Among all the encouraging stories of WFH policies that came out of the pandemic, there are still some bad apples that can taint the image of what’s possible. Because of these bad apples, there are still plenty of reason to monitor remote workers to make sure productivity is where it needs to be.
But before we get to the methods themselves, I want to put a huge caveat on this list. A good manager “monitors” their remote staff by measuring their output, not the amount of time invested into work. This is especially with work that’s more on the intangible side of things (i.e., marketing).
But again, there are plenty of instances which actual “time spent” can be a helpful metric to look at. In those instances, these methods may help get a view behind the curtain. Just don’t be a Nazi about it.
Use time-monitoring software
As someone who has managed remote teams for years, I can tell you that time-tracking software can an absolute lifesaver if it’s used correctly. It’s one of the easiest ways to make sure your remote employees are staying on task and working efficiently.
Most managers use time-tracking tools to monitor things like time spent, keystrokes, and even mouse clicks. In my opinion, this is invasive at best, and downright untrustworthy at worst.
Personally, I have only ever used software in two situations:
- Monitor time spent on tasks. This is to keep an accurate accounting of budget, profit, and speed. As a manager, if I see a team member that has spent twice the amount of time on a particular task, I can see that something is wrong and address it with them. They could be struggling with getting people on the phone (i.e., sales), or maybe a technical problem is slowing things down. Either way, looking at the time associated with tasks as they progress can help everyone.
- New hires. The only time I’m meticulous about time tracking is with new hires. It can be very telling to see how they’re spending their time. This allows me to see how they prioritize their work. Of course, after they have learned the ropes it’s rarely something I ever look at again.
As long as you aren’t a micromanager or give your team reasons not to trust you, there isn’t any reason why time-tracking tools can be utilized in a beneficial way.
Track progress in project management tools
Project management tools are a game-changer and are among some of the most important tools when managing distributed teams. These tools help you stay organized, delegate tasks, and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.
One of the biggest benefits of PM tools is that they make collaboration a breeze. With these tools, everyone on your team can see what’s going on and contribute to the conversation. This transparency should help see the output (as mentioned in the introduction) vs. just time spent.
But again, monitoring the time spent on tasks can be needed for productivity reasons. For this reason, you’ll want to make sure your PM tool is set up to track time on specific tasks. Most PM software suites do this, but I’ve found Teamwork to be especially good at this. It gives a very detailed breakdown of time spent based on team member and task.
Monitor communication channels
Communication tools that are used within the company can also be used to get an idea of someone’s productivity. Are they regularly in communication on Slack, or do they take hours or days to respond? Same with email. There’s definitely something to be said for letting employees have their undisturbed work time, but communication is important and expected in a timely manner. Regular check-ins can be a good method to employ as well so you aren’t constantly having to bug them during the workday to check their productivity.
Overall, the key to monitoring productivity with via communication channels is to be proactive and stay in touch with your team. By using a variety of tools and methods, you can get a comprehensive view of how your team is performing and identify any areas where you need to offer support or make changes.
Manage performance metrics
As I mentioned in the introduction, managing their productivity is best judged by the value they’re giving back to the company. I would suggest using the following performance metrics to make sure they were being productive:
- Output: Output is one of the most straightforward metrics to track. Depending on the type of work my team is doing, I would track things like the number of completed tasks, projects delivered, or sales closed. This gives me a good sense of how much work my team is producing and whether they’re meeting their goals.
- Quality: Another important metric is quality. Depending on the work my team is doing, I would track metrics like customer satisfaction, error rates, or client sentiment. This helps me ensure that the work my team is producing is of high quality and meeting the standards we’ve set.
- Efficiency: Efficiency is a measure of how much work is being done in a given amount of time. Depending on the work my team is doing, I might track metrics like time to completion, turnaround time, or response time. This helps me identify any bottlenecks or inefficiencies in our processes and make changes as needed.
- Engagement: Engagement is a measure of how invested and motivated my team is. Depending on the work my team is doing, I might track metrics like attendance, participation in meetings, or feedback received. This helps me identify any team members who might be struggling and offer support or feedback as needed.
Overall, the key to using performance metrics to monitor productivity is to choose metrics that are relevant to the work your team is doing and to use them in conjunction with other tools and methods. By taking a comprehensive approach to monitoring productivity, you can ensure that your remote workers are staying on track and meeting their goals.
Incorporate regular check-ins and progress reports
The best way to fix a problem is being proactive. The same is true here. Instead of finding out that a remote team member isn’t being very productive, incorporate check-ins so that projects stay on track before they go off the rails in the first place. This method ensures that my team is being productive. Here’s why:
- Provides Accountability: Regular check-ins and progress reports help create a sense of accountability for everyone. Knowing that they will be required to report on their progress on a regular basis helps them stay focused and motivated, which ultimately leads to greater productivity.
- Identifies Issues Early On: If someone is falling behind on their work or struggling with a particular task, it can be addressed before it becomes a bigger problem. This helps keep projects on track and ensures that deadlines are met.
- Improves Communication: By setting aside time to talk about progress and challenges, my team and I can stay aligned on project goals and expectations. This helps reduce misunderstandings and ensures that everyone is working towards the same objectives.
- Provides Feedback and Support: Progress reports also give me an opportunity to provide feedback and support to my team. By offering constructive criticism, suggestions, and encouragement, I can help my team members stay motivated and make progress.
Overall, regular touchpoints can help maintain productivity and accountability proactively. Incorporating this with your team helps everyone stay on track and achieve their project goals.
Use these methods wisely
Making sure remote employees are working productively is an essential part of managing remote teams. No doubt about it. By using methods and tools like the ones mentioned above, managers can keep track of their team’s progress and ensure that everyone is working towards the same goals.
But it’s important to remember that monitoring remote workers isn’t a substitute for trust and communication. Remote work requires a high level of trust between managers and team members, as well as effective communication strategies that keep everyone in the loop and foster collaboration.
By focusing on creating a culture of trust and transparency, managers can ensure that their team members feel valued and supported, which ultimately leads to greater productivity and success.
Jared has worked remotely for 15 years in various marketing capacities, and has managed hundreds of marketing campaigns along the way. He has held freelance, agency, and in-house positions for companies large and small.