Motivate remote employees using goals, not surveillance and monitoring software
Maintain productivity with OKRs: focus on outcomes, not outputs or KPIs
Productivity in the United States has steadily climbed since the end of the Second World War. We’ve become more efficient, more agile, and better at delivering results than ever before. At startups, productivity is the lifeblood of success. We constantly need to do more with less and make sure that nothing goes to waste.
Unsurprisingly, this has led to a devotion to KPIs as a way to measure productivity. They’re measured daily, talked about in team meetings, projected onto TV screens, or pumped into Slack channels. Goals are set around increasing or decreasing KPIs and companies can lose sight of the big picture in search of a quantitative way to show that employees are working hard. Now, KPIs aren’t objectively bad, but the focus on output doesn’t deliver the same results as a focus on outcomes.
This output focus, where the work being done is the north star, isn’t equipped to adapt to big changes where unknown factors can interrupt an ideally productive environment. Emergencies or disasters can throw off a team’s ability to hit their KPIs, and rightfully so. Needing to adapt to a different workflow or working environment is a large task, and expecting the same level of productivity doesn’t make sense in those conditions. Relying on “business-as-usual” doesn’t give you the ability to adapt and change to a new market or world and can end up showing a sharp decline in your team’s output without considering the other important work they’re still able to do.
With the major shift to remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re seeing an increase in companies implementing surveillance and tracking software, believing that it would improve team productivity and efficiency while everyone was working from home. There’s an uptick in companies using monitoring software to record internet browsing of employees and active work hours, and even some going as far as seeking to watch over workers themselves, mandating always-on webcam rules and multiple check-ins per day.
But ramping up the use of software to monitor what your employees do all day isn’t the answer. There have been multiple studies that extrinsic motivation isn’t effective for knowledge workers. Employee surveillance and micromanaging software incite fear that employees aren’t being productive, adding additional pressure and destroying morale across the team. Digital supervision not only removes privacy, but it breaks the trust built between managers and employees.
Enter OKRs. They help to focus and align the organization, as well as develop a set of productive behaviors that will create an intrinsically motivated culture. Through the OKR process, employees define the outcomes they’ll achieve, which empowers autonomy and ultimately motivation.
Creating human-focused motivation is also essential to building a lasting team. The median tenure in the overall workforce is approximately 4.2 years, whereas at startups the median drops sharply to only 2 years. With startups singular focus on being able to maximize output, to increase productivity and do more with less, it’s not a surprise that companies end up falling into a burn and churn model of employee relations, losing critical talent in service of doing more and being able to directly point to a rising metric. Add in the ever-present eye of their employer watching for any decrease in their productivity, especially amid an already difficult to navigate time, and the burnout rate can only increase.
OKRs focus on outcomes over outputs. It’s a way to treat your problems as opposed to the symptoms and gives teams the flexibility to experiment and innovate in more creative ways. And beyond that, it allows for a more human approach to keeping team members striving for their best. Borrowing from Dan Pink’s Drive: “giving teams autonomy, showing them their overall purpose, and allowing them to become masters of their domains will go much further towards building a motivated workforce than narrowing their focus down to just their most basic measurable numbers.”
So when you’re putting together your goals for the quarter, skip the rote increases in KPIs and instead focus on the overall outcomes you want to deliver. We encourage teams to set their own OKRs and align them with the company’s, giving them a chance to choose the outcomes that they can best deliver while still balancing their regular work. Not only does this continue to shift the expectations to more flexible, still measurable outcomes, but it also drives the sense of purpose and ownership over their own goals. The shift to remote work affords the opportunity to improve productivity even further, but only for those companies willing.