Remote Appraising: Tips and Guidelines by Dr Steph
It is really exciting to hear that appraisals will be re-starting soon and no doubt you will be looking forward to engaging with your doctors again in providing their supportive, developmental and confidential appraisal discussions. I know I am!
One of the things I have had to get used to in 2020 is to be comfortable with talking via a computer instead of face-to-face. As most appraisals will be performed remotely (at least for now), I thought you might appreciate some Top Tips on how to “do” an effective remote appraisal.
Tips marked with ‘*’ are borne out of my own personal experience. I’ve made mistakes so you don’t have to!
Dr Stephanie Hughes, Deputy Service Lead for Wessex Appraisal Service, September 2020.
The Appraisal Time
Protect and respect the remote appraisal time in exactly the same way that you would a face-to-face meeting. For a “real life” one-to-one, you would be in a private, confidential space and expect to be completely uninterrupted; the virtual world should be no different. If you’re working from home, mute land lines and mobiles. Ensure that children and pets are quiet and away from where you are.
*Advise any workmen to please stop drilling for the duration and don’t schedule any deliveries. It detracts from the meeting if you have to go and take in bags of groceries.
The Appraisal Room
Make the room you appraise in a properly usable space. Close its windows and doors to limit noise. Make sure that your computer is properly supported on a solid surface at the right height for you to be able to look at it comfortably for several hours. Check that whatever is behind you is not going to be distracting for your appraisee – a plain wall is best but if this isn’t possible, please try to avoid windows (you may be back-lit and difficult to see, or there may be something fascinating going on outside that your appraisee wants to look at instead of you). Remove anything that is private/personal to you and which you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing (family photos, for example).
Dress professionally – including your lower half! You wouldn’t have turned up to an appraisal in your PJ bottoms in the pre-COVID world and now is not the time to start. You’re at work – look like it.
*Just in case you think the‘bottom half’ thing doesn’t matter, I won’t tell you about the Zoom meeting I attended in a smart shirt and filthy ripped gardening shorts, only to hear with horror the facilitator say that we were going to start with some star jumps to get the brain and circulation going. You never know...
Tilt the computer screen so that you are naturally looking directly at the camera (which is where you should be looking, rather than at the appraisee’s face) without having to look up or down. Your appraisee will find it unnerving to be talking to your nostrils or chin.Try to avoid looking at your own image, either in disbelief at your attractiveness or in amazement at exactly how long it has been since you visited the hairdresser.
*And remember: if you tilt the screen down suddenly to reach for something behind the computer, your appraisee will be unwittingly staring at your (very smart) lap. Avoid. This takes a few moments to recover from.
Practice with the Technology
Have a dummy run with the technology. Ensure your internet is working well. Make sure that you and your appraisee are both familiar with the platform that you are using and have a plan for what to do if the connection fails. If the internet connection is lost, switch to 4G or, if all else fails, use the phone. At appraisal time, the appraiser in the house gets the WiFi.
*Ensure that any kids don’t “use up all the WiFi” playing Roblox, streaming videos, or having their own separate online meeting somewhere else in the house.
Schedule Regular Breaks
Screen time is harder time than face-to-face time. For a 2-3 hour appraisal discussion, suggest to your appraisee that you take a ten-minute break every hour or so, when it feels natural to do so. Get up, walk around, make another cuppa/eliminate the last cuppa – it doesn’t matter, as long as you leave the screen and your seat and give yourself a rest. Resist the temptation to use this time to check emails or engage with other work – your focus should remain on your appraisee.
*A friend terms online video fatigue “Zoom panic” and used this as a brilliant excuse to limit our online quizzes to under an hour.
Be properly prepared: have a plugged-in, fully-charged computer and all the paperwork you need at your disposal. Have an empty bladder and a clear mind. Have a pen and paper to make notes. Make sure your microphone and camera are working. Some people find it easier to converse remotely using a set of headphones, so you might want to try this out.
*When wearing a headset, I personally find that I bear an uncanny resemblance to H from Steps (sadly not Beyoncé), so this is not for me. Basically, don’t try anything in your first remote appraisal that you haven’t tried (and liked) before.
Watch your posture. Stretch. Don’t slump. Consider a standing desk, or at least ensure that any chair/table combination you’re using at home, or wherever you are working, would be considered appropriately ergonomic. Your back will be your back long after the vaccine has arrived – you could say that “your back has your back”, so look after it!
*A full day of remote meetings last month left me feeling terribly stiff and grumpy.
You’re an appraiser, so you’re mindful of establishing rapport and how important this is in the appraisal discussion. It is harder to do this through a screen than face-to-face. Little things can be missed – the non-verbal communication that speaks volumes because the hands can’t be seen, or you can’t quite be sure of the expression on your appraisee’s face when the lighting isn’t kind. Be aware of this.
If in doubt, ask. Give your appraisee permission to be explicit about how they feel, and acknowledge the newness/artificial feel of the remoteness.
*As a GP who has been seeing masked patients from behind a mask and visor for months, I find it helpful to say “If we didn’t have these masks on, I would find it so much easier to tell what you are thinking and feeling – but we do, so I’m going to ask you to be straight with me about exactly what’s going through your mind right now. Help me to understand how best I can help you”.
And finally: In researching this, I found many references to sales peoples’ approach to establishing a rapport remotely with would-be clients. The suggestion is that it is beneficial to use a quick “ice-breaker” question to allow the “client” to feel relaxed and interested-in. The top sales people spend a few minutes finding out a bit about the client and their situation before their conversation, and tend to kick off with something like “I see the weather over there in X is lovely today, it’s horrible here, I wish I was where you are – is it true it’s Y degrees and sunny where you are? What have you planned for the weekend, if this keeps up?” I hesitate to include this, because it seems a bit “fake”, but it might be an extra “tool” in the box to think about.