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It's the workplace version of trees falling in the forest: if you're not there to see them, how do you really know your employees are working when they're out of the office but still on the clock?

The question isn't just philosophical. As companies expand globally and technology enables us to do more at any time and from any place, remote workforces are the new normal (despite what Yahoo and Best Buy might think). To stay ahead of the competition and attract the best employees, companies have to find ways to maintain productivity -- or risk falling behind.

The good news is, there are ways to know if your employees, whether on the road or in a satellite location, are truly working. To start, you have to understand what it takes to drive performance. To do that, ask yourself the following questions:

How do you hire the right employees?

Employees can’t perform well if they are hired into roles that don't align with their talents, strengths, and passions; simply hiring employees who have done the job before isn't enough. In today’s service-based economy, employees are paid to think and respond to the constantly changing demands of customers and the workplace. Since each job requires very particular thinking to be successful and we each think differently, not everyone is a good fit for every job. Clearly defining the talents, strengths and passions, in addition to skills and experience, improves your hiring. 

This is particularly true for a remote employee. Not only must the employee have the abilities to consistently and successfully do the job, but the employee must be self-motivated and independent enough to handle the role with minimal or no supervision. Behavioral-based hiring improves the likelihood of hiring an employee who fits the role in a remote environment.

How do you set clear expectations? 

Though many employees want to add value, they often don’t know how to achieve it. They don’t have clearly-defined performance expectations – what is to be done each day -- so they can't use their best judgment to determine how to deliver those expectations. 

More than half of all employees say they know what their job description is, but don’t have a clear definition of the job “done right” -- what “agreed-upon” successful performance entails. 

Remote employees need to understand your performance expectations in order to be able to deliver. You and your employee must agree on what "done right" means. And “done right” must be observable and measureable so that performance can be successfully managed and coached. 

For example, a remote retail store might tell a sales associate to "achieve an 85% overall rating from all customers in the monthly store survey.” The outcome is clearly defined -- the well-hired (right person, right job) remote employee now knows the “done right” expectation and can be held responsible for achieving it. Measuring and coaching performance can now happen.

How do you measure and manage performance?

Today’s best managers interact with employees throughout the day. For a remote working relationship, this may mean more frequent phone or teleconference meetings, surprise Skype video calls, scheduled visits and the daily monitoring of a performance dashboard that lists key "done right" performance metrics and indicators. The combination of increased coaching and constant, meaningful contact enables the remote worker to be accountable for specific empirical results.

The key to managing offsite workers is to develop a process for monitoring performance. Hire well. Set performance expectations. Measure and coach results. These three methods ensure the intellectual, emotional and personal connections with employees that help them to stay engaged and to improve their performance -- and give you the assurance you need to know that they, like the trees falling in a forest, are making sounds.

 

Photo credit:  Can Stock