One of the most common questions we get asked here is, “How do you measure people’s work when they aren’t in the office?” There is a smart-aleck answer, and a more thoughtful one (which is the one they really want to know, but we can’t resist sometimes).
The glib, facile answer is to ask, “how do you measure it now?”
What’s the difference?
In theory, the measure of people’s work shouldn’t be radically different regardless where the work takes place. If you work in a call center, the measure should be things like number of calls handled, how satisfied the customers are, and the like. The problem is that the metrics used in such jobs are closer to this: “They log in at 8 am, take two breaks and a lunch, and log out at 5.” That’s hard to measure or prove when you can’t give them the stink-eye from across the room. By this measure, a successful worker is one who shows up on time and keeps their butt in the chair, not one that necessarily does the best work or gets the best results while they are there.
In short, many people are measuring the wrong thing. Metrics like log-in time and length of breaks measure activity, not productivity. That’s where the real question comes in: Are you measuring activity, or productivity and outputs?
When people work away from the office, especially for the first time, they are more concerned about making sure they meet expectations than you are—after all, they have a job to keep. These expectations need to be specific and measurable (if you need it, now’s a really good time to brush up on SMART goals!) Work together with your people to determine:
What tasks need to be accomplished and why?
When people work remotely, they often make independent decisions about what they should focus on. Make sure that the assumptions they’re making about priority and importance match the rest of the team’s.
How will you measure success?
On-time delivery of reports, one-hour response time to customers and customer satisfaction scores are measurable outputs that measure quality and outcomes, not simply physical presence. These should be agreed to through dialog, not just imposed.
How often will you check in and how will you get the information you need?
This is the biggest mistake people make when switching to remote work. If you assign a task and then wait until the completion date to see if it was done, it will be too late to help or correct course if people aren’t on the right track. On the other hand, if you’re constantly pestering them with, “How’s it going? Are you done yet?” they may feel micromanaged and mistrusted. Mutually agree in advance how often you’ll check in with them, or whether they’ll report their progress to you, and by what medium. This will give you both the information you need with a much lower stress level.
Remember that frequent, short communication beats longer conversations with a lot of dead air in between.
As with so much about remote work, if you stop and think logically the differences between being apart and in the office aren’t as great as they appear. It’s just harder to be successful doing the wrong things.
This is one area where leaders sometimes forget that being a good teammate is also part of their role. We haven’t forgotten that. Our new learning series, 12 Weeks to Being a Great Remote Teammate is ideal for remote employees AND leaders. And best of all, while we’re all in quarantine, we’re offering it at a tremendously discounted price and as an on-demand product if you don’t have 12 weeks to get up to speed.
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.