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5 ways to gauge your team’s productivity when they’re not in front of you

You may not be able to see your team in person, but you can still motivate your people to stay accountable.

5 ways to gauge your team’s productivity when they’re not in front of you
[Photo: Tyler Franta/Unsplash]

During the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges observed by managers and small-business owners was dealing with the feeling of losing control. Most managers and employees have been accustomed to management styles that require physical presence to be effective.

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Employees might use visual cues to subconsciously (and consciously) affirm that they’re in a work environment, and act accordingly. Similarly, managers and employers can use visual cues to glean an employee’s engagement and productivity by simply looking at them. However, as most organizations have had to adapt to remote and hybrid work environments, managing and measuring productivity this way has become less suitable. Regardless, it was never the most effective way to track productivity; results were.

Of course, there are ways to ensure that employees are engaged, and meeting productivity goals, without being there in person. I’ll show you what you can do to monitor employee productivity and increase their sense of accountability, while also addressing the dangers of overmanagement.

Create rituals and set practices for communicating

Building communication rituals within your organization can mimic or achieve a similar effect as face-to-face interactions in the office. They can raise morale and give staff a feeling of camaraderie. Additionally, they can remind everyone that they are part of your organization’s future and that you’re all working toward the same goal.

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To develop effective remote and team-wide communication rituals, you’ll need to ensure that you have suitable tools and the infrastructure to facilitate them. The first step to take is implementing the right business communication and collaboration software.

If you use the messaging features of collaboration tools, you can encourage employees to greet each other when they sign in (like saying “hi” or using a waving emoji) and use farewell remarks when they sign out (like saying “bye” or “see you tomorrow”). Think of how you would interact if you were entering or leaving the office.

This simple practice can restore a sense of normalcy, despite the chasm that separates workers digitally. It can also reduce workers’ feelings of disconnection, loneliness, and uncertainty from working remotely.

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Another communication ritual worth utilizing is a weekly remote conference meeting where all the week’s priorities are discussed. You can also encourage staff to host digital talks where employees can chat about anything that isn’t work related. More casual interactions can help you build teamwork and stability among your remote workforce.

How well employees conform to these practices will give you an idea of your team’s headspace. While communication rituals will not give you direct insight into their productivity, it will ensure they have a foundation and a reason to be more self-starting and accountable.

Measure employee output

One of the biggest reasons monitoring remote employees has become a topic of discussion is that many organizations have not yet learned how to quantify employee output. Instead, they measure work by hours put in. However, after so much time working remotely, many of us understand that hours sitting at a desk don’t necessarily equate to amount of work accomplished.

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You can be at your computer or in the office and still be extremely unproductive. Generally, this is why it’s a good idea, especially when working remotely, to learn to quantify work. The focus needs to shift toward outcomes, not just time put in.

Of course, this isn’t always possible with all professions, but in most cases, you should be able to find some form of a metric. For programmers, that can be the number of updates or pushes to a repository. Alternatively, it can be the number of tasks completed or new features added. For marketing, it can be the number of ads launched or marketing campaigns analyzed. With more concrete expectations, your team becomes more motivated to get things done instead of just putting in the hours and collecting their paychecks.

Keep track of time

In the previous step, we highlighted how results were more significant than hours put in. However, tracking time is still important. If an employee is missing goals or not meeting deadlines, tracking time can help you figure out why.

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Are the goals unrealistic, or is the worker not managing their time well? Both staff and leaders should be able to manage their own time. But sometimes, you may need to seek out additional tools that will help keep tabs on your remote employees—though this is a fine line with these sorts of software programs. As Fast Company has reported on, there is a delicate balance between “legitimate reasons to monitor staff and an illegal intrusion on people’s privacy.”

There are numerous time-tracking tools available that provide you with flexible tracking services for your workforce. Some tools go even further and track your employees’ website and application use, keystrokes, and mouse movements during working hours. If you do turn to these tools, make sure they are secure and compliant with the PCI (payment card industry) encryption standards. This means that all customer cardholder data will be encrypted and only shared with those working within the business on a need-to-know basis. The distinction is critical especially if you have employees handling sensitive customer information on a day-to-day basis. Cybercriminals can ascertain security profile and password information by analyzing keystroke data.

Using unsafe tracking software that records keyboard and mouse movements can leave you vulnerable to such an attack. Therefore, you’ll need to ensure that your remote staff’s networks and connections are secure from any cyber threat while monitoring them. This means analyzing and avoiding common network-monitoring mistakes. And you’ll need to ensure that you get written and signed consent from employees before tracking them. This may involve amending company policies, instating special insurance arrangements, and adding work-from-home compensation and other benefits.

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When simple output fails to track engagement and productivity, only then are hours logged a good backup solution.

That being said, it’s important to avoid overly monitoring your employees. Time-tracking and monitoring software can help you measure and improve employee productivity when implemented correctly; using such technology incorrectly, however, can erode employee trust and engagement. Excessive employee monitoring can also lead to negative consequences, such as giving a sense of invading workers’ privacy, as well as a false sense of security.

Encourage healthy well-being practices

While you may consider this as part of your communication ritual, it’s a separate step altogether, which requires careful consideration. Again, thanks to the pandemic, we’ve had to learn new ways to work and socialize with each other. Of course, the transition has not always been smooth.

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Most of us have found ourselves with heightened feelings of anxiety and stress. According to recent studies, more than 28% of workers had trouble concentrating due to pandemic-related stress and mental health decline.

Therefore, organizations have a responsibility to bring mental health to the forefront of their work culture and offer supportive space for workers to share their concerns. Even before the pandemic, many organizations had a lax attitude toward employee mental health and well-being, which is surprising considering the widespread evidence of depression’s impact on worker productivity. Nevertheless, before the peak of the pandemic, almost 60% of employees never spoke to anyone at work about their mental health status.

Often employees are either unaware of the available resources or are too ashamed to use them. What can managers do to change this and help support their staff’s mental well-being? Here are a few suggestions:

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  • Offer honest communication about your own mental health during remote and on-site meetings with employees
  • Host simple weekly or biweekly surveys that assess staff morale and mental health
  • Establish a good Employee Assistance Program that workers can easily access and use when needed

Organizations need to be sure that employees understand the mental health benefits and resources available to them. Provide employees specific details on what resources there are, like certain phone hotlines or websites.

Spread appreciation and recognition

Again, working from home because of the pandemic can make workers feel invisible, and after a while, unmotivated. But showing them even a little recognition and appreciation can influence productivity.

Appreciation isn’t just about making people feel good. Together with recognition, appreciation can have major impacts on your bottom line. One of the biggest reasons people leave their jobs is because of limited recognition and praise. To make sure your employees feel seen and recognized, reward exceptional performance and praise not only your team’s results, but also their efforts. Further, publicly recognize superb achievers on your company blog or social media.

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Recognition can go a long way to ensuring employee engagement and loyalty—and loyal employees have a greater chance of holding themselves and each other accountable when things go wrong.


Nahla Davies is a software engineer and a technical copywriter based in New York.

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