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How to Measure the Performance of Remote Workers: 6 Pillars of Effective Remote Work Management

Written by: Audrey Fairbrother

When you’re in the office, it’s easy to be lulled into believing you know exactly what your team is working on.

After all, if they’re at their desks, they must be working — right?

Thankfully, we’re finally starting to see the end of the “butts in seats” myth. Since the pandemic, managers and companies are realizing that the amount of time their staff is at their desk isn’t a good measure of productivity.

We’ve spent more than a decade leading a 100% remote team, and we’ve learned quite a bit about what it takes to effectively manage remote staff while keeping them productive and happy. And although it can be quite different from managing in-house employees, we believe the principles below can actually be applied to all management, including an in-office staff, as a more effective and modern strategy.

Here are six pillars to focus on for effective remote employee management:

  1. Start by choosing the right metrics and goals
  2. Set clear and specific performance metrics for remote employees
  3. Keep track of how engaged your remote team is
  4. Lay out expectations for remote communication
  5. Don’t forget to measure ROI
  6. Trust is key to success for remote managers and employees

Measuring Remote Employee Productivity Starts With The Right Metrics

Clearly, where someone is working isn’t a good measure of their productivity. Likewise, time is also an incredibly poor indicator. When managing a remote team, it can be tempting to implement some sort of remote time-tracking or monitoring system. We DO NOT recommend this. In fact, this can often have the opposite effect (as we’ll discuss later).

Instead, we need to start thinking beyond time and location for metrics on remote employee and remote team productivity.

The best place to start is with the big picture so that we can understand (and communicate) how a team member’s role plays into your company’s larger strategy.

Do you have clear KPI’s for your business and are you monitoring them regularly?

KPI’s are the true pulse on how your business (and in turn, your remote employees) are performing. Some of the most common KPI’s (across industries) include:

  • Revenue growth rate
  • Net profit
  • Project schedule variance (PSV) (are projects completed in time)
  • Churn rate (how many people stop using the product or service)
  • Average revenue for each customer
  • Customer lifetime value (CLV/LTV)

For each of these vital KPI’s, you should assess which remote employees or teams are responsible for achieving projected goals in these areas, and exactly how they plan to do so.

And if you’re a senior executive struggling to meet your own KPIs because of busy work, learn how you can leverage automation and delegation to increase your productivity.

Set Performance Goals For Remote Employees

You may not have re-visited the goals for a certain position since you wrote out the job description to hire someone, but setting concrete goals — whether monthly, weekly, quarterly or even yearly— is the ultimate key to measuring the performance of remote workers.

The caveat here is that these goals need to be extremely specific and very clearly laid out. For example, the goals for your Marketing Director should not be:

  • Increase website traffic through SEO
  • Build a social media following
  • And Increase newsletter signups
  • Improve conversion rates among leads

The above goals are too general. Instead, specific and measurable goals could look like:

  • Increase traffic through SEO by writing weekly-targeted blog posts, with an aim to increase traffic by 20% in 6 months.
  • Increase followers on our Facebook and Twitter page by 15% this quarter with creative image-driven campaigns and aim for a targeted increase of engagement of 10%.
  • Increase newsletter signups by holding quarterly webinars with influential clients and partners.
  • Improve conversion rates for leads by pushing more qualified leads into the funnel through targeted content marketing campaigns and direct PPC.

Leave some room here for unexpected occurrences, of course, but by having very clear goals, you can establish whether or not your remote employee is accomplishing the job at hand, regardless of whether or not they’re working 8 hours a day (which is really an arbitrary guideline in today’s work environment).

Look At Remote Employee Involvement In Culture

Until recently, company culture was more of a buzzword than an actual performance measurement indicator. But as more and more companies begin to realize the value of culture —especially the role it plays in retention and employee productivity— leaders in all organizations are seeking ways to create and spread positive culture across their company.

Because culture plays such a large role in the success of your company, you need to evaluate whether or not each remote employee you have is contributing to it.

  • Does your remote worker seem ambivalent about your culture initiatives, or are they on board?
  • Do they actively try to stay involved in your company’s happenings, or do they shy away from ever speaking up?

We get that some people are just shy, but as a manager of remote teams, it’s your job to try and figure out what each person’s comfort level is and to get them involved up to that level. Maybe they don’t want to share what they did over the weekend or pictures of their children, but maybe they’d be ok sharing a picture of a pet or participating in a Slack trivia challenge?

Really, it’s about being able to clearly see that your remote employee, while distributed, is still engaged and feels the belonging of their peers. It’s more than a vanity metric, it helps to ensure their success.

Lay Out Expectations For Remote Communication

When it comes to remote work, the standard expectation for communication should be overcommunication.

Surprising research shows that 70-93% of all communication is non-verbal. That’s huge! And unfortunately, you’re going to miss out on some of that non-verbal communication with your remote team.

Luckily, you can make up for much of it in the form of overcommunication and the use of video conferencing.

Since you’re not constantly monitoring what your remote employees are doing, it should be their responsibility to update you on what they’re working on, any issues that arise or any changes in a deadline, etc.

Remote employees also need to pay careful attention to the tone of their communications on email, Slack, etc., and be extra cautious of typos and grammatical errors that can alter the meaning behind their messages.

When hiring for remote roles, you can test this out a bit in the hiring process. Or, if you’ve recently gone remote and you’re noticing remote communication issues with a member of your remote staff, address them directly and offer some training in that area.

Beyond individual employee communications, you need to invest in creating a clear standard for the general communication structure for your team.

Will you communicate primarily through Slack? Email? Zoom? If your remote employees know the right channels to communicate through and when it will conquer half the battle of remote communication.

The investment in making sure remote communication is structured and clear to your whole team will present a huge payoff in the long run.

Read more about successful communication for remote teams.

Tracking ROI On Remote Employee Goals

You’re probably tracking the ROI of individual activities from your business, but are focused on tracking the ROI of each employee? Is your remote employee contributing enough to the success of your overall business to justify having them on your team?

This is important for both remote and non-remote employees but becomes a straightforward indicator of the success of remote employees due to the fact that it’s pretty black and white. It will be up to you as a manager to form timelines, guidelines, etc. on ROI depending on the role of the team member.

Again, these goals need to be very clear so you and your remote staff are on the same page and there’s no ambiguity about how you’re measuring their performance.

We truly believe honesty is always the best policy, and there’s no exception when it comes to how you measure the performance of your remote workers.

Remote Work Hinges On Trust Between Managers and Employees

Do you trust your remote employee?

While this is more of a ‘gut-check’ performance indicator, it’s one that’s incredibly important. Do you just know that (regardless of some crazy circumstance) this remote employee will get things done? Do you know they can self-manage and have the organizational and time-management skills to be successful in a self-starting role (which all remote roles are!)?

If you have doubts, explore those. Trust is THE most important thing to have between remote employees and managers.

And in case you’re trying to hire an executive you can trust, we have some helpful tips to get you started.

A Note About Time Tracking Software For Remote Employees

Tracking the exact amount of time your team is online is not only a form of micromanagement, but it’s also unnecessary, disrespectful, and dehumanizing.

While time tracking and employee monitoring software might claim to make employees more productive, what it actually does is make employees resentful.

Nobody wants to be punished because they didn’t sit at a desk “long enough;” your team wants to be rewarded for crushing their goals and KPIs.

After all, depending on the role, time spent in front of the computer screen is not usually the only time your team is working.

Perhaps they were on a phone call with a client or brainstorming ideas with paper and pen? Perhaps they took a walk and listened to an educational podcast about honing a certain skill they need for their position.

Not all remote work is done in front of the computer screen.

Time monitoring and tracking software is an invasion of privacy, especially if it involves video monitoring.

If this is something you are considering, we urge you to poll your employees about this type of software before you decide to put it in place; we can almost guarantee it will be an unpopular solution.

Lastly, these types of software do not cultivate a culture of trust (which is proven to make employees happier and more productive). And because you can measure the performance of your remote workers using all of the other methods mentioned above, it’s also an unnecessary expense in time and money.

You’ve Got This!

We’ve learned from experience (and a bit of trial and error) that if you measure the performance of remote workers using the principles from this list, you’ll have the reassurance you need that your remote staff is performing within your expectations.

Of course, all of the above starts with having a team in place that you can trust from anywhere.

If you’re looking to add support to your team who has a proven track record of being successful in a remote environment, check out subscription staffing via Boldly.

We’ve helped hundreds of businesses achieve success in working with remote team members, and we’d love to hear more about yours as well.

Updated on September 13th, 2022

About the author: Audrey Fairbrother is the Marketing Manager here at Boldly, when she's not spreading information about the benefits and joys of a premium remote team, she enjoys drinking a good coffee or going for a run in her hometown of Denver, CO.