How to Tastefully Ensure Remote Workers Are Working

Remote employee working.
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When you have a remote team, you may wonder how you can be sure that they are working. 

Naturally, without being around them in a traditional office setting, you might feel a bit uneasy about their productivity levels. 

However, if you foster a great remote culture, have strong hiring processes, and learn how to manage remote employees – you’ll find your mind will be much more at ease. 

Below, I’ll share some tips on how you can make sure your remote employees are working without invading their privacy.

How To Ensure Remote Workers Are Working

No, your remote employees aren’t lazy. Nor are the majority less productive. 

Yes, you will have people who sometimes slack off. You’ll have people looking to cut corners when working remotely or pretend to be getting things done.  

But guess what? That happens in the office just as much as remote work. 

I used to work in a “cubefarm” early on in my career, where everyone’s cubicles were connected in rows. And let me tell you, plenty of people wasting time and not getting work done. 

So I’d put any fears to rest.

But as a place of business, you do want to ensure distributed employees are actually getting work done. So here’s some essential tips to ensure everyone is contributing and productive. 

Set goals with your remote team and employees.

Create company goals, team goals, and individual employee goals. Beyond working together to set these, it’s important to have check-ins on progress as well. 

Offer support, communicate clearly, and help work with individuals on their goals. It’s pretty clear when a remote employee isn’t working based on the work and deliverables that they should be working towards. 

Monitor remote employees overall productivity and deliverables.

Beyond the specific goals, it’s important to implement ways to track overall productivity.

Observe when work is being shared, the quality of the output, and how often you receive updates on projects. It’s a good indicator that work is being done daily or weekly, instead of last minute.

I’d also recommend implementing collaboration or project management tools. There are a few out there that could be of use like Asana, Basecamp, ClickUp, and Trello. 

Are they more proactive or reactive with work?

When you work remotely, the best employees are very proactive when it comes to their work. By this I mean sharing progress, updates, sending partial deliverables, and being engaged with their work without someone asking. 

Now this alone is not an indication that a remote employee is definitely working or not, but I’ve found this to be one useful area to monitor. 

Check calendars and online activity. 

Remote employees that are based in different time zones and locations can be intimidating as a manager. And that can trigger anxiety about whether remote employees are working. 

But to understand their work schedule and activities, you can review their calendars, chat, and other online activities. No, I don’t mean logging into their accounts and violating their privacy. 

For example, most companies will share employee calendars or you can subscribe to them. This will give you a view about work blocks, meetings, or what employees might be working on. 

You can also check chat logs and activity (like on Slack or Microsoft Teams), reviewing attendance, tasks completion, and more. 

It’s possible an employee is not working and making things look like they are doing things. But eventually, it will be pretty obvious to you if that’s the case.

Ask fellow remote team members.

You might be suspicious about a particular remote employee under delivering and or that is seemingly not working. Besides some of the above signs, you can also ask other employees. 

They may have better insights and observations on the daily than you might.  Like that employee you have suspicions about is missing deadlines, holding up work for other co-workers, and trying to pass work onto them. 

You should be respectful in your approach too. Ask how everyone is working together, if there is any friction with work not getting done, or what could be improved amongst the team. 

5 Signs A Remote Employee Isn’t Working

You might think it’s challenging spotting unproductive remote employees. But, you can typically catch on pretty quickly. Here are some quick signs a remote employee is not really working. 

  • Communication via Slack and email is often very slow. Certainly not everyone will respond instantly, but if response time is always slow and random it could be an indicator of someone not working. 
  • Their deliverables and project work is always late or behind, delaying other members of the team. Missed deadlines can happen to the best of us. But when there is a lack of communication about why something is late and happens often, it can indicate bad work habits. 
  • When work is delivered on time, there’s a general lack of quality. You can tell when something was quickly pieced together or when someone put in the effort. Now, it could be that they are overwhelmed or have personal things going on. So make sure to check in with them to find the root cause before rushing to judgment. 
  • Lack of participation in meetings. Do they have their camera off most of the time? Do they rarely share ideas, speak, or ask questions? It’s possible they are tuned out or doing something else instead of being focused. 
  • Constant excuses for being late or offline. Life happens and there will be times for these things to happen. But if it happens routinely each week, then something is up and can be a sign of employees skipping out on work.

When I was a manager, I only had about two instances of remote employees that were seemingly not working. 

One of which was very obviously not working based on most of the above signs. The other was a bit more subtle, but a 1:1 quickly cleared up some personal issues that were happening and we got back on track. 

Do Not Use Monitoring Software

You may have noticed I did not include anything about monitoring software in the tips above. This is often a recommendation in other articles, but I’ll never advocate for it. 

As someone who has been on the hiring side of a remote company and also a remote employee, I’ve just never been a fan of aggressive monitoring software. 

Yes, you might want to have some security software provisions on your company issued laptops. That’s fairly normal. And maybe even certain internet browsing protection or VPN. 

But if you implement software that tracks every single click, every scroll, or anytime the screen goes to sleep, takes screenshots every few minutes  – it’s a bit weird and invasive. 

And don’t get me started about leaving webcams on all day… YUCK! 

Plus, employees do not want to feel like they are in daycare or being treated like children that need constant supervision either. I can tell you, that is not going to help morale or productivity. 

Some data

  • Rudolf Siegel, a researcher at Universität des Saarlandes in Germany, and co-author of a recent meta-analysis on the effects of electronic monitoring, discovered in the data and research that monitoring employees offered no benefits, and instead damaged workplace culture and spurred counterproductive behavior. (BBC)

While I get companies want to ensure remote workers aren’t slacking off, it’s a great way to show you do not trust the people you hire. 

And here’s my honest opinion –  if you don’t trust your team then that’s on YOU for hiring people you can’t trust. Fix your hiring, get your trust issues in check, and watch your company improve. 


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About Todd Kunsman

Todd is the founder of Remote Work Junkie and has been featured in numerous publications like Business Insider, HuffPost, CNBC, and more. He’s been a remote work advocate for close to a decade and has been working remotely full-time for 5+ years. He’s also a marketing, personal finance, and music nerd 🤓

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