How to Use People Analytics to Build a High Performing and Resilient Remote Workforce

The COVID-19 pandemic has possibly changed the future of work for years to come. Managing the remote workforce has emerged as one of the critical success factors for organizations across the world.

Leaders, of both small and large enterprises, have driven incremental changes to adapt to this new way of working. They have acknowledged that the same people practices, policies and procedures applicable to in-person teams cannot be implemented for remote teams. 

This significant impact on the workforce is here to stay. According to a Gartner Inc. survey, 82% of company leaders plan to allow employees to work remotely for some of the time as employees return to the workplace. PwC’s US Remote Work Survey revealed that 83% of employers believe that the shift to remote work has been successful for their company.

The new talent model of hybrid/remote work mandates shifts in organization culture, employer branding and employee experience. It is essential that business and HR leaders work together to bring about these vital organizational changes to attract top talent and business outcomes.

Leaders must now tap into people analytics to understand the drivers and priorities of their remote teams. People analytics is a robust enabler in facilitating increased productivity and efficiency of a remote workforce.

Before we understand more about leveraging the power of people analytics, it is pertinent to address the impact of remote working on both employers and employees.

Organizations face multiple challenges and concerns while managing remote teams.

Managing remote teams comes with its set of challenges for both leaders/managers and employees. Some questions that leaders/managers may have:

  • How are my remote teams managing priorities?
  • Are remote teams communicating and collaborating with each other?
  • Who do they do all day?
  • How do I ensure that project milestones are completed with no compromise on quality?
  • How do I have more visibility into the work being done?
  • How do I track time spent on different tasks?
  • Are team members motivated enough in a remote setup?
  • What shifts in behaviour do I need to make as a leader?
  • How is this way of working impacting employees’ well-being?
  • What is the messaging for remote teams?

Some concerns that remote teams/employees may have:

  • Do I understand the overall vision of the project?
  • Do I have clarity on my role and responsibilities?
  • How can I best execute my roles and responsibilities in a remote setup?
  • Does working remotely have an impact on the way my performance is being evaluated?
  • How do I effectively manage multiple priorities?
  • How can I learn from other remote team members?
  • Do I have enough time outside of work to take care of my physical and psychological well-being?
  • Is there a forum for remote teams to voice their concerns?

The ever-evolving area of people analytics can help track metrics that matter for a remote workforce.

HR leaders, now more than ever, cannot rely on their gut and intuition to make decisions. Data-driven decision making, and insights need to be the backbone for attracting, developing, and retaining remote teams.

Exploring people-related data can provide invaluable information to help decode what your people need from you. You can unlock the power of behavioral data to understand the causes of employee burnout, factors driving productivity, degree of agility in remote teams, opportunities to optimize work and much more.

There are 4 areas in which you must utilize people analytics to track metrics and uncover the full potential of your remote workforce:

Productivity and Performance

For organizations that are relatively new to the concept of remote working, one of the commonly used methods of assessing productivity is time tracking. While time tracking tools provide insight into the pace at which employees work, they are often not the best measure of productivity and/or performance.

Remote teams may frequently work overtime and yet, not be able to deliver the ask successfully. By calculating how your remote teams are spending their hours at work, you are shifting the focus from being more result-oriented to emphasizing and monitoring inputs.

Setting expectations with your remote teams on their roles, responsibilities, goals and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is the first key step.

For teams to effectively meet these expectations, provide visibility and transparency into the metrics you intend to track; such as sales and revenue generated per team member, number of customer issues resolved, cost per win, cost per lead, and conversion rate, etc.

A host of people data can be collected from multiple sources to measure the effectiveness of a remote workforce such as:

  • Performance ratings
  • High performer and high potential ratings
  • Pay hikes
  • Promotion data
  • 30-60-90-day performance evaluations
  • Turnover rate

Communicating clearly within and across different functions and geographies can often be a challenge in a remote environment. To combat this, team managers, clients, vendors and/or team members can be asked to assess their colleagues on various communication including precision in direction and interaction, clarity and conciseness in stating objectives, and promptness in follow-up, etc.

We recommend using a combination of all metrics listed above to identify performance gaps and drive actionable insights and interventions.

Engagement

Arming yourself with data and insights on remote teams by listening to your employees will go a long way in contributing to a motivated and engaged workforce.

According to Mercer, employee listening is critical to providing the right support and solving organization problems. There are several tools that can help you with employee listening. 

The erstwhile employee engagement survey still has its place as an important input to workforce analytics and has been a traditional method of gathering intelligence on overall employee experience. 

However, it is not feasible for organizations to wait a year to collect and analyze engagement data from remote employees. Frequent check-ins on employee sentiment through “pulse” surveys is a better option.

Pulse surveys are typically shorter surveys that focus on specific aspects of remote working such as connectivity, flexibility, ways of working and collaboration between team members.

Pulse survey is an easy and practical way to gather real-time feedback and prevent survey fatigue. It also helps HR leaders make more informed decisions and ensures a higher participation rate as compared to conventional surveys.

Engagement and pulse surveys should ask the right and relevant questions for a remote workforce and give ample opportunity to employees to voice their concerns.

There is some popular employee engagement software available in the market:

To ensure you are acquiring both quantitative and qualitative insights, we also recommend setting up focus groups and one-on-one meetings with your remote teams, to gather their candid feedback and pressing concerns.

Collaboration and Learning

It is a well-known fact that the rise in remote working has led to an increase in the usage of collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. While this technology aids in keeping remote teams connected, there is room to further explore virtual relationships and connections that exist within the organization.

Organizational Network Analysis (ONA) is one such way of identifying informal networks that exist within companies. Typically, ONA uses data from multiple sources to identify collaboration patterns amongst teams. Its output can be compared with the traditional organization charts to evaluate how information is flowing within the organization and where gaps exist. 

For example, a sales manager may sit several roles away from a content creator in the formal org chart but communicates and collaborates with them on a regular basis to get work done. This input is crucial in remote setups to determine which roles are working well together and which are isolated.

Online and informal learning is one of the cornerstones of capability development in remote teams. Analyzing usage and efficiency data is a useful method of tracking learner engagement. 

Metrics such as enrolment and completion rates, most viewed courses, time spent on learning, average learning scores, top and lowest scored courses on your LMS (Learning Management System) help pinpoint modules where learners are engaged and where learning content and modalities need to be tweaked.

Many organizations have also gamified their entire onboarding experience to engage remote workers from the beginning. Evaluating leader boards, usage and adoption metrics can be an effective way of measuring learning objectives and the impact of gamification.

Knowledge sharing between remote team members tends to be unstructured and dispersed owing to the intermittent nature of interaction between them. Virtual town halls, workshops and informal one-on-one meetings can facilitate remote teams to share their expertise and experience.

We recommend leveraging collaboration tools (mentioned earlier in this article) to develop knowledge repositories and online libraries. This will provide easy access to internal resources such as webinars, courses, podcasts, and FAQ documents.

You can also try out some other commonly used collaboration tools including Trello, Yammer and Asana.

If your organization has an internal knowledge-sharing platform, you can track user engagement for remote teams by assessing the number of views, likes, comments and shares.

Well-being

In a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, almost half of all respondents reported feeling some symptoms of being burned out at work. According to a Gallup study,  remote employees are experiencing more burnout than on-site employees.

In addition to physical and psychological distress, burnout and stress at work can have far-reaching repercussions including, but not limited to, absenteeism, decreased job satisfaction, low employee morale and diminishing productivity.

It is easier for leaders and managers to observe signs of burnout, anxiety and stress when interacting in person with employees. In a remote setup, there is greater reliance on data to help the workforce overcome health and wellness-related issues.

To build a happy and healthy remote workforce, solicit employee feedback to build your workplace wellness plan. You may currently be offering virtual yoga and mindfulness sessions, but your remote workers actually need extended time off and enhanced flexibility on working hours. 

Gain insights into their work setup at home, how they manage distractions, what helps them be successful while working remotely and how they stay connected with their teams.

Ultimately, prioritizing the well-being of remote teams must be a leadership imperative and become embedded into the culture of the organization. Coaching and sensitizing your managers on supporting remote teams is an important pillar in this endeavor.

An organization where remote teams feel valued, heard, and connected is an organization where they will thrive.

Before you start your people analytics journey….

People analytics can be instrumental in empowering and energizing your remote workforce. Before you embark on this journey, consider the following:

  • Ensure that you do not take a siloed approach. View data holistically and integrate data points from multiple sources to drive intelligent decision-making
  • There are many analytics solutions and tools available in the market. Assess the goals and objectives of workforce analytics for your organization and select a software that best fits your business needs
  • The capabilities of workforce analytics cannot be fully tapped without leadership buy-in and alignment. Ensure your leaders are invested in the vision and identify key data savvy people in your organization to drive this initiative
  • Keep in mind that KPIs applicable to on-site teams are different than those applicable to remote teams
  • Follow and comply with all privacy, safety, and security norms to protect sensitive HR data. Take into consideration all the ethical issues related to people analytics (Refer A Framework for Ethics of Data and AI by Josh Bersin)
  • Be aware that analysing people data is the foundation and needs to be supplemented with adjustments in management styles and leadership behaviours.