Remote Work: How Do We Measure Performance and Success?

Current thinking on performance management suggest the annual review — a business management tenant — is no longer valuable, and that we need to consider new ways of measuring success, especially when factoring remote work. While I would agree with much of this sentiment, it is not time to close the book on the way things have previously been done. Rather, it’s time to consider what worked, what didn’t, and where we go from here.

What might a more agile approach to HR look like, particularly in this shift from predominantly having colocated employees to employees who might be located on the other side of the world?

It is the perfect time to consider how performance is measured and how feedback is provided, now that we have an anchor, of sorts, to tether the change to.

The workforce has changed, how work is done has changed, and where work is done has changed.  Having a distributed (remote) workforce is causing businesses — or at least it should be causing businesses — to consider their people strategy at least as much as their product and sales strategy.

Feedback & Delivery Stats

In our research, 250 plus remote workers reported they desire meaningful work and want to know it is connected to the work done by their co-workers, and also to organizational goals and mission. 

When the respondents were asked about feedback:

  • 72 per cent stated that individual feedback from a supervisor was either critical, or at least very important.
  • 69 per cent agreed that feedback from peers was also critical.
  • 78 per cent of remote workers went on to report the desire for receiving feedback whenever needed, with the remainder desiring it several times a week, or throughout the day.

Additional comments overwhelmingly stated that a scheduled, formal review session should also happen on a regular basis, be it quarterly, semi –annually, or annually, connecting on-going feedback with performance reviews. (Sawatzky & Sawatzky, 2019)

With the need for on-going feedback, and the lack of opportunity for real-time-face-to-face-feedback, the role of technology becomes a crucial part of the people strategy.

A substantial number, 73 peer cent, of remote workers surveyed desire face-to-face feedback on their performance, in person when possible, but if not then through video calls. A quarter of those individuals also stated that receiving a written summary following the conversation was important.

With that in mind, tools like Google Hangouts, Zoom, and Skype become critical in creating a reasonable facsimile of face to face. But, technology also serves us in ways to create actual face-to-face experiences through the use of platforms like Travelocity, AirBnB, and Open Table. Booking team travel to any location has become simple, as has finding lodgings to accommodate teams in those locations.  These technologies, when used as tools to enhance the human experience, are what make supporting distributed teams possible, and it’s no coincident that the revolution in how people work is happening as technology evolves to the point of dependability.

What Should Be Measured?

Along with mutually set goals, it is important to consider what should be measured on an on-going basis. This can look very different in a distributed context than in colocated situations where a manager has the opportunity to check-in via a quick casual conversation, not so easy when the individual is in another location, or country! To be sure, micro managing is no longer an option which greatly impacts a manager’s approach to leadership. That said, we know of at least a couple companies who report increased communication thanks to (or, depending on your perspective, at the fault of) tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Twist, and Basecamp (each of these companies have a unique take and opinion on what this communication should look like).

 The use of data to drive metrics helps employees, and employers, know:

  • How productive they were/are
  • The current state of any gives project or task
  • What that productivity means to the team/organization
  • How the work they did related to the work others are doing

Clarity around deliverables and timelines removes ambiguity for all employees. Our research determined  remote workers want two-way feedback to happen on an as needed basis to identify their successes, potential growth areas, and to provide feedback regarding how they need managers to remove barriers for individual and team success.

However, as already noted, this does not replace a formal annual discussion around accomplishments, goals, challenges, and contributions. Well-applied metrics, combined with mutually agreed upon goals, and evidence of on-going growth of relevant competencies, can serve as the foundation for effective, respectful performance measurement. But, just as it’s always been, the results shared in an annual review should not be surprising to the employee. Feedback should be flowing year-round!

Competencies & Performance Management

Another aspect of measuring performance, and growth, is tied to competencies. In a previous article in this series we discussed the competencies necessary for success in a remote economy.

Organizations who hire based on competencies need to tie those competencies to performance. If excellence in communication was something that was interviewed for, is it being measured on an on-going basis? Is the quality of emails circulated being considered? Are team members clearly articulating and explaining complicated aspects of services offered? What about self-management…how is that going? Has it fallen aside since being hired? Is there a need for coaching around that or around other competencies such as taking initiative?

A key reason for performance management should be the growth of employees, colocated or remote, ultimately leading to organizational success. In order to facilitate such learning and developing, all the elements hiring was based on should be discussed and measured to ensure the highest standards are being attained.

Wrapping Remote Work Up

Remote work is a growing reality that is moving us toward a more open, global, and flexible employee-focused marketplace. When done well, remote working allows for humans to experience a greater cadence of meaningful experiences both in work and their personal lives; and it allows organizations to benefit from an empowered workforce eager to bring forward the best of who they are and what they can offer. This requires thoughtful consideration by both employees and employers as they embrace remote work; selecting the right people (employees and managers), setting employees up for success by ensuring the organization has considered all the needs, and providing on-going support and feedback for continued success.

Read More of Roberta and Nathan’s Work

 


 

Roberta Sawatzky is a business professor and consultant, with 30+ years experience creating environments where individuals and teams can perform to the best of their abilities. Her current research is directed towards remote workers and how they can best be supported. Nathan J. Sawatzky is a researcher & business culture consultant with a particular interest in technology and its impact on society. Past experience includes Disney, Two Hat Security, and Facebook.

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