Since March 2020, many workers shifted to working remotely, adding an additional layer of potential distractions to this already jarring shift. And according to a recent survey of CFOs, 74 percent of respondents expect some of their employees to continue working from home the pandemic ends. This disruption in the global workforce will make weak teams weaker and strong teams stronger. For those who want to excel, they must turn these new challenges into opportunities.
Without adequate precautions, cracks in communication can become chasms when “headquarters” have been replaced by hundreds or thousands of offices of one. Suddenly, simple but illuminating interactions like walking into your colleague’s office to quickly solve a problem or confirm info are no longer possible.
Even in traditional work environments, clarity about priorities and responsibilities can be elusive. According to a 2015 London Business School survey, only one-third of 11,000 senior executives and managers could list their company’s top three priorities.
“If you tell everybody to go to the center of Europe, and some start marching off to France, and some to Germany, and some to Italy, that’s no good — not if you want them all going to Switzerland,” former Intel-alum Jim Lally once explained to John Doerr. “If the vectors point in different directions, they add up to zero.”
The best way to offset sudden digital silos is with simple, yet precise goals. And if your team is working remotely for the first time, clear goals are even more vital for productivity and morale.
Fortunately, the Objectives and Key Results framework (OKRs) is a simple yet effective method for communicating priorities and responsibilities. OKRs clearly outline a company’s top priorities and the metrics that need to be tracked to ensure success. OKRs also provide a structure for regular progress monitoring and performance reviews.
Whether you’ve been working remotely for years or just started, OKRs can improve your company’s operations and encourage all team members to stay productive. This article will highlight why OKRs are a great tool for remote work.
No more guesswork
OKRs remove guesswork remote employees have to do to figure out what their company’s top priorities are. When done right, OKRs are simple. SweatEquity’s George Babu says that it’s possible to sort through what your company’s top three priorities are in as little as an hour-long conversation. After that, plug them into the OKR format and they’re ready to be distributed in whatever way works best for your company. Nothing has to be done in person.
“The barrier to entry is not that high,” says Babu. “Our OKRs are always at the top of every all-hands meeting. It’s just in a Google Doc. Nothing complicated. No external tool.”
And since they’re completely transparent and easy to understand, everyone — regardless if they work at the office or at home — should know the company’s Objectives for any given quarter.
Here’s an example of a simple yet effective company-wide OKR.
Results-focused team management
Not only do they make Objectives clear, OKRs lay out the parameters for reaching them. The Key Results are collectively agreed upon by the team as what success should look like when an Objective is completed.
As a next step, teams and individuals should then take ownership of specific KRs or turn it into their own OKR that aligns with that high-level Objective. This process is called cascading or laddering.
Here is how a team or individual could take ownership of a KR by turning it to their own OKR:
Another benefit of focusing on desired results is that performance is no longer tied to work hours. It would be irrational to expect everyone in a remote team to work the traditional nine to five. The FlockBlog suggests remote teams to “replace the flawed ‘hours at work’ model of productivity measurement with result-oriented performance analytics based goals.” Instead of spending time tracking hours, the team should focus on tracking whether they’re making progress on their goals.
Tracking KRs makes it easy to verify that work is being done without micromanaging, allowing for genuine trust to be built between leadership and employees.
Atlassian’s Engineering Manager Brett Huff says the best way to motivate remote employees is to give them all the information they need for them to reach their own decisions about how to best spend their time. Ideally, OKRs do just that. Because OKRs are a collective commitment everyone has already agreed upon the company’s priorities or at least has had a conversation about them.
Huff says, “If you can get people intrinsically motivated, you don’t have to worry much about accountability.”
A built-in rhythm for balanced reviews and conversations
OKRs can help a remote team establish a rhythm for checking-in on their top priorities and team performance. Normally, OKRs are graded every quarter. But the system can be adjusted to fit the organization’s needs. If necessary, the team could use a monthly review cadence.
On a recent episode of the Recode Decode podcast, investor and author Tim Ferriss said, “I’ve made a lot of good fast decisions, but no good rush decisions.”
OKRs enable fast decisions while serving as a vaccine against rush decisions. They should be quick, light, flexible, and constant drumbeat that frames every conversation. Now is the time to pause, reflect, and ask the right questions.
The point is that OKRs are meant to be reviewed regularly and can be adjusted according to the team’s evolving needs and priorities. This allows remote teams to have frequent conversations about what is working well, what needs to be improved, and what can be dropped. This process should make it more likely that the best ideas win, not just the loudest. Since OKRs are results-focused, they tend to work as an equalizer among different individual styles of work. The switch to remote work is a great opportunity to find ways to get full-participation from both the introverts and extroverts in your company.
Where can I get more information?
Proper communication is more important than ever, especially for remote teams. OKRs can help remote teams stay focused and aligned toward reaching their top priorities.
Did you just start working remotely or have you been doing it for years? Let us know how implementing OKRs has helped your remote team, and be sure to check out our FAQs, Stories, and Resources.
Or, if you’re looking for an OKR coach, check this out.
If you’re interested in starting our OKRs 101 course, click here.