How We Monitor Remote Employees
Many companies refrain from remote employment because they are afraid to lose control. It is unclear how to ensure that the specialist truly works for eight hours a day and does not waste their time on social media. Employee monitoring tools, such as time tracking, attendance control, webcam snapshots, etc., seem to be a good solution. At Technipe, we use these tools in combination with a special managerial approach.
Read on to learn how we keep the workflow in the company under the radar efficiently and why it works.
We trust our employees. It is quite a trivial statement for a story about control, but it is indeed so. At the same time, I agree with the well-known proverb: "Trust but verify". And we trust, but we control. However, before we delve deeper into the details of this control, I should explain some initial agreements and work that we do.
What we agree on at the start
When we hire a new employee, we discuss all the conditions with them - we stick to the maximal transparency policy. There can be no "I meant" - we must discuss everything.
We try to be flexible in every matter - consider particularities of living in different states and employees' personal preferences. For example, we have some standard schedule from 8-9 am to 5-6 pm, including an hour lunch break on workdays. Although, sometimes, due to personal circumstances, an employee wishes to have, for example, a two-hour lunch break or a break at an unusual time. Projects that specialists work on may also have peculiarities (say, the client that the employee must keep in touch with is in a different time zone). We discuss all of these at the beginning.
We talk over not only the working hours but also other aspects of our cooperation. They include responsibilities regarding releases (the fact that the whole team must be available at the set time), possibilities of work trips once or twice a year, etc. In fact, we agree on the frameworks within which we will cooperate.
We have terms that the employee must comply with if they disrupt these frameworks. If the employee needs to start the work later, leave earlier or have a day off due to some circumstances, they must do it openly and notify their team. In theory, the employee must make up the missed period. However, our corporate policy provides a time clearance that will cause no consequences. An employee has a right to get two extra day-offs a year without explaining the reasons. If "allowed no-shows" are over, the employee can always take a day off their paid leave or an unpaid day-off or make up the missed time after agreeing with the team. The main point is to notify beforehand. We try to minimize paltering and breaking the agreements with the help of flexible conditions.
t waste the efforts on implementing control call practices or micromanagement tools, such as online attendance control tools or webcam surveillance. From my point of view, they were useless for intellectual labour. First, you have to invest in the purchase of the tools, then waste time and effort on reviewing the reports. Still, they don't give you the answer if the employee has completed the task or not.
However, I changed my opinion after I discovered CleverControl. This tool is more affordable than others and has impressive functionality, from fixing the time when the computer is turned on and off to tracking running applications.
Initially, I worried that self-organized employees would treat such tools negatively. People who put the result over the process feel discomfort when they are being watched. Their motivation decreases, and we cannot allow that. Luckily, CleverControl works discreetly and unintrusively: it does not have an interface on employee’s computer and is not obvious for the employee. It helps to alleviate the stress of monitoring to the point that the person totally forgets about the program.
We prioritize the result, not the process!
That is why we configured the program according to our needs: turned off website monitoring, keylogging, social media monitoring and a couple of other features that collected data that we were not interested in. It is fairly easy to do because CleverControl is flexible to the point that you can disable almost all monitoring options. What we mainly focus on is active time statistics, applications that employees work in and occasionally Live Viewing to check attendance.
Control the result
So far, we have talked only about our agreements with employees. How we control compliance with these agreements depends on the project peculiarities.
Technipe focuses mainly on completing complex tasks on a turnkey basis. In this case, we decide how to work on the project and divide the tasks into simple subtasks. After that, the project manager's or the team lead's (or both of them in some projects) work according to the agile methodology as usual. Like all teams, we have weekly sprints and daily calls that allow us to coordinate the workflow.
We suppose that the employee is into practical activities all the time. Accordingly, we assign tasks, set up video conferences, etc. The workflow is not just getting assignments for the week and completing them alone. Teams are constantly interacting - this is even more important with the remote work format than in the office. It is impossible to disappear from this interaction unnoticed.
Since the work goes inside a team, controlling remote employees does not differ much from tracking offices of distributed companies when, for example, a part of the team is in the capital, and the other one is in another state. If potentially missed deadlines, individual employees' underruns or other troubles ever happen, they become apparent within about a week. It allows acting on the situation quickly. In other words, there are no crucial difficulties here.
In most projects, we have time control for internal purposes. It is conducted both via CleverControl and manual reports ("I have been doing that task for X hours and that one for Y hours").
We do not use popular methods of assessing the staff and their involvement, for example, the 360 survey. We do not set a goal to measure our employees' work by HR metrics as they don't give us the information we need. All project communication is informal, in a simple language. But to see the situation more or less objectively, we have a plan for each employee for several months ahead. It includes the tasks they must complete and personal goals such as learning new tools, technologies, programming languages. The employee creates this plan together with their supervisor.
To protect technical specialists from burnout, we give them an opportunity to change projects if, for example, they are tired of the technology stack. The company initially states that it is a common practice that leads to no economic or other sanctions. That is why an employee lets us know of any problems freely at early stages, and we can make changes in the project with minimal losses after discussing them and allowing time to train a new specialist.
There are some projects where a part of the Technipe team works together with the client's specialists. In terms of control, such projects cause much more problems. The difference is crucial. In the first case, we have a usual internal team, however, in the second one, we have no access to a part of the team, and our influence on the project is limited to the frameworks that we have set at the start. In this situation, the relations with the client built with joint effort are the key.
Apart from CleverControl, our main instrument of performance control is collecting feedback from the clients on whose projects the employees work. Account managers contact the client no less than twice a month to discuss if each employee and the whole team complete the set task:
If the work meets the quality standards;
if the work is done in time;
if there are any backlogs;
what they liked or didn't like about the work recently;
what an individual specialist can improve in their work.
We ask our team the same questions but a lot more often. They allow managers to understand what stage the project is on as if it was an internal team. As I mentioned above, we discuss not only the project but also the employee's personal development during regular calls. When the employee works with the client's specialists, the client can contribute to their development plan if they believe the employee lacks some technical competencies.
As a result, we control at the core metrics level - quality (in terms of software development - code style, timescales, etc.) taking only the most valuable data from the monitoring software. Everyone is happy. We consider the client's requests; the work goes on. The employee has a certain level of involvement in the project. They do not simply write the code but become a part of the project team and receive the necessary feedback.
It works, but there are some limits
Obviously, not every employee's contribution can be evaluated by other participants. The employees must be well-organized and have some soft skills. When they have a problem, they cannot wait until it disappears. Instead, they must try to resolve it. If it requires other team members' help, the employee should speak of the problem openly. Not everyone can do it - that is why we consider the necessary soft skills in the recruitment process. And this is another component of our control system: if we believe that the candidate will not fit in the workflow, we will not hire them.
I must say that whatever soft skills the employee may have, everyone has moments when their brain does not work because of an illness, family problems, etc. For us, it is not a reason for the firing. But we expect that the employee lets us know of the problem, and we find a solution together, for example, give them an unplanned leave. Even if the employee doesn't talk about it, we see changes in personal communications and try to help. It is another reason why communication with the employees is essential.
Budgets and deadlines
Everyone makes mistakes. Our system of control had some too. However, we arrange our work processes so that the price of a mistake is minimal.
We divide each task into subtasks that require no more than 32 hours to complete. On the one hand, it requires much work in the assessment stage. Considering this, we do not participate in competitions, tenders or other assessments where the presale will hardly lead to a project. However, if the negotiations came to calculating the costs, we try to get as many details as possible. Additional eight hours spent on the details allow us to cut the project budget and meet the initially set deadlines. It concerns projects of both mentioned types.
If the employee fails for some reason, we learn about it in a few days, a couple of weeks at worst, not in six months. The employee may have objective problems or not use the best approach to complete the task - in this case, we join and help.
We had situations when the deadlines were delayed. It was vivid by the number of similar tasks the employee completed and the client's feedback. The problems occurred with projects where we worked with the client's specialists. That was when all our control mechanisms at the early stage worked best. Even before the client openly told us about the problems, we had noticed warning signs inside the team. In one of the cases, we had little extra time to give the employee a chance to improve. He did not use this chance, but we still managed to solve the problem so that it had almost no impact on the project. We had to part with the employee. Although, honestly speaking, firing is an extreme measure for those employees who have been working in the company for some time and showing satisfactory results previously. We try to find some points of agreement and resolve the situation differently with such employees.
Instead of the conclusion, I would like to note that our experience can hardly be implemented in any company. One has to reconsider the whole so-called corporate culture, changing the focus from the process to the result. It was relatively easy for Technipe because the company was initially built on this principle. We had to learn many things from our own experience, though. And we continue following our way, improving the processes with gained knowledge.