Going the distance

Boosting productivity is a complex task under any circumstances, but the remote workplace of the next normal poses its own particular challenges. How does an organisation hire the right talent and create the best conditions for long-term productivity? In this article, we look at some of the new dimensions involved in answering this classic question.

Today’s remote teams are just as likely to be teleworking in the same city as they are to be based at satellite offices across the globe. Managers of remote teams play a crucial role in keeping everyone on board and moving in the same direction. The ability to lead and create a sense of unity is particularly important to counter the isolation felt by employees working from home.

Productivity relies on trust, and transparency is key to building mutual trust among employees, managers and the company. By setting clear expectations and keeping communication lines open, employers can help their workforce stay engaged and motivated – no matter the distance.

However, in order to boost productivity, employers must define what productivity means. What does success look like, and how can it be measured? KPIs and other metrics are valuable tools for tracking progress, but numbers don’t always capture the big picture.

In a remote environment, strong manager-employee relationships are critical to gaining a holistic overview of performance and delivering meaningful feedback. As we enter the next normal, it’s candidates with traits such as empathy, reliability and honesty who are most likely to thrive.

In transparency we trust

Though some initially viewed working from home with trepidation, the shift has largely been positive – in a January 2021 PwC survey, more than half of executives felt that productivity had improved. While that’s good news, any gains in productivity can easily be undermined by blunders in remote leadership.

Did the way employers manage their workforce during lockdown have an impact on employee commitment? According to our 2020 Candidate Pulse survey, the answer was yes: 30% of candidates reported feeling less committed to their company, while only 17% said their commitment had increased.

Evidently, management styles and techniques are a decisive factor in shaping job satisfaction, motivation and commitment. In the context of remote work, it’s even more important that employees trust their leaders – and vice versa. “Full transparency is deeply appealing to candidates,” observes Krzysztof Tuszyński, Senior Manager at Michael Page. “Candidates today understand the market better, and trust is key.”

To build trust, employers should define clear objectives for the company and its teams. What is expected of the candidate, and how will performance be evaluated? And what communication channels are in place for employees to report back on what’s working and what isn’t? Just as leaders should make a point of giving periodic updates on what’s on the horizon, they should also create space for employees to share their own progress and pitfalls. Transparency is a two-way street; candidates want to know that they will be heard. Empathetic leadership is a must.

What counts as success?

Transparency and trust are the cornerstones of giving remote employees the autonomy they need to be successful. But what counts as success? Employee performance metrics and KPIs offer an objective way to set targets and track productivity, but only if you know what you’re measuring and why.

Numbers can provide remote employers a sense of reassurance, but they can also be misleading. For example, one of the most common metrics is time spent working, even though the number of hours clocked says little about an employee’s achievements. That’s not to say that time tracking serves no purpose; such indicators can be helpful in preventing burnout. But it highlights the importance of separating input from output.

Results are the best gauge of productivity. When processes are clear and outcomes can be calculated ­– sales leads generated, IT tickets closed – managers and employees should agree in advance on their targets. Such goals can give remote employees a welcome sense of direction and motivation.

However, numbers don’t tell the whole story. An innovative project, months in the making, might be the one that leads to a major breakthrough. Ultimately, team leaders are best positioned to evaluate the productivity of their members, especially in terms of accomplishments that aren’t reflected in the data. When it comes to periodic performance evaluations, written testimonies can provide a fuller picture of an employee’s strengths and achievements than numbers alone.

From quantity to quality

In the physically fragmented reality of the remote workplace, regular manager-employee check-ins need to be a priority. Scheduling one-to-one audio or video calls – and showing up for them – is vital for managers to take the pulse of their direct reports’ progress. A weekly or biweekly catch-up can ensure that both sides are on the same page, while avoiding the extremes of micro-management on the one hand, or a lack of leadership on the other hand.

Relationships built on trust and honesty are key for employers to have a holistic overview of productivity, and for employees to receive useful feedback and guidance. Healthy relationships can boost employee motivation, engagement and retention, all of which is important for long-term productivity. These personalised support networks are particularly valuable for candidates who work from home.

Ideally, managers should not only evaluate employee performance but also identify skills to develop. In a remote context, if communication is kept to a minimum, it can be all too easy to miss opportunities for growth. In our Candidate Pulse survey, 44% of candidates said their most recent manager didn’t talk about training. Employers interested in enticing ambitious candidates would do well to establish a framework for potential talent to flourish.

Key takeaways

Trust and transparency are the cornerstones of remote work productivity. They also top the list of what candidates seek in an employer. By setting clear expectations and supporting healthy managerial relationships, companies can lay the groundwork for long-term productivity.

  • Remote productivity depends on mutual trust, and trust comes from transparency. Leaders and team members should define together what success means and how it will be measured.
  • Data often reflects quantity, not quality. Use KPIs as part of a wider toolkit to measure productivity towards clearly set targets; focus on outcomes rather than input.
  • Through regular communication with remote employees, managers can better evaluate productivity and provide feedback. Leaders should celebrate wins and identify opportunities for career growth to keep employees engaged.

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