How to Leverage Data to More Effectively Manage Your Remote Employees

eWEEK DATA POINTS: Here is a set of best practices compiled by the CEO of a performance management platform—all focused on how company leaders can find greater success in our new world of remote management if they shift to a data-driven management style.

pexels-ketut-subiyanto-4126810

A limited number of companies allowed their employees to work from home prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the shelter-in-place mandate back in March forced a shift in the workplace experience like none before. The initial remote wave was full of confusion, communication issues and company leaders working rapidly to find the right pieces of software to put in their remote toolbox. 

While Slack and Zoom covered the bases for some, others went a step further and began employee monitoring through surveillance software. At the end of the day, everyone had the same goals in mind. Leaders needed to be informed and confident about remote employee engagement.

More than seven months have passed since widespread remote work began, and there is plenty we have learned about what successful remote management looks like. We have also learned what it shouldn’t look like—which brings us back to employee surveillance. 

‘Spying’ on employees not a good strategy

A 2017 study led by Baylor University found that technology-based job monitoring increases job tension and lowers job satisfaction. Even more concerning is that both of those factors resulted in higher turnover intent. The moral of the story? Don’t spy on your employees. 

This popular knee-jerk solution is not only a temporary fix, but it has been proven to negatively impact employee engagement. According to research, monitoring employees signals distrust and leads to employee disengagement. So how does one establish and build two-way trust while also ensuring that their remote teams are staying on track? One word: data.

A data-driven approach to management means using performance management software that gives you easy, accessible insight into the metrics that matter most—to you, your employees and your company leadership. If managers are able to check on the health of their team as quickly and simply as they check the weather, there are no surprises. It eliminates the need to monitor employees’ every move because you’re tracking output, not hours. You’re keeping an eye on how close they are to their goals, not how close they are to their desk eight-plus hours a day. 

When you use data to track performance you are able to clearly see where individuals stand and how likely your team is to hit its goals. If you see a problem, you can dig into the metrics to validate what you’re seeing and then throw on your coaching hat if necessary. Automated data takes the grunt work and the guesswork out of management. It allows managers to focus their time and energy on problem-solving to bolster their team’s growth and success. 

“Managers often get caught in too much calculation and data when they need to be focusing on more human-centric problems,” Pathlight CEO Alex Kvamme said, adding that technology is what will enable managers to make that transition.

The ultimate goal, according to Kvamme, is to democratize management. “Allowing everyone to manage themselves and providing them with the ability to understand how they're doing frees up a manager's skills and abilities for the whole of the organization,” Kvamme said. Data is the key to making remote work sustainable and successful. 

In this eWEEK Data Points article, Kvamme shares his industry information about the most valuable tips for company leaders and managers aiming to build, establish, or refine their remote management approach.

Data Point No. 1: Any data is better than no data.

No one has the perfect tech stack. Nobody’s data is perfectly structured, cleaned and tracked. There are always improvements to be made, so don’t let flaws in the process stop you from getting started on data-driven management. All of the benefits of focusing on objective, data-driven goals (alignment, self-management, building trust, to name a few) are too impactful to disregard just because it feels a bit messy at the start. Start with what you can measure and move from there.

Data Point No. 2: Start with two metrics.

Don’t throw the kitchen sink at your team; start with two metrics that you can accurately and frequently measure, then ensure that every member of your team is focused and aligned on them. You are going to be tempted to throw 20 reports at them, but don’t. Leave it to the business operations team and data analysts to monitor the long list of metrics your company tracks.  All you have to do is measure, coach and laser focus on the most important two. Ask yourself: “What are the two metrics that drive our business?” or “Which two metrics matter most—so much so that we could fail every other goal?” If you’re not sure (or if you want to be extra sure) check with your executive team to determine which metrics are key. 

Data Point No. 3: Do the math so your team doesn’t have to. 

Time for a quick mental exercise. Let’s say your team goal is to make 200 calls per week. It’s Thursday morning, how many calls should each teammate make that day? The sad truth is that, even in 2020, analyzing your team’s performance is like taking an SAT every day. Your team shouldn’t need to do math to understand where they need to be. In order for them to be successful, you need to turn raw data into information and guidance. You need to do the math for them, or better yet, invest in software to do it for you.

Data Point No. 4: Understand inputs vs. outputs. 

For almost any role you can think of, there are inputs and there are outputs. For example, in sales teams, an input would be customer contacts and an output would be revenue or pipeline created. In support groups, the input could be first reply time or tickets solved, and the output would be customer satisfaction. Both inputs and outputs need to be managed individually. They are, of course, related, and the output is typically the most important—but it is a lagging indicator. It takes longer to see if something is going wrong. If a lagging indicator dips, it’s already too late. That’s why you need to manage inputs as well and realize their value as leading indicators of performance. Understand the relationship between indicators, keep an eye on the right inputs, and you can prevent less-than-ideal outputs. 

Data Point No. 5: Short-term tactics for long-term goals. 

Businesses are measured on a monthly or quarterly basis, but humans need shorter-term goals on which to focus. More bite-sized goals with quicker turnarounds will increase motivation and boost confidence. 

The best managers and leaders know how to translate long-term goals into short-term milestones. They look at company goals for the year, quarter and month and break them down into tasks for the week and even day. One of the best things you can start doing today is to set “mini-goals” for your team to keep them on track for the week. It’s much clearer to say: “I need you to book three meetings this week” as opposed to “I need you to pace to 10 meetings by the end of the month.” Make goals easy to digest and accomplish.

Data Point No. 6: Make your 1:1s count for more. 

One-on-one meetings have never been more important; make sure you’re getting the most out of them by having performance data at your fingertips. Most 1:1s waste a lot of time on status updates; if you’re following Data Points 1-5, then both you and your employee already know the status of the things that matter. Avoid the lengthy status update and instead use 1:1s for human connection, problem-solving and coaching. If you’re following the data-driven path we recommend, you know what you need to work on. You can execute more impactful 1:1s, because now you can spend the majority of that time putting together a coaching plan on how to get better. 

If you have a suggestion for an eWEEK Data Points article, email [email protected].

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels