their employees.

Conducting effective employee reviews on your remote team is possible through a carefully crafted framework that uses open communication, regular meetings, and ongoing feedback. This will ensure that your company reaps the benefits of employee evaluations. 

Learn more about what upskilling is and why it matters for remote teams in this blog post.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving global workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

About the Author

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, engage, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce.

About the Author

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