It can feel like there’s little more to say about remote working.

We know about the pressures on businesses, the adjustment to makeshift bedroom offices, and the way some workers have gradually gravitated to hoping they never see a return to traditional office structures.

Despite almost two years of COVID-enforced or encouraged remote working (not to mention the trendsetters experimenting with it years ago), many businesses recognize they have not yet genuinely cracked it and achieved great remote team productivity. They’re chugging along at half speed with a frustrated workforce, outgoing costs they don’t need, and outdated reporting functions. What’s the solution for getting back to peak productivity? Intelligent leverage of KPIs.

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Why all remote businesses should set KPIs

KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) can be used to evaluate employee and team productivity and highlight room for improvement. Businesses worldwide harness these metrics to log the internal progress of individual employees, particular departments, and the business as a whole.

At a time when employee unproductivity is a leading concern, it’s important companies establish clear, efficient, and measurable systems and parameters for their employees to operate in. They’ll not only improve team productivity but uncover potential pain points within their workforce.

From here, businesses can examine and implement new ways to streamline workloads and promote efficiency, such as:

  • Trackable project milestones
  • Enhanced information distribution amongst teams
  • Data-based decision on project management and development
  • Simplified performance evaluations for all employees

While employee motivation is governed by a number of factors, setting KPIs gives companies invaluable insight into refining expectations and how they can build a workplace that puts employee wellbeing, growth, and profitability on an equal footing.

Setting workable KPIs

The implementation of the right KPIs allows both employees and team leaders to objectively assess and contribute to projects and daily tasks without the need for extensive supervision and briefing.

The best KPIs are realistic and measurable, prioritizing the employee’s personal ability, adaptability, workload, and growth opportunities as both an individual and part of a team. If these KPIs aren’t realistically manageable within a three, six or twelve-month period, they can become harmful, lowering morale and affecting team productivity. That’s why the best KPIs are usually devised and owned by the person responsible for achieving them (top-down KPIs rarely work).

Workable KPIs should also reflect the business implementing them. They require not only an evaluation of its staff, but the goals of the people leading them.

A small ecommerce store operating out of a bedroom, for example, may be aiming to improve sales on ebay by the end of the year, so rigorous KPIs possess fewer benefits. While a more established store may be looking to improve on their organic rankings compared to local competitors, an entirely different and more complex range of factors to measure. The workability of KPIs is largely contextual and will therefore vary from business to business.

Remote working KPIs

The widespread adoption of remote working forced many businesses to rework, re-evaluate, or abandon their existing KPIs entirely.

If your pre-COVID KPIs relied on constant supervision, reporting, and office-based time management, they’re impossible to retrofit into a remote working setting. At their most basic level, key performance indicators of a successful remote working business need to address the following:

  • Employee self-discipline: Can they work without a manager peering over their shoulder?
  • Clear and confident communication skills: Great communication in the workplace (particularly from the top down) promotes a positive culture that cushions conflicts
  • Sustained quality of product: Remote working has it’s hang-ups, but the retention of existing quality levels avoids pushback within the business
  • Educational opportunities: The best businesses believe in training and integrate it into employee results and progression plans

Successful remote working requires constant internal feedback, clear goals and a focus on the data to succeed. If your business already struggles with any of these, look at how remote KPIs can be used to both signify and promote their importance.

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Tips for measuring and ensuring remote working productivity

With the importance of KPIs covered, let’s look at how you can develop the right ones for your business, whether you’re working as a fully remote or partially remote team.

Craft a comprehensive remote working policy

Developing a remote working policy is all about answering questions. Is this policy company-wide? How are our testing capabilities? Can every role really be done remotely?

Staff need to be fully on-board with remote working for it to be a success. Getting people enthusiastic about working from home requires outlining your commitment to it in a policy. Making sure this policy is successful means measuring it through KPIs. Don’t just measure productivity, but happiness. Are employee comfort and satisfaction goals being met?

Ensure everyone starts with the right digital tools installed on their laptops. Make in-house or external virtual training seminars accessible from the first day to encourage growth. Make the language current, considerate, and easy to understand. Focus on clarity, devising a clear document accessible to anyone within the business.

Hire around your remote working policy

Staff turnover has been a major topic of contention for business owners in the last year, so preparing fresh ways to hire and retain the best staff should always be on your mind, especially if you’re doing it remotely.

A hiring policy that doesn’t factor in remote working ignores a host of talented candidates who may not be in your local area. It gives your organization an inflexible appearance resistant to modern remote working needs. Bringing this up during the interview also sets employee expectations for the role.

Once again, this is where remote working KPIs come in. Hire people who will contribute to building an enjoyable virtual working environment. A candidate might be talented and qualified, but could their inclusion in a team hamper your employee satisfaction goals? Don’t sacrifice your remote working and team productivity aims by making quick-fire hires.

Rather than trying to retrofit remote working productivity into your organization, hire people with tangible experience and enthusiasm for it. When interviewing candidates, consider the following:

  • Are they enthusiastic about the role and dedicated to the organization?
  • Would they work well without constant supervision?
  • Do they fit into the current team’s remote collaborative efforts?
  • Have they demonstrated the ability to grow in a remote role?
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Resist the urge to heavily monitor remote staff

Throughout this article we’ve touched upon the negative connotations and outcomes of employee supervision, and with good reason.

A company that heavily monitors its remote staff risks ruining both morale and productivity.

While time tracking on some key tasks (especially if you’re charging clients by the hour) can be beneficial, systems that monitor mouse movements, time spent at a desk, and rigid tracking to the minute have been shown to lead to corrosive environments questioned by modern workforces.

Remote staff must be trusted. While reporting is essential, never do so to the extent you know a team member’s every digital movement throughout the day. Your KPIs cannot be based on raw numbers alone. Team members all work in different ways, and what may look like the base level of productivity for one employee may be unobtainable for another. To rule them a failure based on one metric risks missing out on all the other skills they bring to the organization.

Define KPIs based on individual roles

Great businesses are about their people, and the same goes when applying KPIs to your structure. The best KPIs are often built around the individual, not the role itself.

While it can be risky to take this approach and require some time-consuming re-working of KPIs later, it does give you a better idea of how someone within this role actually succeeds.

By all means, take inspiration from leading analytics and ways of measuring team productivity, but don’t let it define the personal KPIs of your business. Customer experience analytics may guide your approach as a customer satisfaction team, but not without realizing the intricacies of individual customer complaints. A more effective approach would be to take these analytics and judge them alongside personal successes, such as praise from customers/clients and growth within the role.

Create, communicate and review goals

Largely, remote workers seem happier and more content in their own private workspaces. However, this does present businesses with the challenge of communicating key information, tasks, learnings, and KPIs across the business.

If remote working is to be done successfully, it demands the use of communication tools to keep information moving.

Virtual meetings and communication platforms help fill the gap of morning coffee runs and ad hoc manager chats, but in a way that’s more easily trackable and inherently visual. New employees can find this a beneficial way to build relationships and re-affirm the goals and metrics they’re being judged against, while existing staff can replicate scenarios in which many of the best ideas flourish.

Returning to our ecommerce analogy, the qualifications for success are ever-changing. While sheer visitor numbers might have once been a measure for success, conversion rate optimization is the new goal. Communicating the importance of these changing metrics of success across your business is essential, and should be done through regular virtual meetings, chat platform updates, and one-to-one chats.

Make the goals attached to these KPIs easy to understand and even easier to refer to. They should always hang over the employee, not as a burden, but as a guide.

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Implementing KPIs remotely should be a flexible process.

Whether you’re building them around a role or the individual, giving them room to breathe or testing rigorously, their aims are not to hold workers to account, but to develop productivity and collaboration within a workplace that feels like home.

Guest post by Grace Lau - Director of Growth Content, Dialpad

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Here is her LinkedIn.