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Remote Working: Monitoring employee productivity without micromanaging

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the global landscape, it forced organizations to re-assess, re-calibrate and re-align, in order to sustain their businesses. Though this is a challenging scenario, the biggest advantage also appeared in the form of technology. Suddenly remote working was not a benefit that the company provided, but a necessity to maintain business continuity. With a sudden rise in remote working however, there are underlying challenges.

As per a Gartner survey  while the remotely working employees are highly productive, the risk of attrition is also significantly higher.  When effort was compared data showed that 48% of the employees who have always worked remotely, showed high discretionary effort, as compared to 35% of those who have never worked remotely. But when the comparison was done based on intent to stay longer with the same company, those who have never worked remotely were more likely to stay. Given this divergent insight, the need that arises clearly is for a specific approach to tracking employee productivity in a way that it results in long term engagement as well.

The challenge of tracking employee productivity

Most of our performance management systems are designed to measure productivity through a combination of appraisal form-based feedback, observations and conversations. While the first element is can be carried out through online software, the second and third post a challenge. In addition to that most managers are not experienced in managing remote employees.

As per the Deloitte India study  55% of the CXOs spoke about their IT infrastructure (availability of hardware, internet and remote access) being much less than what was needed for a seamless shift to remote working. The same issue also applies to tracking productivity entirely through technology. The awareness of these challenges is the first step to define new ways of evaluating the employees for their work output.

Trust and collaborative technology are the key factors

The Deloitte India report 'Future of Work accelerated: Learnings from the COVID 19 Pandemic' explains that 90% of the CXOs shared how the workforce was putting in more hours and there has been a big drop in absenteeism. This has been an indicator of employee productivity increase. Managers will have to start by trusting the employees in terms of the tasks that are allocated to them. In order to track productivity without micro managing re-assessing the tasks and ensuring that they can be done independently are important things for managers. They will need to explore delegation of work in small segments to classify employees who need more guidance and those who are self-directed. The measure of performance will have to align to the resultant output or deliverable and its quality.

The second factor of collaborative technology is focused on ensuring that employees do not feel isolated from their team members. That could also lead to a drop in productivity. Monitoring how the various team members use tools that allow them to remain connected to their teams is an important measure. Technology is an important channel to improve the productivity at an individual level by providing for online training programs, virtual mentoring and employee engagement initiatives. The employee response and application of learnings from these, will also serve as an indicator of how focused they are on achieving their goals.

Enhanced workplace communication of key priorities will enable better tracking

The productivity of the employees is linked to their understanding of the business priorities as well as their experience on a daily basis. Having frequent virtual conversations with the teams as well as one-on-one exchanges with each individual member will allow managers to ensure that the work goals are communicated and tracked regularly. In addition to that it will allow them to gain a better perspective of how employees are planning their work in order to achieve those goals. Conversations which are focused on how employees plan their deliverables are more critical than those which are driven by updates on the deliverables.

Expectation setting by managers and leaders has to be carried out in a clear and collaborative way. Determining a roadmap to gauge the extent of commitment, even in a remote working scenario, from each team member allows managers to evaluate productivity better. The roadmap should cover the kinds of feedback and goal-setting conversations that a manager plans to have with his or her team member, the content of it and the frequency.

Awareness of subconscious messages about employee productivity

There are many covert messages that give an indication of the employee’s productivity even when they are working remotely. A study by E&Y India in April, showed that the biggest concern for a large majority of  the companies is the fall in productivity. This concern is causing them to look inwards at their HR processes and create solutions that can ensure continual engagement in these circumstances. Managers have to be cognizant of behavioural changes or patterns that they notice in their conversations with employees. Collecting regular feedback from employees on the impact of remote working on their health and wellness will also enable companies to measure and predict their performance.

A study by the Indian Psychiatry Society showed that within a week of the nationwide lockdown starting, the number of reported cases related to stress and mental illness in India rose by 20%. There are reasons for this increase, as people have  suddenly started working remotely – the fear of a job loss, pay cuts and so on. These aspects of mental wellbeing are also triggers for the drop in productivity that organizations need to track proactively. Micromanaging can result in this kind of high stress and low performance from the employee.

It is imperative for organizations to also realize that for a workforce that has largely been unused to remote working as a practice, months of the same along with a constant focus on productivity can be detrimental. Hence assessing productivity in this unprecedented situation should be done in a positive and balanced way such that it does not lead to psychological issues for an individual or retention issues for an organization. This balance can be achieved through a thorough understanding of the most important business goals as well as employee well-being.


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