The fearless leader’s guide to year end reviews for virtual teams

by Andy Nguyen
year end review

Wondering how to conduct an excellent year end review?

A year end review is a formal conversation with your employees to discuss how they’re performing, their areas for improvement, strengths, and weaknesses.

However, conducting year-end reviews for virtual team members can be tricky since you don’t see them personally.

But don’t worry. 

With the right strategies, you can easily organize an impactful performance review for your remote team.

In this article, we’ll start by exploring what is a year end review, why you need them, and their challenges. We’ll then cover how you can conduct successful year-end reviews and discuss useful tips for effective employee evaluations.

This article contains:

(Click on links to jump to specific sections)

What is a Year End Review?

How to Conduct an Excellent Year End Review for Remote Teams

10 Tips for Effective Virtual Team Year-End Reviews

Let’s get rolling.

What is a year end review?

A year end review, also known as a performance assessment or appraisal, is a formal evaluation of an employee’s strengths, weaknesses, and job performance.

It assesses their productivity, provides feedback for improvement, and carries out goal setting for their future performance.

Usually, a year end review evaluates an employee’s aspects like:

  • Team collaboration.
  • Communication skills.
  • Work quality and punctuality.
  • Problem-solving abilities.

Note that a performance review isn’t a solo pursuit. 

It’s an active conversation between employees, managers, human resource (HR) professionals and has significant implications for your organization.

Why you should conduct year-end reviews

Year-end reviews matter because they:

  • Provide a backdrop for appreciating your remote employees on their achievements and conveying gratitude for their commitment and hard work.
  • Offer a unique opportunity to reaffirm the company culture and help employees understand how their contributions impact your business.
  • Encourage self-evaluation by employees to know what they’re doing well and where they could improve.
  • Establish a compensation basis that considers employee merits and value added over the past year.
  • Facilitate an open-ended discussion to understand how the management can better enable the success of virtual teams.
  • Set the tone for employee-manager relationships for the next year.

A year end performance review can do amazing things for your company.

However, it doesn’t come without some challenges.

What are the challenges of conducting year-end reviews? 

There are some critical challenges you must overcome with an annual performance review, like:

  • Managers resist giving negative feedback, even when it’s crucial, and employees dread any form of criticism. This makes the year-end review tense, stressful, and anxiety-inducing.
  • Performance review meetings can turn into one-sided conversations where managers do all the talking. Employees might begin to feel like it’s a lecture and not a productive discussion on performance management.
  • There’s no consistency in how different managers use rating systems to appraise employee performance. This means that the performance ratings provided are subjective and not very useful for objectively comparing employee performance.
  • Lack of systematic and sustained documentation can lead to incomplete and misinformed year end reviews that fail to offer comprehensive feedback.

Moreover, these challenges get worse with virtual teams.


As managers don’t get to see their virtual employees in person, there’s a limit to how effectively you can measure employee performance, teamwork, and other metrics.

Is there a way to overcome these setbacks and get year-end reviews right?


How to conduct excellent year-end reviews for remote teams

There are different aspects to consider when conducting year-end reviews for your virtual employees

remote team review

Here are seven key things to focus on while organizing an impactful employee performance review:

  • Consider Why
  • Gather Data
  • Prepare Documentation
  • Adopt The Right Tone
  • Take Ample Time
  • Find A Solution Together
  • Ask For Employee Feedback

Let’s look closer at each of these aspects and understand how they work:

1. Consider why

Reflect on why you’re conducting an annual review at the year end in the first place, and understand what purpose it ultimately serves for the company and your virtual employees.

Start by answering questions like:

  • What’s your growth objective for the next month or quarter?
  • How do your remote team members fit into this picture?

Such questions reveal what to measure in your year-end reviews and show how they influence the company’s success.

That’s not all.

Remember, your ultimate goal with year-end performance appraisals is to empower the virtual team members to become their best versions. 

Help every staff member achieve their professional development goals efficiently, get them upskilled, and show them that their success matters to you. 

2. Gather data

Many year-end reviews fail because virtual team managers don’t rely on actual data but instead on gut feelings for feedback.

It’s crucial to record your virtual employees’ achievements and any setbacks they might’ve encountered along the way. 

This way, as you meet for the performance review, you’re offering feedback based on hard facts.

Having enough data also allows you to evaluate remote workers objectively and award compensation based on their abilities and merits.

3. Prepare documentation

Don’t try to wing your year-end reviews.

Be well prepared about what you’d like to discuss with your remote team members. Only then will the performance review prove useful to your virtual employees and the company.

Before your virtual meeting, organize all the information you’ve gathered related to employee performance over the last year into an easy-to-understand and direct report. 

Group your feedback and suggestions into logical categories, and take them up one by one. 

Do this for both areas of accomplishment and concern.

Once you’ve organized the information into a suitable template, discuss each area with your virtual team members during the performance review time. Moreover, appreciate them on significant achievements, and offer constructive feedback to support them where they’re lacking.

4. Adopt the right tone

Year-end reviews offer an excellent opportunity to uphold and encourage your company’s core values and culture.

So remember to keep your review process civil and empathetic.

Never use an employee review opportunity to ambush your remote employees and point out all the things they did wrong. It would make them feel terrible and damage employee-manager relationships. 

Whenever you offer feedback, stay constructive

Remember, your objective isn’t to look down on a poor performer — it’s to help your virtual employees realize opportunities for performance improvement and be better versions of themselves.

Additionally, understand that a virtual team member often goes above and beyond their job description to achieve business objectives since you don’t get to have in-person interactions — particularly true during the COVID pandemic, with more companies operating virtually.

They’re probably doing their best under the circumstances, so appreciate them genuinely for their competencies and commitment.

5. Take ample time

Most virtual team managers make the mistake of speeding through a performance review without giving it much thought, and consequently, employees also don’t take it seriously.

This is a huge mistake!

You must take ample time to evaluate an employee’s performance over the whole year comprehensively. After that, take time to properly convey your findings to virtual team members and help them adopt corrective actions or recommendations.

Ensure that your remote team members fully understand where and how they could improve and what your expectations for them are in the upcoming year.

In short, don’t rush the performance review process.

Take the time to appreciate a virtual team member’s contributions properly, and give them leeway to process and accept your feedback.

6. Find a solution together

Most times, merely handing out recommendations to your virtual employees just won’t cut it.

After all, the whole reason for a year end review is employee betterment. 

So instead of making your performance review a one-sided conversation, where you’re the only one coming up with ideas for improvement, make your virtual employees a part of the solution.

Give them a chance to respond to your suggestions and pitch ideas they believe could work. This helps improve employee engagement and nurtures a sense of ownership within them.

Remember to ask about their perspective on things, make sure they feel understood, and encourage them to carry out self-assessment from time to time.

Your goal here is to transform the year end review from a monologue to a productive discussion your employees are enthusiastic about!

7. Ask for employee feedback

Year-end reviews also offer the chance to gather feedback from virtual employees regarding your management style and leadership practices at the workplace.

It helps you explore how you can better contribute to your remote employees’ success and allows you to stay receptive to employee needs.

Moreover, it also helps clarify what a remote employee’s expectation of you is and reveals whether the work environment is conducive to an improved performance process and employee well-being.

Paying attention to the above seven aspects can help you organize useful end of the year reviews for your virtual team and puts you at an advantage when tackling the next year’s responsibilities and annual goals.

10 tips for effective virtual team year-end reviews

Here are ten tips to help you piece together super-effective and transformative year-end reviews for your virtual team members: 

Tip 1: Start with positive feedback.

Whenever you sit down for year-end meetings, always begin with positive remarks about your virtual employee’s work achievements. This reduces tension and helps them relax.

Tip 2: Be clear and specific about suggestions.

Ensure that your recommendations aren’t vague. You don’t want the virtual employees feeling at a loss right after the performance review, unsure about what you expect them to do or change.

Tip 3: Use examples to make your point.

Whether you’re congratulating employees or offering constructive criticism, use specific examples to illustrate what you’re talking about. 

It could be about a particular task they’ve accomplished brilliantly, or it could concern a skill that they need to work on. 

Using a real performance review example helps get your point across without confusion.

Tip 4: Go for the right words.

Remember to focus on critical terms like “achievements”, “communication”, “improvement areas”, “peer reviews”, and more during the performance appraisal. It anchors your remote employees and helps them quickly understand and work on your suggestions.

productivity tracking software

Tip 5: Use a productivity management tool to track employee performance.

Your performance evaluation should be as objective as possible. 

An employee productivity monitoring tool accurately measures how much time was spent on tasks and offers an objective window into an employee’s performance management process.

Fortunately, with a productivity and time management tool like Time Doctor, you can do much more than recording time spent on tasks.

Time Doctor helps you:

  • Track how long virtual employees spend on particular tasks.
  • Understand and analyze employee productivity data through detailed reports.
  • Monitor web and app usage activity to encourage your employees to stay clear of unproductive social media apps like Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • And more.

Tip 6: Specify immediate next steps.

List down action items your virtual employees can immediately tackle, post your performance review. This gives them a headstart in staying productive over the next year and offers instant benefits from the performance review.

Tip7: Highlight how you can be of help.

Mentioning how you can assist your virtual team is morally uplifting and inspires the virtual team members to take your suggestions seriously. 

It affirms that you’re there to help should they face any hassles while implementing recommendations.

Tip 8: Use video conversations.

Don’t go for emails or just audio calls when conducting a virtual year-end review. 

It’s best to have your performance review conversation face-to-face via a video conferencing tool as you offer feedback. This keeps things personal and humane and allows you to understand in real-time how your virtual employees are responding.

Tip 9: Make your evaluations flexible and empathetic.

Understand that things work differently with a virtual team as compared to in-office teams. 

Be flexible and accommodate the limitations of a virtual office when carrying out your end of year performance reviews for remote employees. Just try to remain as empathetic as you can.

Tip 10: Follow-up with your employees.

Giving recommendations and performance feedback isn’t enough. You must ensure that your virtual team members are putting them into practice. 

Remember to regularly check-in with your employees and engage in frequent conversations to see how they’re implementing your suggestions and whether they require assistance.

Final thoughts

Managers and HR professionals conduct a year-end review conversation to help employees understand their individual performance, strengths, and weaknesses.

Organizing such reviews can be particularly challenging with virtual teams since you don’t meet remote workers in person. 

However, reflecting on why you conduct performance appraisals, gathering comprehensive data, and documenting your findings can go a long way in conducting excellent year-end reviews for your virtual teams.

Remember to mind your tone, be cooperative, and ask for feedback while conducting those year-end reviews.

One last thing: try to end your year-end review on a positive note and start the new year in good spirits!

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