How do I know my remote team is actually working instead of watching YouTube all day?
I’m getting that question all the time now as more and more companies are trying to figure out how to manage remote teams.
The first thing I say to managers who ask me that question is – you’re going to have to change your attitude and management style. I know most people don’t like hearing that as the first thing coming out of my mouth – but it’s the truth.
You’re going to have to change from what I call ‘visual management’ to ‘measurement management’. That means stop relying on seeing someone spending time in the chair, being busy, talking on the phone, filing, working on their computer. I know it gives us a feeling of comfort that they’re spending their time productively – but the flaw in our thinking is that just because someone is spending time being busy, it doesn’t mean they are being productive. There is a difference.
But, once you shift to measurement management, you’ll find it’s much clearer and easier to figure out who is actually moving the ball forward, and who’s just marching in place.
There are 4 elements to a successful Measurement Management style.
First, create a results oriented culture. Place a high value on achieving results vs. just spending time on a task, or valuing process over output. Generally this aligns nicely with your client’s viewpoint too. They aren’t focused on the how, the only thing of importance to them is that they get high quality output in a timely manner. Now, I’m not saying abandon all thoughts of process or quality control – in fact, you’ll find that to consistently get outstanding results, your underlying process is key. But I am saying do make output the only thing, or primary thing, you measure.
“… just because someone is spending time being busy, it doesn’t mean they are being productive. There is a difference.”
And speaking of measuring – how do you measure results? By setting clear expectations and objectives, and providing frequent feedback. What product or project outcomes are you looking for – write them down. What are the key performance indicators for each project. Key performance indicators, or KPIs are used to track the progress of a plan. A good KPI has a measure, a target, a data source, and a reporting cadence.
Number of new clients engaged each measurement period, is an example of a KPI. Time to fulfill an order, or monthly website traffic are other examples.
Next up – build trust. You build trust by being consistent. If you’re implementing a Measurement Management style, you can’t be wishy washy. Once you commit to (and communicate) managing against output, don’t go back and start evaluating team members around how much time you feel they are working. You can’t really have it both ways. If you’re going to tell a remote team member that you’re evaluating their productivity by output, but then you tell them you’re going to randomly pop in on their camera, or use some tech tool to monitor their behavior in some way – then you’re sending mixed messages. And you definitely aren’t building trust. Either you are relying on output or you aren’t – but again, you can’t have it both ways.
Now, as you know, I’m the ‘HR Lady’, so of course I’m not advocating that we do away with timecards or anything like that. After all, our laws still say we pay non-exempt workers for each hour worked. But that’s just a measure of determining base pay. We’re talking about measuring performance and productivity – and for that, a Measurement Management framework is the best way to go. Particularly for remote workers.
You’ll also need to make sure you’re communicating clearly and often. Schedule daily, weekly or bi-weekly check ins to discuss progress, and talk about if there’s a need to tweak anything. Communication will be a bedrock of the whole framework. You’ill need to communicate honestly, be open about accepting feedback, and have a collaboration mindset. All that is necessary for this management style to work To be honest, it takes a fair amount of mind work on the part of the manager.
And finally, a great tech tool or two will make all the difference in the world. There are a slew of productivity applications, Asana, Trello, ClickUp – to name just a few. We use Asana, and I love it – but find one that’s right for you and your needs.
Dealing effectively with a remote team, really will take a change in your thinking, and how you approach managing. But that’s a good thing. And you’ll probably find (as I did) that these techniques are just as valuable with an on-site team. So actually, it’s a win win situation.