Leading a remote team is not easy. One of the most difficult things is knowing what, and how well our people are doing at their jobs. This impacts everything from the daily affirmations and “atta girls” that keep people engaged and motivated to year end performance reviews.
The biggest question many managers ask is this: “How can I give feedback on performance when I can’t see what (and how) they’re doing?
Of course, folks like us have all kinds of easy answers. “Measure output not activity,” and “Set metrics that aren’t dependent on visual confirmation.” So what’s the problem?
The problem is most people don’t really know what that means, or how to do it.
Measure output not activity. What does that really mean?
When we work in a central location, we have a lot of factors that go into job reviews that we can see with our own eyes. How do we know someone’s a hard worker? Well, Alan is in his chair and working at the right time and doesn’t leave til his shift is over, while Mary over there is sometimes late or slips out early. Obviously, Alan is a better worker than Mary, right?
Let’s examine some of those assumptions. Does showing up at work and leaving on time give you an indication of the quality of the work being done? Is it possible Mary may not take as long to complete her tasks as it takes Alan? Do we know if Alan is solving complex work-related questions or ordering beer cozies off Etsy?
Those things we think of as truly measuring the quality of someone’s work are usually outputs. Do they handle the required number of customer calls is certainly a measurable behavior. The measure of quality would be the number of calls at a certain level of customer satisfaction or a minimum of escalations to another department.
Sales has known this for a long time. Making a certain number of calls or prospect contacts is a behavior that can lead to success, but their real measurement is in how many of those contacts lead to sales. Now, in that case the department has a built-in scoreboard. We know what’s important to measure, and it’s right there for everyone to see.
How do you measure someone’s contribution to a project, or on a functional team?
This is true no matter where the team members are located, but at least when you’re in the office you can overhear Sally offer help to a coworker, or see Raj bang his head on the monitor when he’s frustrated and offer him your assistance.
When we don’t see and hear what’s going on every day we are literally working blind. We don’t have the data we need to asses how someone’s doing. And not all the data is hard numbers. If collaboration and teamwork is an important part of the job, are you measuring that? It might be tough to quantify with numbers, but you’re there to hear their contributions to meetings, you see what they post to group chats, and in your one-on-one conversations you can sense how engaged and productive they are.
So, managers need to be crystal clear about what is important to the job and the person’s success and then find ways to provide proof. These expectations—along with how they’ll be assessed—should be done in conversation with the person so everyone is working under the same set of assumptions.
Some of this evidence will be hard numbers (Are they hitting their quotas or customer service scores?) and some of it will be anecdotal. Factors such as contributions to the team, problem solving, and the like can be somewhat measured if you keep copies of positive feedback, and document your coaching sessions.
Of course, this thinking should always apply to the more traditional workplace as well. One positive outcome of having had so many people work away from each other is we have begun to recognize where we needed to change our approach to assessing and managing performance anyway.
If you are, or if you know a manager struggling to make the move from in-person to remote leadership, consider taking part in the Remote Leadership Certificate Series. Remote work is here to stay and every leader needs to be prepared to lead that way going forward.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. You can pre-order Kevin and Wayne’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, now.