The world has changed, and it’s changed rapidly. Working from home has quickly become the new normal. While there are stark differences in which industries and demographics are able to work from home, we know one thing for sure:

Organizations that said they’d never allow employees to work from home now have no other choice.

Here at RevenueZen we’ve been remote-first from Day 1, and we’ve learned a couple things when it comes to getting shit done remotely. We already know that 80% of telecommuters report lower stress, so why are so many organizations apprehensive about implementing WFH policies? On the surface, many employers don’t know how to track productivity or monitor workflow, and they use those as reasons not to allow work from home.

What we’ve learned, though, is that what it boils down most to is trust. There are definitely ways you can tell whether remote employees are working, without helicoptering and damaging the trust you’ve built, and we’re excited to share our tried-and-true findings with you.

 

Before Tactics, Be Empathetic

One important thing to note – while we’ve been remote since founded in 2017, we are all in the midst of a global pandemic unlike anything anyone in our lifetime has experienced before. Emotions, understandably, are running high. Some of your employees that are working from home may be doing so for the first time, and they’re having to navigate spouses, children, parents, and pets – two elephants short of a full circus – all while being crammed into one space, essentially unable to leave their homes. Meanwhile, other employees could even be completely isolated and alone.

Every situation is unique. In reality, productivity for everyone will be tested. Some days will be extremely productive and “normal” feeling, while other days you might see teammates moving slower and simply needing space.

Encourage self-care.

Have empathy for what’s going on in the world and understand that everyone reacts differently to crisis. Viewing your employees as dynamic human beings and treating them as such will always be the first step to building a team you trust to work from home, regardless of whether it’s out of necessity or desire.

 

Encourage Virtual Communication

If your newly remote team is coming from an office environment, there’s likely some level of camaraderie amongst one another. The sales team is probably used to eating lunch together; product quietly discussing backend updates in hushed tones; the marketing team always talking about the case study they’re most excited to push out; IT shaking their heads while exorcising demons from the printer on the third floor.

That definitely changes when we shift virtually. We lose that watercooler talk (Sidenote: I don’t think I’ve ever actually slung my arm over a watercooler and chatted with a coworker. My go-to was finding a coworker and going for a hefty midday walk). It’s important to keep some level of this non-work related banter alive. It gives employees a consistency to latch on to in a changing environment.

Whatever virtual communication tool you pick (ours is Slack) make sure to establish channels that are dedicated spaces for specific communication. The majority of them should be business related, but it’s also important to have a few “fun” channels. Here’s some of the ways we’ve broken up our own Slack:

Business Channels

Shared Client Channels: These are dedicated spaces shared between RevenueZen and our clients. We share progress and content, ask questions that anyone on the team can answer, coordinate meetings, and anything else that requires our clients’ immediate attention.

Internal Channels: This is where we’re able to strategize for clients within the RevenueZen team. We’ll often workshop ideas and plans, build copy and blog content calendars, before we ship it to the clients for review and implementation. These channels only involve the team specifically working with a client.

Customer Success: Everyone at RevenueZen is in this channel. It’s where we can share what we learn and do with our individual clients and apply our tactics to other clients. We celebrate customer successes, talk through difficult situations, and use it as a space to collaborate.

Fun Channels

Jammin’: This is one of the most fun channels we have. It’s a great place to learn about each other’s musical tastes, see drag queen lip syncing videos, and share little snippets of songs that some of our team members have actually written. Shout out to Short Moscato and yours truly.

Random: Anything goes in random! It can be strange jokes, memes, pictures of our pets sitting on our laptops. We share recipes, ask each other how to introduce a third cat into a two-cat household… things like that.

What’s most important is encouraging your team to actually use these channels. Over communicating right now is key. Your customers will appreciate that you’re actively working with them during a time of such uncertainty. As a manager, recognize what your team is saying in shared channels, and if they need a slight nudge, or affirmation, dish it out when appropriate. Seeing teammates posting their work, sharing spreadsheets, talking with clients, and being active online is a solid way to tell if remote employees are working.

 

Visibly Track Deliverables

While working from home, it’s important that employees are more open and communicative about their progress than ever. There’s no turning to the person next to you and casually saying “I finished up on this part of the project, I’m going to start on the next part.” If you don’t let anyone know what you’re doing, it can look like you’re doing nothing.

Granted, if you have a team you trust, you should always know the employees are working, but there does need to be some visible and regularly updated metrics. We’re a big fan of AirTable over here. It allows us to have a workable grid where we can update work as we complete it. It’s more than just checking off a box that says “project complete” – it’s about tracking the minutiae of completing the project.

Not only does this allow managers to see how an employee is progressing, whether it’s for a sales quota, marketing materials, or customer service response times; it gives employees a reliable place to track their own progress and see if there are spots they repeatedly get hung up on. Leaders, if tracking docs show inconsistencies in work, it could be a good time to reach out to employees directly or check out the projects they’re working on.

All those post-it notes that used to live on your computer screen can live in the computer, and they should live in one place that anyone on the team can see. It’s a great way for everyone to hold each other accountable.

 

Clear & Visible Action Items

At the end of your virtual meetings, post in the appropriate channel what steps will be taken next. If you’re using Slack, target them with the @ symbol so they get alerted to their action items. This keeps everyone accountable. During a meeting, if someone says something that sounds like a task, take a note of it and bring it up at the end of the meeting, or immediately after over your communication tool.

Use your channels, both internal and shared, as a space to check in with each other about action items. Keep in mind that language over virtual communication can be read differently, so make sure that you check your own tone and read the message for clarity before sending. In the office, you might have said “Hey, Tom, did you finish the first part of the new case study yet?” with a bubbly tone, but over a DM it can be misread as harsh and impatient. Most likely, it isn’t meant in a harsh way, but simply as a check-in, so as both a giver and receiver of virtual messages, don’t take inquisitions too personally.

Trust me, I have read too much into things and I’m often wrong about the intended tone. If you need further clarification about something that was said on Slack or in an email, or if you have an employee who isn’t great at communicating through text, a quick Zoom call can usually resolve things quickly.

 

Stick to Regular Meetings

One of the best ways to know if remote employees are working is by holding regular meetings. For a manager-employee relationship, a weekly one-on-one should be happening at minimum. As the manager, it’s your responsibility to coordinate this recurring event. As the employee, it’s your responsibility to come to the meeting with knowledge of your workload and productivity.

It’s easy to brush off a recurring meeting if you feel nothing has changed over the last week, but don’t push them aside. Even if you go into it thinking there’s nothing to talk about, there likely is. These semi-casual meetings are meant to be a space to check in and workshop a number of things like:

    • Workload and capacity
    • Quota attainment and projections
    • New strategies
    • Personal goals and progress
    • Building rapport with each other
    • Concerns and grievances

As a manager, you should use the information gathered during a one-on-one as one of the ways to know if remote employees are working. If they’re meeting quota or are on track to, and they seem to be taking on new initiatives and projects, then you can rest assured that they’re working.

If they’re falling behind, check in with your employee. Is there a part of a process that’s moving much slower since they began working from home? Is there a better way that you, as a manager, can support and get them on track? What if you implement some type of peer-support program?

Now is the time to get creative as a manager on how you handle one-on-one’s and gauge success. The world is different than it was this time last year, and your expectations and conversations with employees should shift accordingly.

 

Be Flexible With (Some) of Your Expectations

During a global pandemic, realistically, some expectations are going to change. All around the globe, business is shifting. There are limitations to what your team can control. This is not a message to be lenient and lax, but to be malleable, understanding, and forgiving as your team navigates the new world. Your employees are humans who are impacted by global changes, even if your business is not immediately in danger.

As people shift to a work from home model, their workflows are inherently going to change. Finding a balance of personal accountability and management is crucial here. No one wants to feel as though they’re having their neck virtually breathed down.

Encourage your team to find the workflow that allows them to be most productive in a new environment. For some, that may mean sitting down for eight straight hours, as they had in an office. For others, they might be able to get all their work done in less time because they’re no longer distracted by office antics. Empower your team to find the method that works best for them, and make sure they feel comfortable enough to share that with you. Their working methods are allowed to be personal, but they shouldn’t be completely private.

 

So Are Remote Workers More Productive?

What worked in the past is temporarily suspended. We can see that. We are firm believers in a work-from-home model and, for the last several years, we’ve proven that it works. That being said, we know that some people just cannot work in a WFH environment. If an employee has completely fallen behind their counterparts or seems to have entirely given up, that’s definitely a reason to be concerned and it’s a situation that needs addressing. Encourage your struggling team members to be open and honest about what is working for them, and see if there are ways to make working from home work for them.

Remote employee monitoring is not a tool that watches your teams’ every keystroke. It starts with building a team based on trust and mutual respect, then adding communication tools, a metric tracking space, and time for regular meetings. What we’ve learned since COVID-19 changed the world is that no system is sacred, and anything can happen at any point. Fostering a resilient team, whose individual workflows are respected, while remaining open to improvements and iterations, will give you the peace of mind that your team remains productive – no matter where they’re working from.

Jake Moffett

Jake is the Growth Manager at RevenueZen. He works with a number of entrepreneurial clients to help them tell their personal stories as it relates to their professional brands. He has three cats, loves bread, and is a pop singer under the name Jame Doe.