How do you know your remote employees are working?

If you’re worried about how much your remote team is getting done, you’re not alone. A lot of managers are concerned that working from home will cause a drop in productivity.

This is a common mindset right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an explosion in remote work. Thousands of teams are working from home for the first time, and remaining productive is harder and more important than ever.

Going remote can be tough. Distractions like kids, pets, and household chores can drain a person’s focus. Especially when employees are already stressed or disengaged, remote worker accountability is a valid concern.

With so many people working remotely for the first time, remote productivity monitoring can help teams adjust. Some teams plan to return to the office when it’s safe. Some teams are looking for a longer term remote commitment.

Whether your plans are short term or long, it’s wise to keep track of how your team is doing. Be careful, though. Your efforts to monitor your team can actually hurt productivity. Nobody likes being micromanaged.

Your people probably don’t need constant oversight to get things done. You might not know this, but remote workers actually have a productivity advantage. Studies have shown that remote teams are 13% to 35% more productive. The Social Security Administration has reduced their backlog 11% since they instituted remote work in response to the pandemic.

Working remotely has boosted productivity at the Social Security Administration. Claims are processed faster and calls are answered sooner. Their backlog of pending cases has reduced by 11%!

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Eight ways to create a culture of productivity

The most successful remote teams build performance into their cultures. It’s not about showing up and clocking in on time every day. It’s about getting it done, no matter when or how you work.

Building a remote culture is a long-term project. Cultures come from actions, not mission statements.

Here are some steps to make sure measuring productivity is actually productive and easy.

1: Hire the right people

When you hire people in the office, you look for a good cultural fit. Your team will spend a lot of time around each other and it’s important that they get along.

Hiring for remote positions requires a cultural fit, too. Some people struggle when working from home. Look for these traits in a great remote candidate:

  • Accountability: they take responsibility for their own work and consistently meet deadlines
  • Self discipline: they’re good at staying on task without needing a reminder
  • Integrity: they do what they say they’re going to do
  • Experience with remote work: they’re familiar and comfortable with working from home

People who are good at written communication have an advantage with remote work. For those who aren’t great at it, video conferencing is a good solution.

Cultures come from actions, not mission statements.

2: Document all of your processes

Building a resource library is a good idea for every team. Invest that time now. You’ll be glad you did.

For remote teams, good documentation gets rid of a potential roadblock: you. Your team can find answers for themselves without waiting for you. That means they can work whenever they’re most productive, even if you’re not around.

Onboarding is much easier with well-documented processes, too. New team members start producing good work faster, and it takes less effort from you.

Store your documentation where it can easily be shared and referenced by the right people. You can use Dropbox, Google Drive, or an internal shared drive.

Just make sure that everything is organized and labeled clearly so that you can find it when you need it.

Creating good documentation gets rid of a big roadblock: YOU.

3: Establish a good work from home policy

Clarify your work from home policy to make everyone feel more comfortable. Especially during the pandemic, there’s already enough uncertainty. Create guidelines around remote work so your team has one less thing to wonder about.

Man working from home

Your remote work policy tells your team when and how they can work from home. List any requirements like minimum internet speed, equipment needs, or security measures.

It’s a good idea to mention performance expectations. These might vary in different circumstances. For example, you may relax deadlines a little for a team member who is working from home instead of taking a sick day.

4: Stay transparent

It’s harder to build trust with a remote team. Creating relationships takes more effort because there are fewer chance meetings and office chats.

Your team may also feel disconnected from the big picture.

They’re not around while you’re working on strategy, and they only hear about decisions once they’ve already been made. That lack of communication makes your team feel undervalued.

Transparency might be hard, but it’s a good policy. It shows that you value your team. It also sets the precedent for open communication.

This means talking about the good news and the bad. The time when it’s hardest to be honest are the moments that build respect and trust with your people.

Transparency may be hard, but it shows that you value your team. The moments when it’s hardest to be honest are the ones that build respect and trust.

5: Encourage balance and health

Remote work can and should be flexible. Allow your employees to find their own balance.

If you knew work would be completed more efficiently and with better quality, would you care what time it was done?

Focus on productivity instead of availability during specific hours. Set deadlines and empower your team to get work done whenever it makes the most sense.

Flexibility gives you and your team the opportunity to focus on your physical and mental health in addition to your work.

Remote work can and should be flexible.

As you first transition to remote work, your team will hesitate to take advantage of the increased flexibility.

Keep encouraging them to prioritize their health and set the example by doing the same. You can get more out of your workday with simple practices like these:

  • Work when you feel the most creative, even if that’s early in the morning or late in the evening
  • If you feel overwhelmed or frustrated, stop work and take a walk around the neighborhood
  • Take your lunch break at whatever time you start to lose focus, even if that’s not “lunchtime”
  • Plan your work day around the non-work things that matter to you. Pause work for a mid-morning exercise class or to get your kids off the schoolbus in the afternoon

6: Define and share your company values

It’s easier to work as a team when you all know what you stand for.

Your company values are the ethics and standards you live by. If there’s a conflict between what it says in your employee handbook and what you do as a leader, your actions are the truth.

Team leader on a video call

Integrity is living up to the values you claim to have. Teams with integrity are aware of their company’s values and make decisions accordingly. It’s easy to trust your employees to get things done when they care about integrity.

This kind of culture starts with you. If you don’t act according to your company’s values, your team won’t, either. Set the example. Walk the talk and your team will follow.

7: Recognize good work

Train yourself to recognize and reward good work.

Appreciation is important. While working from home, it’s easy to overlook employee recognition.

Create a habit of publicly praising good work. At Hubstaff, we have a Slack channel just for calling attention to our superstars, and we use it often.

Train yourself to recognize and reward good work.

It’s dangerously easy to fall into the habit of criticizing too much and complimenting too little, especially when you don’t see your team face-to-face.

8: Leverage good tools

The right tools make all the difference.

Take sewing as an example: sewing by hand is a skill that takes years of practice to develop. Sewing on a machine is much faster, and most people can get consistently good results with just a little practice.

Don’t waste your team’s time by forcing them to work without the right tools.

  • Replace manual timesheets with an easy time tracking tool like Hubstaff
  • Replace daily check-in meetings with project management software like Hubstaff Tasks
  • Replace Slack and email file sharing with a shared drive like Dropbox or Google Drive
  • Replace version-controlled spreadsheets with collaborative tools like Google Sheets

Automate any simple, repetitive work and free up time to focus on higher priorities. The more stuff you automate, the more your team can get done.

Employee productivity tracking should free up your time to focus on top priorities. You still have the tools to assess remote work, but you also give your team the freedom to work in a way that’s productive for them.

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Tracking productivity can help your team stay focused. Make sure you’re tracking the right things, though.

How do you measure remote employee productivity?

A lot of managers assume that if an employee is at her desk working, she’s productive.

Wrong.

Productivity isn’t just working. It’s working on the right things and accomplishing important goals.

Choose which work from home metrics you measure based on what’s most important to your company.

At Hubstaff, in addition to using our own productivity tracker, we measure the success of our team based on our core values:

1. #own-it –

Have pride in the work you do and own it from start to finish. Do what you say you’re gonna do without being nudged.

2. #prove-it –

Know your numbers. Show evidence for decisions and proof later that they worked. This earns respect.

3. #trim-it –

Work efficiently, and recognize when time is being wasted. See opportunity for improvements. Don’t get bloated so that projects get slowed down by unneeded communication. Keep teams small.

4. #solve-it –

Present solutions not problems, and think for yourself. You have permission to create. Creation adds value. Take charge and just get it done.

5. #mean-it –

Share opinions honestly and respectfully. Don’t be afraid to pick a side and defend it.

6. #feel-it –

Start with empathy. Not an assembly line. Take initiative and think with the customer in mind.

7. #ship-it –

Act with urgency and choose simple over complex. It’s better to release something early and iterate on it than perfect it first.

8. #team-it –

We’re in this together and we’re all on the same team. Have each others backs take time to appreciate each other

Given our team goals, we measure productivity and performance in these categories:

  • Ownership
  • Efficiency
  • Initiative
  • Expertise and Hubstaff knowledge
  • Communication

All of this is communicated clearly and often to our team members. Everyone knows what is expected, so it’s much easier to meet our remote productivity goals.

KPIs for remote workers

One way to measure remote productivity is to think about your key performance indicators (KPIs). Those metrics should tell you a lot about whether or not your team is getting stuff done.

Setting KPIs depends a lot on the type of the team you have.

KPIs might mean that your developer ships code on time. For your support team, you might measure customer satisfaction ratings or a certain number of resolved tickets. Your marketing team might be judged by the number of leads generated, or maybe by completion of milestones.

A man working remotely

Work with your team to decide what work from home metrics are the most important for each role. A good productivity metric is something that your employees can influence or control, and is directly tied to your business goals.

Here are some of the work from home metrics you might want to track:

For customer support agents:

  • Customer satisfaction scores
  • Number of repeat contacts or first call resolution
  • Average call time
  • Resolved tickets
  • Call abandonment rates

For developers:

  • Code delivered
  • Code churn
  • Time to complete project
  • Average number of bug fixes required
  • Deadlines hit or missed

For marketing team members:

  • Cost per lead
  • Cost per acquisition
  • Number of leads generated
  • Customer retention rates
  • Customer lifetime value by channel or cohort

For field services:

  • Jobs completed
  • Timeliness
  • Customer satisfaction ratings
  • First time fix rates
  • Billable hour percentage

For sales representatives

  • Number of outbound calls or contacts
  • Conversion rate
  • Average customer value
  • Customer retention
  • Number of completed sales
  • Value of portfolio

KPIs for remote workers must be clear. Since your company culture and team goals are personal, work with your team to find the KPI that makes the most sense.

You shouldn’t have a huge number of key performance indicators for every role because they are the key indicators. Focus on the big metrics that move the needle.

How remote companies approach productivity tracking

Successful teams approach remote management in different ways.

Some operate completely on trust and don’t check in or measure anything unless there is an obvious problem. Others closely monitor their employees throughout the workday. There are even some companies that insist on having team members available via webcam.

Most companies fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

We asked business leaders to share their experiences with remote work. Here’s what they had to say:

Daniel Ramsey, Founder and CEO at MyOutDesk

We schedule a huddle at the start of the day where each team member gives his or her individual goal and action plan. This sets the tone for the rest of the shift. Ideally, every team huddle is done via Zoom, and all participants are expected to be on video wearing appropriate attire for a business meeting. It changes the attitude.

Should we need to review productivity by the hour or minute, we use our tracking system where we can generate a full report of websites visited, length of stay on a specific page, and log-ins.

Sam Maley, Head of Growth at Bailey & Associates

We have found that when tracking the productivity of remote staff, there is no substitute for real-time screen tracking, either through screenshots or screen recording.

Sometimes projects have unexpected bottlenecks that remote workers have difficulty communicating back to managers. This can lead to believing that your team member is not putting the effort in, even when there are actually external problems that need to be solved.

Paul Ronto, CMO and Content Director at RunRepeat

Surprise surprise, we use Hubstaff! I am not answering this because we are Hubstaff users, but because I think remote time tracking is an issue people struggle with.

My suggestion is to find an online time tracking tool to track your employees, something that’s easy and not intrusive. You have to make time tracking simple. Otherwise, it gets in the way and people won’t use it. So my suggestion would be to use a tool that allows you to track overall time and project-based effort.

Sam Williamson, owner at CBDiablo

We understand that our remote workers are in some difficult situations right now, with a few of them at home with their kids or with a partner who is out of work.

We don’t expect them to be working every day, 9-5 right now, it’s just not realistic. So instead of tracking the time that our remote workers are logging, at the moment we’re focusing on their tasks and their progress towards completing them. As long as they’re progressing towards completing their tasks, we don’t mind how long it takes them.

Mike Falahee, owner of Marygrove Awning Co.

Working remotely is a fairly new experience for us as a company, but my team has shown great commitment and applied themselves to this new way of working. It is a lot different from our normal work placement where we meet and greet customers personally.

As our business is a family run operation, it’s quite easy for me to keep a track of everyone’s progress. However, keeping track of our remote staff has been a little different. What I try to do is to give out a daily forecast on what I would like to be done. At the end of each day, I ask my staff to inform me on their progress.

Dan Bailey, President of WikiLawn Lawn Care

We fall somewhere on the middle of the spectrum, as we’ve had some remote employees for years now, but we’re definitely dealing with challenges now that everyone is remote.

We prefer not to use any intrusive software to monitor productivity. Everyone’s stressed enough as it is. So long as deadlines are being met and work is getting done, I’m not going to be counting every little aspect of it.

That said, we do need some way to track what’s getting done, just to make sure we’re meeting milestones and to ensure tasks aren’t assigned to an employee when they’ve already been completed. We use Trello for this. It gives us a way to map out tasks, including any necessary sub-tasks and designations for said tasks, then assign them appropriately.

David Lynch, Content Lead at Payette Forward, Inc.

Our company was working remotely prior to the coronavirus pandemic, so we have lots of experience with remote work.

We primarily use time tracking software to measure productivity for remote workers. We use other web tools like Trello and Slack to make sure everyone knows what they’re working on and has a quick way to get in contact with one another.

Jason Davis, CEO at Inspire360

We are new to remote-work and track productivity through a task system. Without a task system, it’s incredibly difficult to know where employees are spending their time and therefore, it’s hard to manage them.

With a task system, the task creator adds in the deliverables and the staff member assigned to the task then estimates the time it will take to complete at the beginning, puts the ticket into “active” when completing it, and then sets it to “ready to test” when complete. All communication about that task/project is on the task page so that everyone can be on the same page.

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