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5 Ways to Measure the Productivity of Virtual Teams

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Even though remote work and virtual teams are regular features of the modern workplace, many managers still find themselves uncomfortable overseeing such arrangements. Their main concern: will productivity drop once an employee is set up outside the office?

The truth, however, is that with the right tools and guidelines, remote workers are often just as productive as employees who remain onsite. Dell, which currently has 25% of its employees working virtually either full- or part-time, has seen no loss of productivity, and perhaps even a gain.

They may not recognize it, but most organizations are already working virtually, even when employees are in the office. Every day, people interact with colleagues on another floor or in a regional office.

“Whether we’re nine feet, nine floors or nine time zones away, we’re working virtually. The employees have already left the building,” Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics, told CNN Money.

Fortunately, managers already have several tools at their disposal to manage teams and ensure their work is getting done. The key is to measure progress just as you would with office-based teams. Most managers are already familiar with these five performance metrics. Here’s how they apply to virtual teams.

Organizational KPIs

Each year, your business invests significant time and resources in creating strategic plans and setting key performance indicators. These define the expected end results of work. Although KPIs such as sales, customer satisfaction and customer retention are usually quantitative, they ultimately measure the quality and effectiveness of employees.

Team Milestones

Managers interpret KPIs and set goals for their team to meet their targets. One way to be sure your virtual team stays on track is to establish interim milestones and then hold the team accountable for reaching them. Continually missing deadlines may be an indication of low productivity.

Individual Objectives

Each employee should have a performance management plan with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Oriented, Time-Bound) objectives. With these objectives clearly articulated, employees – wherever they work – will know exactly what targets they need to meet. When remote workers consistently meet or exceed their objectives, managers can be confident they’re working at an acceptable level of productivity.

Process Rules & Guidelines

Projects run more smoothly when expectations are clear, and that includes day-to-day processes. Specific guidelines eliminate uncertainty, writes Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a research-based consulting and training company, in Harvard Business Review. When processes are spelled out in concrete detail – how approvals happen, how long each stage of a project should take – managers gain more metrics with which to assess their team’s productivity. To ensure teams stick to the processes, measure each step and hold members accountable.

Communications Metrics

Regular status meetings, both as a group and one-to-one, keep projects on track. But managers should also measure the quality and quantity of communications. For example, productivity and the quality of decision-making is reduced when team members multi-task during calls. Because video conferences tend to be more efficient, establish a benchmark for the percentage of meetings held by video.

At the same time, be sure to optimize the communications process and provide remote workers with the right tools. For example, web chat can be a valuable, virtual “water cooler” and can lead to greater innovation, faster decisions and real-time problem solving activities. Or, a unified communications system with an agenda tool can help improve meeting efficiency by making it easy to track time spent on each discussion item.

These quantitative metrics will help you evaluate the productivity of your virtual team, but it’s important not to lose sight of other, less tangible measures. The productivity of remote workers can be higher because they don’t have to deal with the stress of fighting long commutes or dealing with distractions in the office. This means they may have more energy and be more focused than their colleague in the office.

Remember, whatever can be measured can be managed - including employees.

Learn more about ShoreTel’s unified communications solutions.

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