Measuring Performance in a Remote Workplace

One piece that has come up repeatedly in discussing the advantages and disadvantages of remote work is this question of performance measurement – if you’re leading a team, but you aren’t in the same room, or office, or even continent, how can you be sure that they are performing well? How can you be sure that they’re good employees? How can you be sure they’re not, you know, playing Playstation in the middle of the day?

There are a few things we need to break down in answering this question, so bear with me. We’ll go through this blog post in the same way my mental responses come – like waves upon a beach. But, less graceful. And some confused faces.

What are you measuring now?

The first place my mind goes, when this comes up with a friend or family member or at a professional event, is a moment of confusion.

If you can’t imagine leading a remote team because performance would be too difficult to measure, that tells me worlds about the way that you think about performance. This is the part where I make a weird face, because I am incapable of hiding my opinions for more than six seconds.

What are you measuring now, that couldn’t be measured in remote locations? Someone’s lunch? Whether or not they wear the same tie two days in a row?

You don’t measure people, you measure results.

Look – you should measure the results of all of your employees. Everyone who works with you should have a clear understanding of what their job is, and you as a lead need to do everything in your power to help them do that job as well and with as much satisfaction as possible. That’s it.

If when you say ‘performance’ you mean anything other than the direct measurable results that are agreed upon by all parties, you’re doing it wrong. It is important in all jobs, but especially in remote jobs: you have to focus on measurable results – if they’re the right results, they’ll roll up into the bigger pieces of the puzzle.

If they’re the wrong results, well, you’ll have to discuss that and revisit them. Sometimes this means jigsaw puzzling sort-of non-quantified results into a quantified result that isn’t exactly what you want, but instead serves as a suitable signifier of the less quantifiable stuff.

Results trump everything.

Really. Seriously. If the results are set up correctly, understood by all parties, and roll up into the bigger vision, then they bear an argument all their own.

In this sense, quantity has a quality all its own. Getting results accomplished makes everyone look good. There’s a lot of other things to say about Zuck, but ‘Move fast and break things’ did make him a billionaire.

If you don’t know what good results are, that’s your fault.

If you’re leading a team, a remote team or a more traditional team or even a sports team – if you can’t tell me right now what OK, Good, and Outstanding results from each person on your team would be, that’s not their fault. That’s your fault.

It’s very easy to blame a person on the team, or a tribal mechanism at your workplace, or “Oh, well, she’s remote you know” – but these are all really crummy excuses. Talk to your team. Figure out what matters to them and find a way to fit the Venn Diagram of their skill set and the company vision.

That’s what the real job of the team lead is, regardless of if the team is remote.

Good results, good communication, good performance.

If your current understanding of performance doesn’t translate to remote workers or remote teams, that isn’t a problem of remote work – it’s a problem with your understanding.

Remote teams are all about communication, in all directions. If your current understanding of performance requires you to observe folks in action, you need to find a better way to think about, establish, and communicate the results that matter.

To answer the question from before, if a member of my team is putting out solid results and communicating them transparently, they can play Playstation all afternoon if they want to.


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