I’m a work-from-home veteran; I’ve been working from home for about a decade. Are people more or
less productive when they work remotely? Like most things in life, it depends. It depends upon a lot of
- The kind of work to be done
- Degree of collaboration necessary
- Your home environment
- The technology available
- Ability to “self-manage”
- Knowledge of the job
All the above will impact productivity while working from home. There has been no shortage of articles written about the issues I listed above so I would like to focus upon a different angle, the visibility of work, why it matters to your employees and how it can be managed in a remote environment. The visibility of work is a two-sided coin, Seeing & Being Seen.
When we work in an office environment, we SEE other people working. We see our coworkers making phone calls, writing emails, and attending meetings. Simply seeing our coworkers are working has a motivating impact upon us to do our own work. I believe this is a big reason that many people choose to exercise in a gym even though a quick financial analysis will show that buying home gym equipment is far more economical over the long haul. People are motivated at the gym by seeing other motivated people working hard at the gym. The sight of others working, whether at the gym or at the office, reinforces the expectation that we too should be working.
But what happens when you can’t “see” anyone working? Unless you are in constant contact with your co-workers, for most of the day it will seem that you are the only person working. Of course, this isn’t accurate, but it will seem that way. The motivating effect of seeing others working is removed and can make it more difficult to take initiative. Also, since you don’t see anyone else doing any work this can lead to a dangerous line of thought, “If nobody else is working why should I?”
Just as important as seeing others work, is having your own work be seen. When you are at the office, at your desk, managers and coworkers see you there and “know” that you are working. Maybe you are working, maybe not, but the fact that you can be seen at your desk conclusively supports the perception that you are working hard. The concept of “face time” acknowledges that being “seen” at work is superficially credited to us as actual work. On the other hand, remote work is the very opposite of “face time” and can lead to several challenges with how our work is seen by others.
High performers can become torn by the anxiety that others won’t believe they are working hard when they are working remotely. This can be especially acute when working on larger projects that don’t have daily deliverables. Significant periods of time can pass when there is no visual proof that any work has been done at all and this can cause significant discomfort to the conscientious worker eager to prove their worth. Additionally, isolation can lead one to become the “Lonely Martyr” who frets that their singular efforts are unacknowledged and unappreciated. People naturally want to be appreciated for the work they do, but that appreciation can be in short supply if nobody sees what they are doing.
Excepting the occasional video conference, there isn’t much “seeing” or “being seen” when working remotely. But there is a way to create work visibility that is much better than the superficial methods we use when in person. This strategy can (and should) be used in a remote work environment, or in one where employees are co-located. Seeing and being seen does not necessarily equate to work and production.
The first step is to determine what really is “work”. Is sitting in a cube “work”? When I was in my 20’s I had 3 hours of work for an 8-hour day with no internet access and no smartphones. I mastered the skill of sleeping upright in my cube to pass the time. Is attending a meeting “work”? Maybe, but I’ve certainly been in plenty of meetings that focused on weekend plans more than business plans. “Work” encompasses those critical KPI’s that move the business forward. In sales they include outbound calls, appointments set, referrals, quotes and proposals, etc. Oh yeah, and sales. Please note that I listed sales as an afterthought. Sales may or may not happen every day, but pipeline building activities should be happening every single day. Those activities are the real “work” in a sales organization. Sales are simply the result of a salesperson who works.
Track & Display Work
Displaying the KPI data is the most critical step and should meet the following criteria:
- Realtime data display: The benefits of visibility are directly correlated with the accuracy and timeliness of the data. It’s time for you spreadsheet jockeys to move into the 21 st century and realize that in a remote environment manually updating and distributing a spreadsheet is as antiquated as a rotary phone (it’s terrible for the office too). Use your CRM or other sales productivity tool to track KPIs in real-time.
- Automatically loaded: To the greatest degree possible the KPI data should flow seamlessly between all applications. For instance, if you are tracking the number of phone calls, the phone system should integrate through one “single source of truth” by sending the data via API rather than requiring the employee to track and reenter the number of phone calls into another system.
- Displays data by individual to the rest of the team: This is how they both see others working and know that their work is being seen.
Communicate with your team regularly regarding the KPI data. This lets them know that you are paying attention, you are “seeing” their work, and gives you an opportunity to provide coaching and appreciation as appropriate. Recognition of good work is the simplest way to keep your team members on track. I’ve said before that compliments are currency and to spend them wisely – recognition for productivity gives you the opportunity to “see” your employees working and for them to be seen.
Consider using a gamification application specifically designed to drive business KPIs. Gamification can increase communication among remote workers and add excitement while also providing increased visibility into the daily work of your team.
Recently we discovered an entirely new, albeit unwelcome, reason for people to work from home. The good news is that technology can provide work visibility in a manner superior to the superficial methods that we have relied upon for so long at the office. Take advantage of the opportunity to elevate the visibility of real, meaningful work with your team.
Seth Preus is an advisor to Mivation, and the creator of both Racing Snail and Leaderboard Legends. As a thought leader, he uses his 25 years of experience in sales, software development and business ownership to change the equation from “How can I get my team to perform?” to “How can I get my team to WANT to perform.”