How to accurately measure productivity of remote workers

According to a recent FlexJobs survey, 51% of people who have been working remotely during the pandemic report being more productive at home than they were in the traditional office setting.

But, how can employees and their managers accurately measure productivity in the new normal?

Shanna Hocking, associate vice president of individual giving at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and expert on career development, says one of her favorite strategies is using what she calls an NNTR Update.

“NNTR means No Need to Respond,” Hocking explains. “It’s a twice-weekly email update to your boss to share your progress and your value at work. It’s a chance for you to share on your own terms what you’re working on and what you’ve accomplished.”

That kind of communication is more important than ever, she adds.

“Now, when you can’t necessarily have a water cooler conversation or stop by the boss’s office, it’s a chance for you to maintain contact and stay visible,” Hocking adds. “And we know how important these things are to your advancement at work.”

Even employees and employers who speak or message frequently can benefit from an NNRT Update.

“This is a great way to frame what you’re working on and for both of you to have a document to refer back to,” Hocking explains. “I also encourage [employees] to track of these updates, which will be especially helpful as they prepare to ask for a raise or promotion, or at performance evaluation time.”

The NNTR, she says, works well for her.

“I know for me it gives me a chance to help the staff member prioritize if there are too many things on their plate for that week or for me to ask for their help on additional projects.”

A continually updated Google sheet where team members input what they’ve worked on throughout the day is the way Jenny Massey, co-owner of Snowy Pines White Labs, manages work-from-home employees.

“We have certain goals that we are expected to hit each day, so when I look at their end-of-day log, I can ensure that they are getting the work done that they are required to do,” Massey reports. “Some days have better data than others, but if it all evens out and we hit our goals by the end of the month, I am happy with it.”

Jason Adwin, senior vice president of compensation and career strategies at Segal, actually believes COVID-19 has given managers the opportunity to change employee assessments for the better. He says the following tips “can help managers update their productivity measurement approaches to fit the times.”

  1. Increase interaction and feedback.
    To ensure employees aren’t blindsided during an end-of-year performance review, Adwin advises scheduling weekly or monthly video conference calls to discuss issues that tend to come up during those reviews. “When feedback is regular and consistent then it increases engagement and strengthens trust,” he says.
  2. Shift the scope to outcome-focused.
    “Create metrics to compare results monthly or quarterly so the conversation can become more about performance development rather than performance management,” Adwin suggests. “Add adaptability, teamwork collaboration, innovation and continuous learning assessments to the review as these skills are increasingly important in COVID times.”
  3. Adjust incentive plan metrics to match the uncertainty of business outcomes due to COVID-19.
    Segal, for example, created a framework to help employers strategically consider several questions: Should we readjust target incentives after a base salary reduction? Readjust 2020 incentive targets/goals? Change performance metrics? Change payout curves? Delay the payout of any incentive? Change the length of our performance cycle?
  4. Personalize the experience.
    “It’s the manager’s responsibility to create energy and drive culture via one-on-one coaching,” Adwin says. “Managers should align career development with goals that are clearly described and mutual, and map back to career progression.”These uncertain times require an understanding that not everyone is responding to pandemic in the same way. “Each employee may need a different type of incentive to improve their performance given how COVID-19 has affected their circumstances,” Adwin stresses.

Whatever the approach, it is important to keep employees’ privacy in mind — especially if you’re considering tapping technology to measure productivity.

Check out this article from the Harvard Business Review for more insight: “How to monitor your employees — while respecting their privacy.”

(Kathleen Furore is a Chicago-based writer and editor who has covered personal finance and other business-related topics for a variety of trade and consumer publications. You can email her your career questions at