Jaime Zapata
Talent Management Director
Expert Contributor

How to Evaluate Remote Employees' Productivity?

By Jaime Zapata | Thu, 11/26/2020 - 09:50

In light of the changes caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, there are conflicting opinions regarding the productivity of employees who are forced to work from home due to the contingency. Many leaders, especially the old guard, believe that remote work will lead to negative productivity. On the other hand, younger leaders, accustomed to using technology, are betting on remote work, trusting that they can monitor productivity using tracking tools. The positions for or against it vary depending on the nature of the organization and the perception and experience of its leaders.
Irrespective of the above, the reality is that many organizations have learned to measure productivity in the circumstances in which we live, and many others, if they want to survive the disaster, must learn to do so in a short time.

Many managers assume that if an employee is sitting at his or her desk or appears "connected" from home, he or she is working and therefore productive. That's incorrect. It is well-known that there is no direct relationship between being and producing. The strategies and control charts must therefore be designed to allow the setting not only of objectives, but also of daily objectives and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that each employee must perform in time and form to ensure productivity and as a result, profitability of the company. However, it is also necessary to establish a philosophical basis of values and attitudes so that, despite being at a distance, the employee continues to feel close to the company. Here are some aspects that need to be considered before establishing KPI's.

  1.  #own-your-work: Make your co-worker proud of what they do and make their work their own from start to finish. In the end, you want your employee to be consistent between saying what they are going to do and getting it done without being pushed.
  2.  #proof-your-result: Encourage your collaborator to know their numbers, show evidence of the results of the decisions, and then prove that they have worked. The employee will gain respect in the company by doing so.
  3. #make it-more-efficient: Orient the employee to work efficiently and recognize when they are wasting their time. Encourage him/her to see opportunities for improvement.
  4. #see-the-solution: Invite the employee to present solutions, not problems, and to think for themselves. Let them know they have permission to be creative. Creativity, especially in contingencies, always adds value.
  5. #feel-like-the-customer: Promote empathy with the client among your collaborators. This will give them knowledge about the impact of their actions or inactions.
  6. #send it-in-time: Let them know what the sense of urgency is. While the ideal is to send a polished product, it is always better to launch something early and correct it than to take a long time to perfect it.
  7.  #we're-in-this-together: Make the collaborator feel a part of the team. Invite him/her to support the other members by recognizing his/her own impact if he/she does not participate in achieving the overall result.
  8. #communicate-on-time: Communication should be assured in both directions, clearly and frequently, to all team members, so that everyone is in sync and knows what is expected of each and every one of them. This will make it easier to achieve remote productivity goals.

Once you are aware of the above, it is time to define the KPIs for remote collaborators. Knowing the impact of a strategy (in this case measuring the productivity of remote work) is essential for all organizations to ensure that the right path is followed. Thanks to the KPI, it is possible to know whether the objectives are being achieved or to make a decision to change the strategy to improve the outcome. It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain how to design the company's KPI architecture, so we will focus on how to measure remote productivity without leaving aside the company's performance indicators. In other words, the company's global results are a reference to determine whether or not the employees are doing things, but the measurement of individual and team remote productivity will depend on two factors:

  1. The nature of the company
  2. The type of professional team that carries out the strategy

For example, the KPI may reflect the fact that a web developer submits the source code on time. The KPI should measure customer satisfaction ratings or the number of orders/tickets resolved for the sales support team. The marketing team can be assessed by the number of leads generated, the completion of the campaign milestones, or the advertising success of a new product or service launch. As can be seen, each team should have individual and joint KPIs to monitor the success of the outcome. Next, I will present three basic steps to set up the KPI architecture to evaluate remote performance:

1. Knowing the organizational strategies and objectives: The first step is to understand both the strategic and the tactical components of the organizational objectives. This will allow you to have a global vision and identify which plans, programs, procedures and initiatives you need to implement to contribute from your line of action to the achievement of your organizational goal

2. Design metrics with your team: Work with your remote team on what metrics are important for each individual and team function. Good productivity metrics are something that employees can monitor, influence or control, with special emphasis on ensuring that the defined metrics contribute to the achievement of the company's overall goal. The following questions can guide you in achieving this step: 

  • What do you want to measure?
  • Why should this data be measured? 
  • Does the indicator evidence the monitoring of the results of one of the objectives?
  • Is it a key factor in measuring the contribution to the company's productivity? Who is responsible for meeting it?
  • Who is responsible for supervising it?
  • Does it really measure the productivity of the remote collaborator?

3. Set the measurement frequency:  In such a changing environment, it is necessary to periodically review the results, without exaggerating. Once the metrics have been designed (name, formula, calculation, registration and documentation), it is necessary to corroborate what result we are obtaining with the set objectives (measure the productivity of the remote collaborator). The need to know the movement of the indicator, whether favorable or unfavorable, will mark the frequency of measurement. This step is very important to avoid as much as possible falling into micromanagement, exerting excessive control over team members, paying too much attention to the details of the work they do. KPIs for remote workers should be clear. I insist that, since each company's culture is unique and the objectives of the team are personal, it is important to work with your team to find the KPI that makes sense and is appropriate to the goals, the nature of the company and the degree of contribution of the function.

It is also important to avoid generating a large number of indicators for each function. Focus on key metrics that really move the needle of the result and represent the contribution of the collaborator and the team to the organizational goal.

Each company is a microcosm and reacts differently to ensure its own continuity. Some operate with total confidence and do not record or measure anything unless there is an obvious problem.  Others closely monitor their employees and there are even some companies that insist on having team members visible all the time through a webcam and the vast majority are somewhere in between on this spectrum.

Below, are some tips that from my experience and point of view can be useful to monitor the productivity of your employees: 

  1. Schedule a meeting at the beginning of the day (by Zoom or other communication platform) in which all the members of your team explain their objective for that day and register it. This will set the tone for the rest of the work shift and focus the efforts of each collaborator. Instruct your collaborators to enter the virtual meeting with the appropriate clothing for a face-to-face meeting – believe me, change the attitude.
  2. In case that due to the nature of the company it is necessary to review the productivity per hour or per minute use your monitoring platform. If you don't have one, look for alternative systems for effective monitoring (real-time screenshots, for example). This will allow you to generate a complete report of the activities carried out or delayed in execution.
  3. Take into account that sometimes projects have unexpected bottlenecks where operational collaborators have difficulties communicating with their bosses or managers.  This can create a misperception that the operational team is not making an effort. Ensure that alternative communication channels are in place to safeguard these situations.
  4. Many remote workers are in difficult situations at the moment (with children at home, for example). Hopefully, they are not working a full shift. For that reason, instead of tracking the time that employees are recording, it is better to focus on the achievement of their tasks and progress in completing them. As long as there is progress in achieving their tasks, the actual time spent should not matter.
  5. Working remotely is a new experience for many companies. It has been beneficial for many leaders who do not have a clear KPI architecture to expose their teams to what they expect to achieve on a daily basis which, together with the personal objective of each of the collaborators, allows them to know at the end of the day the progress achieved.
  6. If you want to be non-intrusive through a technological monitoring system (everyone is already stressed), make sure that deadlines are met, work is done and evidence is shown.  The important thing is to make sure that milestones are being met on time and that tasks are not assigned to a collaborator when they have already been done.
  7. You can implement a system of tasks (key activities that add up to the achievement of the overall goal) as simple or as robust as you wish. Thanks to the task system, the "task creator" adds the deliverables, the time it will take to perform and deliver them and assigns it to a responsible person. It records it as "active" while it is being developed and "completed" when it is completed. All this information is shared with the team through a platform, or by email on a regular basis so that all involved are aware of the follow-up and achievements.
  8. Monitoring a team remotely does not have to be complicated if an adequate plan is defined which, as mentioned above, will not be the same for all companies or even areas of the same business. To have better control of the work of your collaborators, you can build formats with specific cells for each worker or area of your company. According to the monitoring needs, you can request the filling of such forms on a fortnightly, monthly or even quarterly basis.
  9. When employees are fully aware of the workflows, they avoid going to the wrong person when there are doubts or sharing files with the wrong area, generating delays in the development of projects, tasks or activities. Making sure that all employees know what to do, how to do it or who to turn to when there are problems through an adequate workflow, will save time and many headaches.

Responding appropriately to the company in times of contingency has never been more important than it is now. The struggle to ensure the survival of a company in any crisis must be carried out in an orderly manner by its leaders, so that the operational personnel carry out their activities in a timely manner and this requires adequate monitoring, avoiding intrusiveness at all times, which helps to reduce the stress on the collaborator. Like many other things in life, planning and conscious and collaborative design are key to achieving the goal not only of managing, but also of evaluating the productivity of remote collaborators in contingency times, always ensuring a commitment to achieving organizational objectives.

Photo by:   Jaime Zapata