We’re hurtling down a path whereby for many, the down-side of working remotely comes with an “always on” mentality. While flexible hours are great if they enables you to achieve that fabulous work/life balance, it’s counter-productive if you feel the constant need to field those “urgent” 24/7 requests when everyone else is out for happy hour.
Therefore when you hear the term KPI (key performance indicator), your default response might be that this is an employer-favoured term instituted to help the boss get more mileage out of workers. And you are right – KPI’s are an obvious way to help employers ensure that their well-loved staff are striving to provide them maximum value.
But KPIs can hugely benefit the employee too - in the modern workplace where remote working or telecommuting is quickly becoming the norm, clear KPIs can equally ensure a staff member their own peace of mind.
KPIs should not be not something to feel intimidated around.
As much as they are there to boost performance, you can use them for your protection too and demonstrate value to the organisation.
For example, one of my KPIs as Marketing Director of OBT is positioning the company as a great place to work - which it is, so that's not a particularly hard ask. So is writing this post in alignment with that KPI? Most certainly, so it gets priority over other things that may also be valuable, but not directly in line with my main responsibility.
I’m grateful to be part of a team that is respectful of an individual’s time-on and time-off, and after working remotely “in the cloud” for over 16 years, I value my own KPIs more than ever. Most of our staff work remotely around the globe, so a transparent evaluative criteria is something we place high value on at all levels.
As a staff member or contractor, there are plenty of good resources that talk specifically about the mechanics of setting robust KPIs. For those that need a quick summary, the key is to set realistic KPIs that follow the “SMART” principle – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Time-bound. There are lots of great articles you can google for more information, so I won’t go into too much detail as to the ‘what’ and ‘how’ component.
As to making these work “FOR” you, there are 4 main ways I see KPIs delivering peace of mind to the telecommuting economy.
Ensuring Clear Mutual Expectations.
If you’re measuring your performance on being “always available” and “doing everything” (and you’ll be surprised how many people are), then unless you have no life you’re probably not going to meet your KPIs – and even then, if you don't have a life, you still may not meet them due to sheer, unrealistic excesses.
There is always going to be more to be done than hours in the day - so the key is to work out what the priorities are. That’s easier said than done – because your priority might be could be quite different to your boss’s. So while you may think you’re being a hero slaving away after-hours on that one thing, she or he may be frustrated that you’re not attending to the task that’s top priority for them.
Having clearly articulated KPIs means your performance is measured based on outcomes, not on “hard work” or “time spent” – both of which can be demotivating if channelled into the wrong area. It will also give you more autonomy in determining “how” you get to your destination (at which location and at what time).
Align activities with your KPIs.
You’ll soon realise (if you haven’t already) that you’ll get asked to do all sorts of things outside your scope once you start working remotely. Of course there will be times when you’ll willingly agree to help out (such as cover for a sick colleague), but the key to knowing how to not become a dumping ground for those who all too easily push their own workloads onto you is to use your KPI’s as your compass. Permission granted to easily and objectively say ‘no’ to incongruent work.
Take stock - regularly.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed (and who doesn’t from time to time), go to a neutral place (not work, not home – somewhere that doesn’t trigger your brain into its default mode of thinking and trigger your usual response mechanisms) and take a blank notebook as well as three pieces of paper, two of which will be for the following listicles:
- Your KPIs. These should fit on less than a page. Anything longer than that is too long and cumbersome.
- Current “to do” list or whatever it is that is overwhelming you.
Grab whatever drink helps you relax and treat this as a project in itself.
Look at the things that you feel you “have” to do, and compare them to your KPIs. Evaluate each area by asking “Will this help me achieve my KPIs?” (this is what your note pad is for). From there, reset your priorities, write them on the third piece of paper and stick it on your fridge for daily enforcement.
You may prefer to do this electronically, but with so much time spent behind a screen, this is your opportunity to activate a different pathway in your brain when you switch to handwriting. Also, paper still provides a reliable visual queue.
This is not a once-off task - it is something you will need to do regularly, with a fortnightly or monthly check-in. If ruthless evaluation is new for you, it may take a few months of getting old things off your plate so you can begin with a relatively clean slate.Report regularly
In order for your employer to know that a) you’re providing value and b) you don’t have a whole lot of spare time on your hands, it’s important to regularly communicate how you are tracking with your KPIs. This can be a simple email with table listing:
KPI | Status | Current Activity
to show progress and activity at a glance at any particular time.
Having mutually agreed on KPIs can give you a huge lift in knowing you’re not responsible for “everything”, as well as a good litmus test to ensure you’re focusing on the right thing at any given time. When there are two legitimate things competing for your time, you can think clearly and rationally which one is more closely aligned with your priorities.
When there’s just no way out and you’re just snowed under with a myriad of tasks you can’t release, think about your next holiday and commit to a fresh start upon your return when you’re enriched with a fresh mentality. Only agree to take on additional tasks if they are in alignment with KPIs!
So go forth, be productive, and be at peace.