How to measure productivity of remote employees and those working from home – 12 business leaders share their secrets

10 min read

You need a system to measure the productivity of remote employees and those working from home. There are many challenges of managing remote employees. Measuring remote employees’ productivity is near the top of the list for most small business owners. Several research reports suggest that employees working from home or a remote location are more productive than those working in an office. But how do you know if your remote employees or those working from home are being productive?

We talked to 12 small business leaders to learn how they monitor the productivity of their work from home employees.

Remote Worker Productivity

Nathan Olsen, CEO of BestNotes

20% of our employees work remotely and the rest have the option to do so. The best way to keep employees engaged is to frequently discuss the value of productivity and getting deep work accomplished through the day. This has helped employees feel like their work was meaningful and have a sense of accomplishment.

Another helpful tool for keep employees accountable and engaged is a company-wide Trello board. The online Trello board shows what each employee is working on, so there is complete transparency in the volume of work getting done.

Brandon Ackroyd, founder of Tiger Mobiles

I do it by organizing tasks that have a clearly defined start, middle, and endpoints. If my remote staff have clear deliverables, it’s easy for me to judge their output volume and quality. If remote staff are underperforming, you have a management issue, and no piece of technology is going to solve it.

We currently use Trello and Telegram. I’m reasonably happy with those tools, but for specific tasks where I bring in remote workers on short term contracts, I would like a tool that lets me know which team members are online right now, how long they were online for last and which projects/tasks they are working on in real-time.

Alexander Romanov, iwillbuyhouse.com

I am a co-founder of a real estate investment company in Seattle, WA.

All of our full-time employees work remotely and fulfill diverse functions in our business: acquisition analysis, inbound lead processing, web marketing, invoice processing, business analysis, and bookkeeping.

The reason we hired remote workers is because of the complexity and cost of hiring full-time on-site employees in the US. A bad hiring decision of a full-time worker can result in significant financial and time losses; this risk is much smaller with remote contractors.

To measure the productivity of our remote staff, we use an activity monitoring software that tracks mouse movements and keyboard strikes. This is the baseline data, which we use to track employee activity levels.

We monitor a list of KPIs for each function which our business analyst records in a custom-built Google sheet. Depending on the function we have 5-10 KPIs for each team member and we monitor their performance against set goals.

Sean Patrick Hopwood, CEO & President of Day Translations

We’re an international language service provider. All our employees work remotely, from all parts of the world.

We hire remote workers because we truly believe that people work better when they’re in the comfort of their home where they can manage their time adequately and are motivated to work for a company that allows such flexibility.

We measure productivity in different ways:

  • Every single employee uses a timer
  • Second, every day every employee sends a report to our Senior Executive Manager, who sends these reports to the pertinent manager by the end of each week. This way, managers can follow up with the employees regarding the goals for the department and the strategies that are being implemented weekly.
  • Each team uses a separate software for productivity: our PMs use Slack, our developers use JIRA, and our Marketing team uses Asana. This is how managers can supervise the daily tasks of the employees according to each separate project.
Increase productivity, take screenshots, track time and cost, and bring accountability to your team.

Wooten Gough, Community Manager, Remote-How, Inc.

At Remote-how we are exclusively an all-remote staff that is medium-sized.

We use a few different digital tools for communicating, collaborating, and of course, tracking the progress of all of our projects. We use shared project management tools such as Google Drive for collaboration, Twist for communication, and Asana to create, delegate, and complete tasks.

These tools work well for our team because everything is public to the entire staff. Asana is particularly helpful due to its feature to include deadlines and followers on tasks, and the ability to add tasks to on-going, larger projects.

Seeing the day to day progress of the work, as opposed to the time spent each day, allows us all to know the status of any project we are working on at any time; which is great if you are working on several projects like we are!

Misha Kaura, CEO, Darlinghurst Enterprises

I have a 95% remote workforce at my startup, Darlinghurst Enterprises remote contractors who work on a per-project basis.

I implemented a master Google Docs spreadsheet accessible to the entire team 24/7 where people assigned to individual projects pick what they want to work on. Each project has an estimated time attached, e.g., five hours, and contractors who complete before the general time frame are judged as more productive.

These percentages are converted to an A-F scale, with A’s awarded to those who complete their work under budget, before the time allocated. All contractors are ranked based on their performance and their rank is published on the spreadsheet with identification by employee numbers.

As well, four A’s in a row means the worker gets a bonus based on a percentage of their base pay. Doing away with salaries and paying based on completed project milestones helps tremendously because people have the incentive to work faster.

We use the standard milestone tools on Upwork as well as the master Google Docs spreadsheet. We also recently got Monday.com for our project management, but the old fashioned spreadsheet works well right now because each employee—identified by number—can see where they rank in terms of A’s. Ranking people by number puts them in a competitive mindset to move up the ranks.

All of the remote workers do marketing and sewing. I hire them because it’s more cost-effective for an almost entirely bootstrapped company and because I think it’s good to have a female workforce addressing a female demographic. I’m completing a venture capital fundraising round and will hopefully be able to hire more remote workers on a salaried basis in the near future.

Sean, CEO of SEO Hacker

Since the start of SEO Hacker almost a decade ago, we’ve employed a number of remote employees. All of them would either be Content Writers or Link Builders. We use time tracking software to measure their productivity and hours worked. But this is only when we experience a problem with their output.

This gives you an idea about how we measure their performance. The time tracking tool is only used in case we want to investigate why they were not able to finish what was asked from them, but the main gauge is whether they finish their assigned workload for the timeframe that we gave them.

Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics

We like to have as many of our employees as possible working in the office, but for a variety of reasons, we do have remote workers as well.

We used to monitor everyone’s productivity through an application that can track mouse movements and websites visited to determine an employee’s productivity. However, we noticed that it doesn’t always give an accurate description of a worker’s productivity, as mouse movements are not the only way to gauge if someone is working hard.

Therefore, we now also ask employees to track their timesheets how long it takes them to work on various tasks. The idea is that we can better track productivity to make sure that employees in similar positions are performing the same, and it also helps us get a better idea of training efficacy for new employees.

Grant Hensel, CEO of Nonprofit Megaphone

We are a digital marketing agency focused 100% on Google Grant management and acquisition for nonprofits.

Our company is entirely remote. Since we are a marketing agency, we benefit from the fact that the results of nearly everything we do are measurable. We track these outcomes through a Scorecard, which is simply a Google Sheet with our most critical numbers and the people responsible for them.

We update this weekly as a team. This ensures accountability for results while giving our team the freedom and trust to figure out how to accomplish the goals themselves.

A remote culture requires investing a lot more time up front to make sure you are only hiring incredibly bright, motivated, mission-aligned people. But once you have the team in place, you can worry a lot less about looking over their shoulder and a lot more about
helping them get the results that we all want to see.

Hamna Amjad, Community Manager at Gigworker.com

Gigworker is a media outlet focused on the gig economy. It’s an all-remote company whose employees are all working remotely from multiple countries. The remote workers that we hire include freelance content writers, content marketers, and digital marketers.

We mainly use time tracking software for time-tracking and measuring the productivity levels of our employees. It helps us in analyzing how much time is spent on each project by every team member. Moreover, it takes screenshots of their screens while it’s active. That way, we can monitor their work, if required.

However, we don’t rely on this alone to assess the performance of our employees. Because it’s useless if your employees are just completing their assigned hours but not delivering results. Hence, we like to have a more result-oriented approach in our company.

We like to assign our team members certain tasks to be completed in a day. At the end of the day, we check if the tasks were completed and how much
time was spent on each task. We believe that you need to take into account both the results and the time, to get the overall picture of productivity.

Since most of our remote employees are writers and marketers, we like to monitor how many articles are written or how many pitches are sent per day.
We keep track of their progress using Google Spreadsheets where each employee can enter tasks finished and the amount of time taken to achieve that.

HiveDesk Features Bring accountability to your team

Earl White, Co-Founder of House Heroes LLC

We are a real estate investment company that purchases houses, land, apartments across Florida – as well as in New Jersey, California, and Texas. Our team is completely remote.

Our company monitors remote employees using thoughtfully designed “objectives and key results” (OKR) for each employee. Our OKRs are designed to target the desired outcome. For our company, the overarching objective is to generate leads that convert into clients that turn into revenue.

Lead generation staff is judged by how many quality leads were generated. Employees that work on converting those leads are judged by their lead conversion rate. Management is judged by revenue off those conversions. The beauty of intelligent OKRs is once you set up an intelligent goal structure you can directly pinpoint the phase where a problem lies.

Our company does still track hours worked and activities completed. This data is useful – not as a judge of productivity – but to help assess if a goal was set too low, why a goal was not reached, and for comparing employees to identify areas for individual improvements.

Vivek Chugh, Founder and CEO of a Listables

Listables is a collaborative checklist app that helps everyone from teams to individuals do more, be more, and accomplish more.

Much of our team and myself work remotely and for us the key to measuring productivity is

  1. Discussing and agreeing on expectations
  2. Choosing measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)

If you have an understanding of what is expected and know how you are measuring success with the chosen KPI’s, it really then comes down to paying for results as opposed to time.

For example, much of our marketing team works remotely. However, throughout a given month they have certain deliverables and KPI’s they need to increase. Like how many influencers we are working with and how many new users we have acquired that month. If those numbers are lacking, something is off, or someone is not doing their job well.

For measuring our KPI’s we use different tools but our results are gathered all on one dashboard called Raventools. We have up to this point been very happy with the results and how our team works to grow our company.

The last tip I would give to measure remote worker productivity is, either understand the task or job you need to be completed, or get some guidance on what the job entails. This way you can understand what the performance should look like, how many hours a job should take, and so on.

Summary

The take away from these leaders is that measuring productivity of employee working from home or remotely is critical. But you have to do it in a way that’s meaningful to the business and makes employees feel good about it.

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