Managing the productivity of your remote workers

One of the main challenges with moving to remote work is measuring the productivity of your employees. No leader wants to see their business fall behind. To effectively manage the productivity of your remote workforce, you must first understand the impediments they face. 

Once you know what productivity obstacles you’re up against, you can then start implementing measures to reduce their impact. Read on to discover how best to manage and measure the productivity of your remote workers.

 

Remote worker productivity challenges

Having remote employees brings several challenges to productivity. Successfully measuring and managing remote employee productivity begins with increasing your awareness of these unique work from home challenges. 

 

Common distractions

Despite not having the distractions posed by coworkers or impromptu meetings, the home is a less structured working environment and offers far more opportunities for diversion than the office. Potential distractions when working from home include the following:

  • Partners, roommates, or family members wanting a coffee break or a chat
  • Household duties such as laundry, cooking, washing dishes, and cleaning
  • Young children playing loudly, watching television, or wanting a working parent’s attention
  • Noise coming from common household appliances such as the dishwasher, washing machine, or gas boiler
  • Noise coming from neighbors, or outside sources such as construction sites
  • Disruptions in power or connectivity 
  • Extended lunch breaks 

All of these distractions are amplified for employees who don’t have a dedicated home office space in which to work. When compounded, multiple distractions can become a real barrier to remote worker productivity.

 
No boundaries between personal and professional life

Expanding on the above, the lack of separation in both time and space between your employees’ personal and professional lives can be detrimental to their productivity. Instead of rising early and commuting into the office, remote employees can get up later and casually shuffle to their home office space. Instead of being able to focus purely on work, there are several other distractions to contend with. 

Furthermore, due to the physical separation from coworkers, employees may try to compensate by continuously checking work emails and instant messengers well after the end of their normal working hours. Eventually, the blurred boundary between personal and professional life begins to weigh on people and impact both motivation and productivity. 

 
Communication challenges

When working remotely, communication becomes more difficult than it is in an office. If employees can’t effectively communicate with people on their team or with their manager, they begin to feel detached from the company culture. The detachment caused by poor communication often results in reduced productivity. 

Some of the main communication challenges for remote employees include:

  • Reduced social interactions 
  • Technology that doesn’t work or doesn’t facilitate proper communication
  • No clear guidelines around communication, resulting in poor collaboration

It’s possible to maintain company culture by addressing these communication challenges. See this article for tips on how to facilitate communication within a remote workforce. 

 
Reduced supervision

The lack of direct, face-to-face supervision from managers and other leaders can hinder employee productivity. This reduced supervision doesn’t necessarily result in employees slacking off, but it may result in a misunderstanding of directions, which in turn could cause a decline in productivity.

The reduction in, or complete lack of, nonverbal cues when communicating with remote workers makes it harder for managers to coach, instruct, and assist employees. Without direct oversight of your employees, it can be harder to identify potential problems as they arise. Similarly, it can be difficult to ensure consistent practices that promote worker efficiency. Taking all of this into account, a productivity hit is a common occurrence with reduced supervision. 

 
Isolation from team members 

It’s not only a lack of managerial supervision that hampers productivity when managing remote employees. Another obstacle encountered by remote workers is the physical isolation from other team members. When teams collaborate effectively, they become more than the sum of their parts and can achieve much more as a collective.

It is tougher to replicate strong team bonds and their associated productivity benefits with a remote workforce. With each member of the team in a separate location, helping each other solve problems, discuss goals, and brainstorm ideas become more difficult and time-consuming. 

 

Measuring remote employee productivity: best practices

Given the likelihood that the transition to remote work is unlikely to be completely reversed, the only option for leaders is to adapt and implement best practices for measuring remote productivity. This can provide insight into the challenges your employees are facing and steps you can take to get their productivity back on track. To start with: 

  1. Get the basics right

Without the basics in place, you can’t begin to measure remote worker productivity effectively. Essentials of remote work include cloud-enabled IT services, remote access security, and secure collaboration software such as Microsoft 365 Teams. Remote onboarding and management can be outsourced depending on the scope of your business. 

  1. Set clear goals and deadlines 

Setting clear goals with specific deadlines provides structure for remote workers and gives a sense of contributing to a team. This also empowers managers to carry out the regular check-ins and evaluations that employees might otherwise lack with reduced face-to-face supervision. 

A further benefit of setting goals is that it’s a better way to measure productivity than tracking time. An outcome-based approach to productivity is better than one that measures behaviors. 

  1. Document processes 

When managing remote teams, documenting procedures, decisions, and common problems is key to maintaining operations and consistent productivity. It helps keep everyone aligned, improves communication, highlights downfalls, and facilitates smarter, faster decisions. When something goes wrong, it’s far easier to fix it—and to avoid making the same mistake again—if you can pinpoint exactly what happened. 

Good documentation also ensures employees can find solutions to problems without needing assistance from managers or coworkers. This can be especially useful when workers are keeping different schedules or situated in different timezones. 

  1. Provide regular 360º feedback

Regular feedback when working remotely is of paramount importance in helping employees deal with the demotivating effects of isolation. It also helps to maintain a level of supervision over your remote workforce. 360-degree feedback, in which employees provide a subjective evaluation of their performance in addition to feedback from managers, can give more revealing insights into productivity than manager feedback alone. Try to request feedback on a monthly or quarterly basis.

  1. Set clear WFH policies

A clear work from home (WFH) policy helps to address productivity issues that can stem from communication challenges and blurred boundaries. The policy should set out the types of communication suited for particular scenarios (e.g. when something is urgent, use the phone).

Setting availability expectations is also crucial—when employees know the hours at which they are needed, it becomes less likely that distractions can interfere with their work. Related to availability, responsiveness is another important standard to define in an effective WFH policy. Responsiveness sets out time frames in which employees need to respond to other team members, which helps establish a clear boundary between professional and personal time. 

 

Avoid micromanagement

While it’s important for managers to address productivity shortfalls, micromanagement is your biggest enemy. Managing employees with excessive control and attention to detail breeds dependant workers who lack a sense of autonomy in figuring problems out on their own. At the same time, managers and leaders who micromanage can experience burnout because it’s exhausting to attempt to oversee every tiny detail.

 

Improve the productivity of your remote workforce today

Managing remote workers and ensuring productivity is a major challenge for leaders of any business, regardless of size or industry. Understanding the main remote work productivity challenges and adopting best practices is half the battle.  

At Umbrella, we can help your business with remote onboarding and management. Our proven best practices combat reductions in productivity brought on by the challenges of remote work. 

To find out more, contact us today for a free consultation.

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