Remote success: Measuring and achieving success through KPIs

Success matters

If anyone has ever told you otherwise, they probably don’t understand the meaning of success. 

Success is not the goal you set. It’s the process you use to get there, the journey. It’s the way you feel, the energy you create as you make your way to wherever you’re going. Success is about striving for something.

…But why does success matter?

It matters because, inherently, we all want to succeed (preferably without putting too much work in!). And we all want to excel at what we do. It matters as the sense of achievement and accomplishment that success gives us helps to lift us — and that keeps us going.

In this respect, our jobs are no different. 

We need our work to challenge us: to allow us to grow, both professionally and personally. Because the rush of working through bottlenecks — and hitting deadlines — can make us better at what we do, and we all enjoy it when our capabilities shape something bigger, all thanks to our contribution.

Does your work challenge you?

Your work doesn’t have to make you jump out of bed every Monday. However, it does need to challenge you, to motivate you — if you’re to make it through each day.

Yet there are countless reasons your work may not do this. Maybe you don’t look forward to the back-to-back meetings on your schedule; maybe there’s a release you wish you had longer to work on — or maybe, just maybe, the coffee machine has broken down. Again.

It could be down to systemic problems, like too many distractions in your workplace. Or it could be more straightforward: your work no longer excites you — and free meals, endless snacks, and happy hours can only sustain one’s enthusiasm for so long.

Let’s fix what can be fixed.

There are many problems with the way we work. Still, some companies are happier than others — and more successful, too.

What sets them apart is they do things differently. They battle systemic dissatisfaction with a unique proposition, the core of which is the ‘will to add meaning to work:’ to create a culture that focuses on success and satisfaction in equal measure.

Equation for success = Add meaning to work + Create a positive culture

But making work meaningful is a lot easier than it sounds. 

That said, defining what success means is a good place to start. What’s next? You must measure success — on an individual as well as a team level — as measuring is the only way to pursue and ultimately achieve success.

Measuring success in a remote workplace

When we fall into routines and habits, for better or worse, we rarely stop to question them. We struggle to imagine life any other way — which is, in part, why we cling to traditional ways of working: even if they are outdated.

Remote work gives us a unique opportunity to rethink our strategies and find new ways to measure success.

But first, let’s consider what not to measure.

What not to measure

Co-located workspaces still have a culture focused on ‘working hours.’ And that’s the one misconception that remote workers are still trying to fix. Why?

…because working hours are not a measure of work. Remote teams have to measure productivity by far more objective metrics than working hours if they’re to create more productive workflows. And on that note, productivity is not a measure of success either. 

That’s why startups and corporations alike have been slowly letting go of ‘hours clocked’ — instead, they’ve started to favor more efficient, reflective metrics.

Measure what really matters

Now, things are about to become clear.

Even though these two aspects may seem tricky to measure, what really matters are contribution and impact — because we need to measure tangible outputs if we’re to evaluate and improve our collective efforts. 

This means we need measurable metrics to quantify our work. 

Cue: measuring outcomes and impacts.

  • An outcome is a change that occurred because of your efforts. It is finite, measurable, and time-limited. It has a predefined scope and reach. Even if it takes time to come into effect, it is still measurable.
  • Impact, on the other hand, is the indirect effect of your outcomes. The impact is harder to measure because outcomes don’t always guarantee impact. It’s what we hope our efforts will accomplish. 

To measure success successfully, we need tangible results that we can evaluate so that teams can align on progress and improve on the results — as such, a healthy mix of outcome and impact-centric goals is your best strategy for success.

Setting KPIs to do the job

Managers might dislike remote work at first as it can knock a team off-track. If teammates are used to in-person meetings, cubicle-based interactions, and on-the-fly progress reports, remote alignment can feel tricky.

It’s a valid concern — but if that’s the case, KPIs hold the key.

Start with your goals

When we talk about success, the conversation almost always turns straight to goals. 

Goals not only motivate people. They align us with our tasks, guide our focus, and help teams maintain momentum. Where success is concerned, the adage holds true: ‘We can’t manage what we don’t measure. And we can’t improve what we don’t properly manage.’

Setting goals can help us do all the above — and much more.

Most companies set annual and quarterly goals. 

We’re sure you do too, but for the sake of completion: let’s start here and take a top-down approach to goal setting.

Start with your company goals

If you haven’t formally recorded any, now’s a good time to fix that. You know your mission. You have a vision for where you want to be in three-to-five years, so set annual and quarterly goals to capture and quantify your path forward. 

Moreover, once you have an overview of your company goals, your team goals will become more evident.

Then set team goals

Team goals should give you the space to identify and plan cross-team collaboration and coordination, helping you hit key milestones. When you have agreed on team goals, break them down into individual objectives.

Finally, set individual goals

And base them on each team member’s roles and responsibilities. Sit with everyone to personalize their goals and make sure each one aligns with the individual’s interests and expectations: say, someone wants to move to a different line of work, take on a new role, or have more responsibilities in the next few years.

Set goals that prepare them for what’s ahead, then help them hit their markers.

Translate goals into KPIs

Goals show you where you want to go. And you can use them to measure performance first by turning them into Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), then into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as you zoom in on the time axis.

  • OKRs are your long-term measure
  • Milestones track medium-term performance 
  • KPIs reflect your short-term goals

Quarterly OKRs

‘Objectives and Key Results’ are a highly effective way to break down headline goals into digestible bites — but how do OKRs work in practice?

OKRs provide the framework to put company goals on paper. They create high-level objectives you can distill down into smaller components that teams can then use to turn a vision into a reality. The clearer you state your OKRs, the easier your team will find it to plot the path to success. 

The approach may sound simplistic, almost too good to be true. But we have found the exercise of defining OKRs — or, reworking current company plans into OKRs — to be a highly effective evaluation tool.

Purposeful milestones

Milestones mark specific points along a project’s timeline. They act as checkpoints that keep us on track. And they’re powerful because these checkpoints confirm when we’re progressing towards our goal — or if we’re off-track.

Milestones help motivate and align a team by enabling everyone to see progress and assess priorities. Meaning you can monitor deadlines, identify critical dates, and recognize potential bottlenecks within a project.

When compared to goals: milestones look back at what we’ve accomplished, whereas goals look forward to what we want to achieve. Put another way: milestones are the rungs on the ladder that help us climb towards our goals.

Relevant Key Performance Indicators

You may have one lingering question: ‘Why bother setting team-level goals?’

After all, if a company is following higher-level business objectives and each team is feeding into them, why go to all that extra effort? The fact is: goal-setting is a critical practice, particularly in the workplace.

Goals increase motivation. They engage employees in the tasks at hand — while tangible targets boost team-wide productivity. And there’s no better way to set goals than to create team-level Key Performance Indicators (or KPIs).

By distilling company goals into smaller, more tangible team-level KPIs, you provide the most relevant, progress-related information that will help you understand whether your team is on track to meet its targets.

KPIs are the best way to measure how well a team, a project, or an individual is performing in the context of its strategic goals and objectives. Like any goal, useful KPIs need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timebound). 

Creating smart KPIs is a challenge, but it’s attainable — just be sure to set impact as well as outcome-oriented KPIs to keep employees motivated.

Track performance through KPIs

KPIs give a clear picture of progress related to daily and weekly activities. As they revolve around the roles, responsibilities, and deliverables of each team member, you should track KPIs using the same time intervals.

We recommend you use the following meeting structure for maximum impact.

Daily standups

Daily standups help teams get on the same page. The 15-minute roundup lets everyone communicate their responsibilities for the day, so team members are aware of one another’s tasks. We suggest you use the following daily stand up questions in each meeting:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What will you do today?
  • What (if anything) is blocking your progress?

Daily standups are best used in conjunction with a weekly roundup.

Weekly roundups

Weekly roundups are your chance to review progress, explore the scope of improvement, and set an agenda for the week ahead. Hold weekly roundups for regular group updates and hold check-ins with your team for specific projects.

Once your daily standups are working well, you may feel weekly roundups are redundant. Experience tells us otherwise. Weekly Action Reviews (WAR meetings) allow everyone to evaluate and align on critical tasks to achieve maximum efficiency — and they help everyone keep sight of their goals.

Performance reviews

Performance reviews go a long way towards hitting your goals. We personally encourage as many one-on-ones as your team can stomach: they’re the ideal informal forum for two-way feedback. 

The bi-directional feedback loop works wonders in improving the performance of team members. Just approach it as more of a problem-solving session than needless scrutiny. 

If you think frequent reviews are a burden, try less formal one-on-ones. They often elicit more precise insights and stronger overviews in the context of KPIs — we suggest you use the following questions in each session:

  • What were your key accomplishments?
  • What lessons did you learn?
  • What skills do you want to improve?
  • How could I have done better?
  • What were my shortcomings?
  • How can I help you?

Conclusion: Delivering lasting benefits

Every day, we find new tools that could transform and optimize the way we work.

As a result, we must adapt the way we approach work — and how we measure performance — accordingly.

Working hours are no longer an adequate yardstick to measure contribution. Instead, we should define outcome and impact-oriented goals that create a clearer path to success. 

KPI’s can give us a more structured and efficient framework that motivates employees using meaningful, measurable milestones. Through using KPIs, we can expect more productive work that delivers better results.

Ultimately, KPIs should help us create a more robust template for performance tracking — with targeted improvements that result in long-term, lasting benefits.

Frequently asked questions

How do you evaluate a remote employee?

There are several ways to evaluate remote employees. First, you can use time tracking software to track how much time your employees spend working on their tasks. Second, you can take a goal-driven approach and define specific milestones that your employees need to achieve. Agile methodologies, for example, help you define a set of tasks that remote employees can work on within a defined period of time.

How is productivity measured in remote work?

You can measure remote work productivity for every employee individually and for a team as a whole. Using agile methodologies such as Scrum you can track how successful a team is at completing large tasks that require collaboration over time. Using remote project management toolsI you can track either how many hours employees spend on their tasks or how many tasks they complete over a certain period of time.

How do you monitor productivity of remote workers?

It’s best to monitor productivity of remote workers over longer periods of time. That way you can see periods of time when employees were more or less productive and help them to become more efficient by analyzing what affected their performance. There are several tools that can help you monitor remote workers, including time tracking software, project management software, and online survey bots.

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