How to Measure Employee Productivity in the Remote Work Era

Human Resources leaders are facing a dilemma when it comes to measuring employee productivity in remote and hybrid workplaces. In the past, managers would keep an eye on employees in the office and recognize if someone consistently slacked off or misused time. Now, many senior leaders are trying to corral a global team that works across time zones and geographies. They simply cannot always have their eyes on employees.

HR Exchange Network’s annual State of HR survey revealed that 23% of respondents said productivity monitoring was the biggest challenge of remote work. It tied employee engagement for the top spot on the list. Still, in a similarly recent Gartner survey, only 13% of respondents said productivity was a concern. About 29% reported not taking any measures to track productivity remotely.

Manager-Employee Meetings
One way to track employee productivity is to frequently check in with workers. More than 60% of respondents to the Gartner survey said they were meeting with employees more frequently. The idea of collaboration seems to be at the heart of this approach. In fact, a whopping 50% of respondents to the State of HR survey said that facilitating collaboration was the top priority for improving workplace culture.

Having these frequent meetings provides a chance to communicate expectations, answer questions, and build a rapport. At the recent HR Exchange Network’s Recruiting and Talent Acquisition online event, Diane Albano, Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer at Globalization Partners, stressed the importance of relationships among co-workers. She pointed out that 1 in 6 people have cried with a colleague in the past year.

“A people-first approach is the way forward,” says Albano.

Remote Surveillance Software
Many employers are turning to remote surveillance software. Companies like Time Doctor, Teramind, VeriClock, innerActiv, ActivTrack, and Hubstaff allow managers to track productivity of remote employees. This type of software can provide users with data like how long it takes workers to read and reply to messages, whether they are attending meetings, or how many times they click their mouse. Some of this software also secretly films staff at their screen or assesses the apps and websites they are accessing.

In 2020, when the pandemic began and companies asked employees to work from home for the first time, many scrambled to invest in this productivity monitoring software, according to Bloomberg. As long as employers are honest about the monitoring they are doing, they have the right to keep an eye on employees during working hours.

Still, employees cringed at the thought of allowing monitoring software into their homes as opposed to having it on a work computer in the office. There is the potential for personal data to be captured. Some of the artificial intelligence (AI) software reportedly judges workers on an algorithm, which some say is unfair.

The bottom line is that not everyone is comfortable with this kind of monitoring. Your employees don’t always realize that they are being watched in these ways either. If you decide to invest in productivity monitoring software, also known as remote surveillance, you should check with the legal team to make sure there are no violations of privacy laws. In addition, you should be transparent with employees about how they are being monitored.

Also, explain what the consequences are if managers are unhappy with what they see. Set clear guidelines about the rules. For example, tell individual employees how many hours they should be at the computer working, what deadlines must be met, and whether a video camera will be taking pictures of them as they work.

A Matter of Trust
The media has referred to some of these tactics as “Big Brother” or “spying” on workers. There’s a dichotomy between the two incessant conversations that are going on simultaneously. HR leaders are at once concerned about productivity monitoring and employee engagement. The two don’t always go hand in hand.

There’s a desire to let employees have more flexibility in their schedule. Indeed, 30% of respondents of the latest State of HR survey said flexible work culture was their top priority. Employee engagement and experience came in second with 14% of the votes. If you’re in favor of flexibility, then you cannot be monitoring workers to see exactly what they are doing between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Some are asking, “How can you improve the workplace culture and say you are promoting the employee experience while also spying on workers?”

There is good news in all this. Only 2% of respondents in State of HR said that loss of trust was a consequence of the pandemic. In addition, Catalyst found that remote working can increase innovation by 63% and work engagement by 75%.

Considering these numbers and the questions around privacy law, your safest bet might be to judge workers on the positive business outcomes they are producing rather than logged work hours or clicks on a keyboard. This approach speaks to the future of work, where HR, senior executives, and employees form a partnership to carry a company to the highest heights. That kind of culture is built on trust, which is a must to create a psychologically safe workplace.


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