Flex Basics
October 13, 2023

3 Common Mistakes Managers Make When Measuring Remote Productivity

Author avatar
Will Sipling
Director & Chief Brand Storyteller
Article hero image

Join the Flex Index community for exclusive content and updates—subscribe today ✍️


It’s only happened to me one time — adding a few cups of salt instead of sugar in a baking recipe.

Thankfully, I realized this before tasting the final saline-laced outcome. The message is clear: using the wrong ingredient or measuring device yields an unsatisfactory final product.

Imagine this scenario applied to managers trying to gauge their remote teams' productivity, outputs, or bandwidth. When they opt for the wrong tools, apps, or software integrations, they’re (proverbially) adding salt when the recipe calls for sugar.

When it comes to measuring productivity in a remote work environment, using the wrong metrics can lead to a series of unfortunate events. These missteps can result in misguided decisions while potentially exposing your organization to liability for discriminatory hiring and firing practices, especially given remote work's unique challenges and potential bias pitfalls.

So then, let’s talk about three common mistakes to avoid when measuring remote worker productivity — and what you should measure instead.

Three Common Mistakes When Measuring Remote Productivity

1. Measuring Vanity Metrics or “Productivity Theatre” Instead of Outcomes

When it comes to measuring and reporting, it’s tempting to opt for the simplest metrics. And when your team isn’t in the office, it can be easy to try to come up with something to measure when you can’t just stop by their desks.

But, this has led to the rise of what some call “productivity theatre.” It involves engaging in unproductive activities to demonstrate to managers and leaders that work is happening, even when these tasks are irrelevant to actual productivity or performance.

Rather than focusing on these busy work metrics, managers should be focused on outcomes. G2 has a great workflow for making sense of vanity metrics versus actionable, outcome-driven metrics. You have solid outcome metrics when you can answer “yes” to the following questions:

  1. Do these metrics guide decision-making or prompt specific actions?
  2. Can you intentionally replicate these results?
  3. Is the data source for these metrics reliable and trustworthy?

2. Assuming Efficiency is the Same Thing as Effectiveness

Let’s say you’re worried that your remote writers aren’t doing enough work — their average WPM is down. But WPM is way less important than how many articles were published that week. It may be that the typing pace is down because, to fight writer’s block, a blogger decided to take a walk. As long as they’re meeting deadlines and quality standards, it doesn’t matter if they’re typing an average of 30 words per minute versus 100 words per minute!

We don’t want to measure something like a speedy WPM and assume we know who our strongest remote team members are but we also don’t want to assume that the person taking the quickest way out is the most effective, either.

Yes, eliminating waste is good. Yes, speeding up processes is a great thing. But nobody wins when quality suffers at the cost of execution.

To achieve a balance, here are a few tips to increase efficiency without sacrificing quality:

  • Resources and Tech: Ensure that your remote teams are set up to maximize those outputs we discussed previously without sacrificing the finished project. A WFH stipend ensures your team has effective tools like up-to-date laptops, standing desks, or high-speed internet.

  • Automation: You can’t add more hours to the day, but you might add automation to make repetitive tasks go more quickly. Automating busy work is especially important so your team can focus their time and energy on creative tasks.

  • Recap with Retrospectives: After you complete tasks thinking, spend time analyzing what worked well and what you could make better — doing retrospectives is a great way to gather this feedback to increase your effectiveness.

3. Equating “Hustle Culture” with a Strong, Committed, or Appropriate Work Ethic

Though there’s nothing wrong with hard work, a co-dependent relationship with one’s job (or jobs) can have dangerous effects on the work environment, life-work balance, and interpersonal dynamics. And when you’re separated by multiple time zones and async communication, it can be hard for managers to tell who needs to take PTO or spend time with family.

So, why is it a mistake to gauge productivity based on one’s commitment to hustle culture?

  1. Trend, not Theory: Hustle culture is only a current trend. Research has shown the “always on” mindset leads to poorer mental and physical health trends.

  2. Not an Objective Measure: Hustle culture is a “vibe” and not something that can be objectively measured.

  3. Damaging to Workplace Culture: A negative workplace culture is connected with a decrease in productivity. Workplace hustle culture has been correlated with increased stress and burnout.

While it can be encouraging to see remote employees willing to give it their all regarding their roles, an overemphasis on “the grind” can be unhealthy. Here are some actionable things — ones that can be connected to KPIs — that you can do instead:

  • Measure Time Away from Work: Is your team maximizing their PTO usage? Are managers encouraging their remote employees to take time off?

  • Feedback and Surveys: Take pulse surveys of your team, and ask questions related to burnout (like the Muir Matches Survey). If people feel stressed, it’s time to revisit bandwidth and deadlines.

  • Analytics and Workforce Trends: If you use workforce analytics tools, make sure people aren’t overworking, putting in 10+ hour days, working into the night, or spending their whole week and weekend on the job.

A Recipe for Remote Team Success

In closing, the success of your remote, hybrid, or flexible work teams hinges on measuring what truly matters and providing essential support while preserving their mental well-being and real-life relationships. By steering clear of these three common productivity measurement mistakes, you'll enhance your team's performance and cultivate a healthier, more sustainable work environment. Remember, the recipe for remote team success is not in the distractions but in the outcomes. Avoid these pitfalls, and you'll chart a course toward lasting productivity and a thriving, balanced workforce.

About the Author

Will Sipling
Director of Workforce Transformation and Chief Brand Storyteller, Hubstaff

Will Sipling, SHRM-PMQ, is a marketing and branding expert known for his thought-provoking storytelling and human-centric leadership style. He serves as the Director of Workforce Transformation and Chief Brand Storyteller at Hubstaff.

You can follow Hubstaff on LinkedIn or subscribe to their blog for learn more.

Share Article

Get tips and insights on all things flexible work delivered to your inbox