By Marco Ambrogio
My first experience with remote working dates back to 2003 when I was entrusted to run the Italian subsidiary of an International Automotive Group that, at the time, was pioneering the use of digital technology to support the organization focus on one simple thing: delivering value to customers. My time was spent in business meetings, providing advisory, gathering marketing intelligence, collecting product feedback, with the goal of constantly improving our status as a valuable business partner for our customers. All this time was primarily spent working from my home office set up unless I was visiting customers. I had unknowingly become what is now known as a remote worker. That experience has been a source of guidance for me, as I have continued to work mostly remotely since then. Yet, what was once a work setting I had in common with a smaller amount of workers, during the Covid-19 pandemic became the only option available for many of us. It was an unexpected rapid development, and now Business Leaders must work together with their HR and IT teams to support this newly added dimension of complexity to their organizations. One of the challenges is how to track remote workers, what are the important metrics to apply? With the caveat that what and how you measure depends on your industry, your unique organization situation, and the specific tasks and duties of the employees, there are four metrics that remain valid and important in regards of your remote workers: Quality of Output; Wellbeing; Development; Goals.
Quality of Output.
I am not advocating for giving up control on the quantity of time spent on work, yet I believe quality beats quantity especially in a remote setting where micromanaging and counting the hours can only be done to a certain extent. Meeting a deadline is important but if the work delivered is of poor quality it will require additional time, meaning additional costs. You need to find a balance that deal with these constrains. How to Measure employee performance and quality of Output: technology can help you to keep track of the hours worked by each employee and you should find a software solution that doesn’t take your time to collect this information. The aim is to focus on evaluating the data you collect. Too few hours worked could indicate the worker was not assigned enough tasks, too many hours could signal the person is overworked and at risk of burnout. Additional hours spent to rework because of poor quality could be further investigated to understand if the employee needs more training or perhaps the technology is not supporting the employee productivity. Reviewing performance more regularly than in the past and having a holistic approach based on open and honest conversations should be considered here. Nevertheless, everything starts with mutual trust: without trust, remote working cannot succeed in the long term.
In a nutshell you want healthy, happy, and productive employees that will deliver excellent quality work in an efficient manner. If they feel disengaged from the team or not appreciated or if they work too much at the expense of their personal life, they might develop stress, depression and anxiety. It is an evil circle that could generate absenteeism, decrease productivity and quality of output. Potentially, due to their unhappy and unhealthy body and mind, workers may decide to leave your organization. How to Measure employee wellbeing: Assess the initial situation of the worker in the current remote environment. If challenges are detected, suggest options to improve the situation then agree on an action plan. Monitor frequently to have status update. You need to show your employees that you are there for them. Team reviews where each individual contribution is assessed, if they are done within a safe and supportive environment, can also be a powerful tool to improve individuals wellbeing.
This new reality demands a new set of skills. Workers will value your organization more and feel more engaged if you are offering an appropriate training and development program that will support them in doing great work from remote. How to measure Development: Take the opportunity to bring training to the center stage, and make sure the message is loud and clear that learning new skills is a priority (consider adding remote working related training such as virtual communication, how to deliver a virtual presentation in front of a client, public speaking online, how to deal with stress at home while working, etc.). Monitor participation and collect before and after feedback from workers. Align your existing training content with what is needed to excel in a remote working scenario. Consider setting up the training to be available both in person and online to avoid discriminating among workers.
Help remote workers to set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant Time-based) under the current circumstances. Productivity and Wellbeing are improved by a worker achieving is personal goals, provided there is an alignment among the three. How to measure Goals: without focusing just on the annual performance review, I recommend that goals reviews shall be done on a shorter time frame at least unless you are confident that the employee has found a balance between performance and well being in the remote setting. In conclusion, remote working calls for everyone of to grow, to change our mindset and the way we think about work. Yet the result we want to achieve is still the same: delivering great quality work that is rewarding for us and creates value for our customers, regardless of where and when we work. This is the lesson I learned many years ago. A great opportunity is awaiting leaders at all levels to think outside the office, to design the future of work with innovative solutions that will benefit businesses, workers, and customers. The best is yet to come! Marco Ambrogio, a remote worker since 2003 and a Strategic Consultant since 2009, is a Lecturer at the University of Malta for the Course “Soft Skills for the Workplace” and a regular contributor to Informa training programs.