Measure Performance: Strategies for Remote and Hybrid Teams
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BY ADAM HICKMAN AND ELLYN MAESE
While many leaders remain optimistic about the future of work in 2021, some unresolved questions have spilled over from 2020. One being: How can organizations measure productivity with remote and hybrid teams?
Some even wonder whether organizations should measure productivity after a year as difficult on employees as 2020.
What's different now is not the performance measurement tools, but where employees are completing their work.
Gallup reports that 56% of U.S. employees are working remotely to avoid catching or spreading COVID-19. Further, 61 of U.S. employees are wanting to work from home and have embraced remote work because they prefer it now. All signs point to a growing number of hybrid teams in the future -- with some members on-site and some remote -- and hybrid workers who flex between working on-site and working remotely. The preference for working remotely accelerated the concept of hybrid teams to an extreme during 2020.
At first, laissez-faire management tactics likely worked as remote employees adjusted the way they worked to fit the new normal. But now, many hybrid and remote team members have evolved their own definitions of productivity in ways that may not align with managers' views of productivity. The real problem is this: what was acceptable as temporary stopgap operations in the initial crisis may not translate into long-term success.
Another problem is that managers who have long relied on casual drop-by check-ins, hallway conversations, or pre-meeting chatter to keep up on what their team members are working on, how they're doing, and the day-to-day operations are now feeling out of the loop or disconnected. Managers also need to trust that work is being done because they cannot physically see tasks being accomplished.
Measuring Performance Effectively Starts With Better Metrics
In today's workplaces, traditional, one-size-fits-all measurements for productivity are no longer effective in certain jobs or roles. These "objective" targets are often outside employees' control -- or focus on aspects of a role that aren't actually connected to customer or business needs.
For example, tracking how many hours an employee worked is a relevant metric for many businesses, but not a good measure of productivity on its own, because the quality, value, and availability of those hours worked are rarely understood. And while volume-based goals might seem smart, emphasizing quality or efficiency might be an equally important strategy for driving revenue.
The truth is, measuring performance is complex. A single metric rarely reflects all the nuances of an employee's responsibilities and contributions -- whether they are remote, in-person or hybrid. There are also many jobs that are vital to an organization's success but that cannot be directly tethered to these sorts of finite numbers.
The best organizations connect business outcomes to employee behaviors and the most important elements of a person's job. With these well-calibrated metrics, managers and employees can have effective conversations about personal development that promote peak productivity.
3 Universal Domains to Measure Hybrid and Remote Team Productivity
In an extensive qualitative analysis, Gallup discovered three performance domains that comprehensively describe and consistently predict success in a role:
- setting goals and meeting them >> my work
- partnering for effectiveness >> my team
- translating work into its consequences >> my customer
These three core performance domains -- my work, my team, my customer -- are the standard framework that every leader can use to evaluate employee productivity, regardless of an employee's location. To harness these domains, leaders should turn their attention to the single role that has the most influence on team engagement and productivity: the manager.
The truth is, measuring performance is complex. A single metric rarely reflects all the nuances of an employee's responsibilities and contributions -- whether they are remote, in-person or hybrid.
Why Good Managers Are Necessary for High Productivity
Managers, who are responsible for 70% of their team's engagement, can promote excellence and build a foundation to reliably track employee productivity by completing two tasks: establishing clear expectations and setting clear goals.
While these two tasks sound simple, recent Gallup data show a different story: managers are struggling to accomplish them.
For example, expectations should be clear, collaborative, and aligned -- yet only six in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. That is, close to half of U.S. employees start their day with an unclear definition of what they're expected to achieve.
Close to half of U.S. employees start their day with an unclear definition of what they're expected to achieve.
This is a worst-case scenario for any employee -- let alone those who are disconnected from the office in a remote setting.
To remedy this problem, managers should prioritize ongoing performance conversations more than ever as employees may either be remote permanently or a mixture of both in office and remote. During these frequent conversations, managers should emphasize what success looks like -- giving employees a well-defined target for excellence.
Just as important is collaborative goal setting, which boosts employees' intrinsic motivation because they are active participants who must identify which responsibilities are most meaningful to them. Managers also benefit from a commitment to collaborative goal setting because it forces them to think about how to create individualized goals and best support each individual in realizing those goals.
With either remote or hybrid teams, managers should continue to challenge employees to set high standards for success and regularly review employees' progress toward meeting their goals. Expecting excellence and asking about progress encourages productivity because it enables managers to celebrate employees' success, maintain accountability and remove barriers to progress.
Managers should prioritize ongoing performance conversations more than ever as employees may either be remote permanently or a mixture of both in office and remote. During these frequent conversations, managers should emphasize what success looks like -- giving employees a well-defined target for excellence.
Great managers also periodically assess whether an employee's performance goals are still relevant. It is easy for managers to set goals and forget about them until it is time for a progress review, but consistently evaluating whether an employee's goals are appropriate for their role is just as important as reviewing progress made toward meeting them.
In the current state of your workplace, managers who narrowly focus on individual performance expectations will do so at the expense of team and customer outcomes -- outcomes that directly lead to achieving organizational goals. Organizations need a new way to think about performance: one that considers each employee's work, team and customer -- and that leaves employees with zero room to question what's expected of them.
Best of all, managers who ensure clarity and adopt a collaborative approach will find themselves with team members who own their performance goals -- even from a distance.
These basic tasks lay the groundwork for accountability, but managers must follow through. This means keeping an open dialogue and routinely scheduled check-ins to continuously monitor performance, ensure progress toward goals, and be ready to remove any barriers to productivity.
Great managers also know when it's time to dig a little deeper. When alignment seems strained or progress is missing the mark, great managers take the time to get to the root of what's causing it. Instead of jumping to conclusions about employees' shortcomings, they consider how the team, the organization, and themselves as a manager are setting employees up for success -- or not.
How to Lead Hybrid and Remote Workers
Managing remote and hybrid workers can't be over-simplified or reduced to a menu of virtual tools and video-conferencing software; it requires thoughtful adaptations of day-to-day tasks. Here are a few to try:
1. Increase the frequency of check-in conversations with remote and hybrid workers. This helps managers stay on top of progress and potential roadblocks, while also helping workers feel supported and connected.
2. Think about location. For hybrid workers, consider scheduling check-ins about performance in-person for a more natural conversation flow, but don't wait if the feedback needs to be timely. For remote workers, make sure you have a quiet, distraction-free environment with a solid internet connection for one-on-one conversations so that employees feel they are getting your full, undivided attention and don't miss important feedback.
3. Make milestones tangible. Connect goals with tangible outputs that make it clear what "progress" looks like. Everyone likes to have something to show for their hard work, but it can be especially helpful for remote or hybrid workers when you can't see the tasks they complete each day in person.
4. Be available. Make sure remote and hybrid workers have easy access to get their questions answered, clarify next steps, or discuss potential obstacles when they cannot simply stop by your office or flag you in the hallway. It might be helpful to have "office hours" on your calendar or a status update on your internal software system that lets them know you are available.
5. Don't neglect your relationships. Build in time for small talk during your check-ins and team meetings. This can make up for missing out on the casual conversations that abound in the workplace -- it's important to maintain rapport and help employees feel like they are cared about as people, no matter where they are.
6. Think "equity" at every turn. If you manage a hybrid or blended team, be watchful for differences in the employee experience between employees who are on-site vs. remote. Does everyone have equal access to opportunities? An equal say in decisions? Noticing and addressing any disparities early is key to avoiding tensions and long-term consequences that can arise from "favoring" employees based on their work arrangement.
Managers who lead high-performing teams are willing to listen to their employees' feedback and regularly solicit it. More importantly, they frequently act on it. Managers who model this kind of accountability inspire their team members to do their best work, too.