Embracing a remote work structure requires a culture shift for employees as well as leaders, but one area where project teams may experience challenges is around productivity. Measuring and evaluating productivity levels can seem more difficult in a work-from-home environment. Team members don’t want managers constantly looking over their shoulders, but the senior staff has a valid interest in ensuring everyone delivers good results.
If you’re overseeing dispersed project teams, how can you keep productivity levels high and identify where performance could be improved without becoming a micromanager?
Begin by setting expectations. It’s critical that everyone—team members, PMs, sponsors, and executives—have the same understanding of what’s expected when it comes to productivity. Without the ability to have eyes directly on employees’ work or to informally discuss how things are going, remote team members and their managers need an enhanced level of clarity to be sure everyone is on the same page.
Determine how results will be measured. You don’t want an employee focusing on one metric while you evaluate them on another, particularly if time zone differences or other factors mean your communications may not be as frequent. Whatever you select as the target, be sure it’s clearly defined and that you and your team members all understand how their performance will be assessed.
Agree on a cadence for gathering, evaluating, and acting on productivity metrics. It can be equally confusing if team members think their results will be measured each month but you only review their results on a quarterly—or worse, a random—basis. If you decide for any reason to adjust the frequency once it’s been set, discuss the change with your group so there are no surprises.
Address potential productivity issues right away. One primary advantage of conducting regular evaluations is that you’re more likely to spot a drop in results or other problems early in the process, when it’s easier to do a course correction and get things back on track. When a potential issue is identified, don’t wait for the next planned meeting. Instead, because you can’t simply walk down the hall for a quick conversation, reach out to the team member(s) right away and set a time to chat.
Develop a plan to improve weak productivity metrics. It’s best to work together with your team member(s) to strategize a way to correct low productivity levels. Don’t view the remote structure as a hindrance during this process—you can actually use it to your advantage. Many conferencing platforms support screen sharing and communal whiteboards. Leverage those tools to jointly brainstorm the best plan to boost reduced productivity.
Review your improvement plans frequently. Productivity improvement plans aren’t set-it-and-forget-it. Talk with team members regularly about how things are going, both in a group setting as well as individually. This is particularly important in dispersed environments because people need to be comfortable sharing feedback and concerns, something that may be difficult to do when they aren’t able to drop by your office for a private conversation.
Reward productive team members. Don’t forget to recognize employees when they do a good job. Accolades don’t need to be expensive or elaborate, but they should be personal. You may not be able to take your team member out to lunch but do set aside the first few minutes of your next conference call to congratulate them on their exemplary performance. Some PMs like to offer public kudos during group meetings or through a monthly internal newsletter. You want to encourage high performers without putting them on the spot, so use discretion when deciding to spread the good word.