Improving and Measuring Remote Employee Productivity

Remote employee productivity is not always an easily measurable metric. Finding the proper balance between accountability and allowing the employee creative freedom can be difficult.

When Shelby Hanson, VP of Operations at a medium-sized real estate office in Kentucky, allowed her receptionists, salespeople, and data entry operators to work from home, she had concerns. “It’s hard to let go of the reins,” Shelby explained. “You want to find a balance between giving remote employees the freedom to get work done. You also need to know that the work really is getting done.”

Like many remote employee managers, Shelby found herself constantly checking up on her employees. “I found myself calling them with reminders about work that needed to be done.” Frequently, Shelby found herself in too deep. She laughs, “I ended up getting myself in the middle of things and sometimes, I even complicated situations more. I was always putting out fires that weren’t even lit before I got involved.” She found this an odd position to be in; she had never questioned employee productivity before they began working remotely.

Her employees began to feel disconnected. Hal G, a salesperson for Shelby’s store, explains, “I have been working at this office longer than Shelby. I know exactly what I need to do. I was really beginning to feel unappreciated.” Hal recalls he thought about leaving the company altogether at first. “The only difference between working from home and working in the office for me was where my computer was set up. I knew my job, but she just kept coming at me.”

So where is the balance between monitoring remote employee productivity and micromanaging? Read on for ways to find that balance and drive remote productivity forward.

Drive Remote Employee Productivity Forward with The Right Tools

In today’s world, there is no need to lose your connection with your employees just because they work from home. Implementing the right tools is the first step in improving remote employee productivity.

Iconic IT’s offices, spread across five cities, stay in contact with each other in a variety of ways. We use Teams, Office 365, and Zoom to keep us connected and productive every day. These tools work great for our remote workforce as well.

Teams

Microsoft Teams is included in your Office 365 package. Teams is the perfect one-stop solution for remaining connected and productive.

Real Time Chat: Teams allows employees to chat privately between themselves or in a group. This makes it easy to find help from your team members when you need it.

Phone Calls: Easily connect with your coworkers using the instant call feature in Teams. This can be a video call or an audio-only call.

Availability: Using Teams means your employees can see immediately who in the team is able to chat with simple “busy” or “available” status notifications. This allows employees to quickly find a contact who can help them rather than wait for one contact who is “busy” to respond.

Video Conferencing: With nearly unlimited group size options, your Teams calls can be a daily check-in with an employee, group calls between several employees, or a larger scale meeting across your organization. Teams can connect people in your office, across the nation, or around the globe. Schedule and record meetings, chat in real time during meetings, and connect to Teams on mobile devices for employees “on the go.”

Groups: Teams allows you to organize your employees into groups. You can streamline communications to each group individually, allowing your teams to only receive messages that are important to their tasks rather than sifting through unrelated communications for the entire workforce.

Screen-Sharing: Teams allows employees to share their screens so everyone can see projects and topics at the same time, making it easier for collaboration.

Document Storage and Sharing: Teams saves documents to the cloud, so there is room for everyone’s data. Documents can be shared and edited by the team, saved to specific folders, saved in specific teams and groups, and more. Everyone with access to the group can see documents and folders within the group. This streamlines the process of saving and retrieving valuable files. Data and documents can be shared via link or as digital files.

These are just a few reasons to use Teams; there are many more. Implementing this tool means streamlining communications, file sharing, and connectivity so your remote employee productivity will increase.

Office 365

Microsoft Office 365 is more than just Outlook. It is a highly customizable organizational platform with many features you may not have explored.

Outlook: Of course, Outlook is one of the most popular email clients on the planet. Look deeper, though; Outlook features calendars that can be shared across your organization, the ability to schedule meetings and have them display on the calendars immediately, and so much more. Your employees will benefit from the To-Do list feature on Outlook.

PowerPoint: PowerPoint is an easy to use slide show presentation creation tool that is customizable, shareable, and compatible with Teams. Streamline presentations and meetings; these presentations can be stored in Teams so everyone can edit them prior to a meeting or access them afterwards.

Word: The most recognizable word processing platform around the world, Word can help you write professional documents with a wide variety of themes and fonts. Spelling and grammar checks are built into the platform, and there are templates for almost any presentation you can imagine. Word is also customizable for each user.

Excel: Easily put information onto a spreadsheet and share with a group or create one for your employees to keep track of tasks and updates. Highly customizable, lots of uses; Excel is an easy way to help track your remote employee productivity.

Office 365 has tons of additional features, but these are the ones your employees will find most beneficial to them when working remotely.

Zoom

Zoom is a cloud-based meeting room with an around the world reach.

Chat: Chat in real time during meetings

High Def Video: Zoom features high quality video for meetings, events and more

Customizable backgrounds: Change your background when on the call

Screen share: Share your screen to share ideas, documents and projects

Audio only options: You can choose not to turn on your video, opting for an audio only call

Used across multiple devices: Every Zoom meeting comes with other sign-in options for mobile devices

Free version: Zoom has a free option for smaller organizations

Schedule a meeting: Zoom allows users to schedule meetings in advance, or have an instant meeting

Compatible with Outlook: Your Zoom meetings will appear on your Outlook calendar

Many options for each call: Every call can be customized, including options like instant record, mute participants, wait for the host before connecting, and more

Zoom offers a platform for video and audio calls, making connecting with employees and customers a snap.

Drive Remote Employee Productivity Forward by Connecting Daily

This concept is not anything new; connecting at least once a day with remote employees is essential. Too many meetings, however, and you’ve lost the largest part of a productive day. In fact, if employees are spending more than 20% of their time in meetings, chances are they are feeling like they are “blocked” from doing their jobs.

Daily Huddle

Also called a scrum or a stand-up, these meetings should be in the morning, focused on the employees’ individual tasks for the day, and not involve collaboration or debate. Huddles should be between members of the workforce who have the same position within your company, such as sales or management.

These daily meetings are ideally 15 minutes in length and allow each employee to discuss what they are working on for the day and where their efforts to accomplish a task are “stuck” and not moving forward.

Collaborative Meetings

These meetings are generally once per week and will discuss ongoing projects in depth. Again, these meetings should only involve employees directly involved in the tasks at hand. You wouldn’t have sales personnel in an HR meeting, for example.

Research shows that Mondays and Fridays are the most counterproductive times to host these meetings, and that the best time of day to have them is around 3 pm.

Stay on topic, and do not allow any employee to use this time to take sidebars into topics that do not involve the entire group. This is a good time for employees to see what others in the team are working on and how each project might fit together with other ongoing work.

One-on-One

These recurring meetings are weekly check-ins with your remote workforce. During this time, expectations and productivity are discussed, the employee can directly address concerns that are affecting him or her, and priorities are established.

These meetings should be “just long enough.” Too long, and it becomes a waste of productivity. Too short, and you won’t accomplish what is necessary. The recommended amount of time for one-on-one meetings is around thirty minutes.

The Harvard business review recommends managers approach these meetings with a positive attitude, a prepared agenda, and a commitment to the allotted time.

These one-on-one meetings are not evaluations; they are a time to ensure your employee is on track with required work.

Meetings: That’s a Wrap

Meetings can be useful, but when overused, they can be a serious productivity killer.

  • Keep meetings as short as possible.
  • Keep group meetings focused on items that concern the entire group.
  • Use one-on-one meetings to discuss employee specific topics.
  • Pay attention to how many meetings you are scheduling and consider whether they are truly important or something that can be shared via other group communication.

Productivity Measurement Tools for Remote Employee Productivity

Before you dive into the metrics of remote employee productivity, it’s important to put things in perspective.

When your employees were at their desks, it was easy to spot who was using their time productively. When your employees are working from home, it’s much harder.

Don’t be tempted to put new metrics in place for your remote employees. Understand that they will still need to do the same steps they were doing to achieve results. The difference, of course, is that you can’t see them doing these steps.

When your sales force was working in the office, you saw them on their phones or searching the internet for Lined In profiles. They still need to do this, even when working remotely. The difference is that you don’t see it.

So how do you measure productivity and accountability in your remote workforce?

Use Excel

Having an Excel spreadsheet is a great way for employees to input their tasks, the time they take on tasks, and the status of the tasks. Salespeople, for instance, may have a spreadsheet that outlines how much time they take setting appointments, how long each appointment is, if the appointment has been kept, and the results of the appointment. In addition, there can be a miscellaneous portion that includes time taken to research the decision maker of the company they are visiting, emailing prospects, and other preparatory steps. Include daily tasks like meetings, emails and phone calls.

Excel is highly customizable. A spreadsheet can be made each week for every employee’s activities.

To-Do Lists

Tried and true, the To-Do list can be made by each employee and brought into the daily huddle every day. A to-do list allows the employee to see a loose outline of his expectations for the day.

It’s important for the manager to have uniformity of these to-do lists, so browse online for free templates for remote employees to use or design your own in Word or Excel.

The To-Do list should have a spot for the employee to tag a priority of the tasks. At the end of the day, employees can send these digitally with checkmarks next to finished tasks, and an explanation column for things not completed.

Traction Tools

Iconic IT uses Traction Tools for streamlining tasks within a group, assigning work, and accountability for the work. Traction Tools  Level 10 (L10) meetings are held routinely to update teams on in-progress projects and tasks. The L10 is a perfect choice as a platform for your weekly collaborative meetings and can be customized for each group you manage.

Weekly Evaluation Tools

Another way to keep track of your remote employee productivity levels is to have a uniform evaluation tool. Iconic IT has adopted the 15Five platform, which allows employees to list their own priorities, progress, and concerns. It is interactive, allowing the manager or “reviewer” to add comments to the 15Five. The manager can include employee specific productivity metrics for accountability.

My Analytics

If you have Microsoft and use Outlook, pay attention to the emails you receive titled “My Analytics.” These communications give you surprising insight into how much time you are spending in meetings, how much time you are in collaboration on projects, and how much time you spend productively without interruption.

This tool is a useful measurement each employee can use to self-analyze where their time is being spent. If employees are spending more than 20% of the workweek in meetings, you may need to scale back to boost remote employee productivity.

Employee Distractions: Business-Inspired Productivity Killer

There are many ways a manager can kill employee productivity. Meetings, of course, are a time-consuming culprit but some other things may also be standing in the way of your remote employee productivity.

Too Many Emails, Not Enough Time

If you send frequent emails throughout the day, your employees will lose productivity by checking their inboxes frequently. How much productivity is lost? An estimated 209 minutes per day to read and respond to work related emails.

Managers may feel employees aren’t paying attention when they overlook frequent emails or don’t get the chance to read them all. The reality is that when employees are inundated with emails, they begin to ignore them.

Some strategies to make sure your emails don’t get lost in the shuffle include:

  • Try to send limited, targeted emails a few times a day rather than multiple emails throughout the day
  • Avoid group emails unless necessary
  • Encourage employees to set aside a few minutes in the morning and a few after lunch or at the end of the day to respond to emails unless they are urgent in nature
  • Tag the subject line as important, lower priority, or FYI so employees know if they can wait to open an email, or if a response is needed urgently.

Phone Calls

A 2018 study revealed that juggling tasks is a real productivity killer. After being distracted by an email or phone call, it can take 23 minutes or more to focus on the original task that was being done before the interruption.

Per the study, if a phone call or other communication involved leaving the original task to perform another for the caller, productivity on the original task takes an even greater hit.

Before placing that call, it’s a good idea for managers to ask:

  • Will this call distract my employee from an important task they are already working on?
  • Which task is more important right now; this one or the one the employee is currently working on?
  • Can this call wait until just before or after lunch?
  • Can this call wait until our daily huddle later this morning, or even wait until tomorrow morning?

Remember that most employees will answer the phone immediately, so save those calls for the important tasks or topics that can’t wait.

Things to Consider When Evaluating Remote Employee Productivity

Remember that not all employees’ productivity will be measured by the same metrics. Some employee productivity will be based on things the employee cannot control, such as meetings, answering phone calls, and re-evaluated priorities.

  • If your employee is a hard worker in the office, he or she will remain a hard worker even when working remotely.
  • Employee productivity can be affected by any number of things, some of which are beyond the employee’s ability to change.
  • Make note of changes in priorities when evaluating remote employee productivity. Their normal work output can be changed by higher-priority tasks.

Your Remote Employee Productivity Depends on Your Approach

Shelby laughs about her initial approach now, but at the time, “It just wasn’t funny,” she recalls. “I had too many tasks that I was taking on that I didn’t need to be a part of.” Shelby is now using organizational tools and platforms (she is also a Teams fan now) and is feeling much less stress over her remote employee productivity.

“It’s the strangest thing to admit,” she explains, “but sometimes you have more control when you stop trying to be in control.”  She continues, “It comes down to a matter of trust. When I let my employees prove themselves, they always come through for me. I just needed to find a balance of trust and control.”

Ultimately, your relationship with your remote employees will be based on:

  • Trust
  • Accountability
  • Productivity

Each of these points relies on the others to help establish a strong, connected remote employee experience.

You can help your remote employees work more efficiently by:

  • Providing the right tools for connectivity
  • Limiting the amount of time the employee spends on things unrelated to his or her tasks
  • Having a firm accountability practice in place
  • Touching base with employees on a regular basis without interfering with their workflow
  • Having one-on-one’s that allow the employee to address any issues or concerns with his or her work
  • Providing flexible metrics to measure productivity
  • Providing clear outlines of each task the employee should be focusing on and a timeline for completion
  • Letting each employee see where their projects fit in with other projects within the group

With the right tools, platforms, and mindset, remote employee productivity will skyrocket along with their morale and loyalty to the company. Hal G. admits, “It was rockier than it should have been at the beginning. We just weren’t prepared, and we were sort of all over the place.

“Now that we have ways to connect and share, we all know what we are doing, what we should be doing, and what Shelby needs from us. I think we are all much happier now.”

For more information on preparing your remote workforce, see:

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