Want Accurate Employee Productivity? Stop Watching the Clock

In a virtualized workplace, what's the best way to measure performance?

Worker Watching Clock

Managers and supervisors aim for organizational efficiency each day. Perhaps they don't think of their workdays in these specific terms, but as team leaders a core function is inspiring others to be more effective and to stimulate continuous improvement. 

Productivity is intricately tied to performance. But in an increasingly virtualized workplace, what are the best ways to assess these? Today, physical presence alone is hardly an effective means of rating employees' impact. More often, teams are distributed: People may work from home, from satellite coworking spaces in different cities, or in various corporate locations around the world. So how can managers rely less on old supervisory routines and focus on who is actually getting results?

A challenge for leaders is determining employee value and contributions accurately and fairly. But doing so has become more complex. According to various sources, 21st century work styles -- such as telecommuting, job sharing, and gig-based projects -- are transforming the established traditions that many leaders know so well. But leaders primed for the future of work should realize that being competent in this regard is emerging as a must-have requirement rather than an ancillary skill.

Managers should think about these questions as they assess their capacity for measuring employee productivity in this brave new work world.

Have performance expectations been customized to the individual employee? In a typical office setting, it's easy for leaders to default to a one-size-fits-all approach to performance management. But within an alternative professional framework, such as one that includes off-site positions, leaders must cultivate a deeper understanding of their employees and how they work. Because virtual workers generally enjoy greater autonomy over how and, sometimes, when they perform their work, it's vital that supervisors get "in the weeds" with their team members' particular and preferred practices. This knowledge can be priceless when it comes to assessing performance. 

For example, if an employee is a self-described morning person who does her best work before noon, you might be able to coordinate deadlines with that in mind. If she fails to meet deadlines within her preferred window, that could be the catalyst for a conversation about her productivity. Understanding -- and respecting -- how off-site employees like to work helps managers guide and encourage them to be effective and efficient. This balance between employee and leader builds the internal motivation for them to truly produce with an emphasis on outcomes and results. 

Does their reputation precede them? In a distributed, off-site work model, it means so much when employees make an impression. While water-cooler chatter and in-office popularity can fast-track certain staff members on a positive path in a traditional office, this is more difficult to achieve in a remote workforce. If you begin to hear positive feedback about virtual team members' performance or notice a desire for them to be pulled into special projects, take note. This means they've cultivated partnerships, met expectations, and earned the confidence of others, often based expressly on their performance and track record alone. 

What do their metrics indicate? These days, almost anything can be measured. There are systems available that measure things that are generally quantitative, like pure output and productivity, just as there are platforms that bring context to qualitative benchmarks, like customer satisfaction, market penetration, organizational tone and more. Build momentum for introducing such systems, or leverage existing capabilities, to see where your team members stack up in the matrices relevant to their roles. 

To take this a step further, fine tune the reporting to create dashboards that coincide with particular projects and tasks according to each staff member's area of responsibility. This personalizes reporting.

Are your employees there when it matters most? Meeting deadlines, returning phone calls, and responding to emails are just a few ways to assess the presence of virtual employees. In a traditional, in-person workplace, physical presence can conceal delayed callbacks, ignored emails, and nonproductive desk time. But these signals -- of being engaged, accessible, actionable and dependable -- are among the simplest ways of measuring how reliable, connected, and within-reach off-site employees are. 

For added measure, managers can weigh employee commitment according to other indicators as well. Options include doing an inventory of who volunteers for ad hoc or emergency assignments, examining which team members stay online a bit longer to beat a deadline or rise to an unspoken challenge, or thinking about who builds in time to do proactive industry research or learn a new skill that will improve the team's overall performance.

These considerations can support managers in learning what they don't know about leading remote teams - and getting up to speed over time. These questions represent just a few of the many moving pieces involved in developing and evaluating virtual employees. For most organizations, this is still new territory, and even companies with entirely off-site cultures are still learning more each day.

Tricia Sciortino is the president of eaHELP, which provides virtual executive assistants for business leaders. She joined eaHELP in November 2010 as a virtual assistant and first employee of the company. Tricia has a background in senior retail management, including experience overseeing a team of more than 150 employees, and supporting senior leaders in the church construction industry.