The remote revolution taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how teams operate for good. Particularly as so many employees say they want the option to work remotely for the rest of their careers, companies now need to find sustainable and efficient ways to support the transition.
The problem, however, is that the change in workflow has meant teams are facing issues around communication, prioritization, and alignment. On top of that, remote teams are at risk of feeling isolated and disconnected from the wider company strategy and culture.
A growing solution is to implement OKRs (Objective and Key Results), a collaborative goal-setting tool for individual employees and teams alike. Currently, companies like Google, Twitter, Spotify, and LinkedIn all use OKRs to accelerate their growth. The technique is particularly beneficial for remote teams because it establishes a shared vision among stakeholders, regardless of their location. It also provides greater agility and a method to concretely measure progress.
Here’s how OKRs can solve (and are solving) challenges faced by remote teams:
At their core, OKRs are about setting collective goals that everyone agrees on and understands how to achieve. Especially when functioning at a distance, when employees can feel unfamiliar with new processes, OKRs tie everyone together.
Each OKR is set within a specific time frame, normally per quarter but this can also be tailored to the team’s preference. Within that period, teams have regular meetings and check-ins to discuss how the OKR is moving forward. These touch points are ideal because they allow for consistent communication and provide an opportunity for people to voice any concerns they may have.
For instance, some teams use a weekly confidence rating in OKR meetings to monitor how everyone is coping. These metrics can later be used in the evaluation stage to identify areas for improvement. Not only does the process allow for open, honest communication, it also reassures employees that their input is respected.
To ensure the best levels of communication among remote teams, OKRs should be integrated with an agile framework. While agile processes focus on minute details on a project level (micro), OKRs aspire to broader goals on a business level (macro). By combining the two, there’s a lower risk of teams working separately and without lines of communication. Instead, they have to have frequent interactions with teammates, customers and other stakeholders.
A study from McKinsey found only 52% of respondents believe that how they spend their time matches with their organization’s priorities. When working remotely, this figure could be even lower as being away from the office and colleagues makes it difficult to focus. Not to mention, with so many processes moving online, employees are feeling more inundated with distracting notifications.
In response, OKRs help facilitate prioritization by empowering employees to say ‘no’ to any activity that is not related to the objective. They also make it wholly clear what exactly teams should be paying the most attention to, and moreover, how to do it. In having a common team goal, there is a shared endpoint for every team member to work towards, and thus a heightened driving force in the same direction.
OKRs tie strategy and execution together, and are the vehicle for vertical alignment throughout organizations. With objectives in black and white, teams’ OKRs make business goals transparent for everyone at the company. This transparency is what seeds collaboration and exposes areas that are redundant, ultimately helping teams to save time and money.
Alignment also comes in the form of trackable and measurable OKR metrics. For example, if the objective is to improve customer satisfaction, the key results could focus on achievements like getting 100 survey responses, conducting 50 user interviews, and improving the NPS score by 10%. Teams therefore know the specific numbers they’re striving for – they can also choose to devise OKRs that are ‘roofshots’ (where 100% of the team is anticipated to complete it), and ‘moonshots’ (where 60-70% of the team is anticipated to complete it). This tiering ensures that everyone is on the same page about what’s expected of them.
When the time comes to evaluate, teams can use a grading system to judge how successful the OKR was. Most organizations use a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, where 1.0 is a total success, and 0.0 is a total failure. Realistically, 0.6 or 0.7 is an ideal score. With data both fueling and informing OKRs, teams can make smarter decisions as a whole for the future. They equally earn a greater sense of ownership and autonomy because they don’t need to be micromanaged – they have the means to action the next steps themselves.
A marathon, not a sprint
With careful onboarding and integration, OKRs can prevent small problems snowballing into bigger ones at a time when teams are adjusting to a new work environment.
The most important thing to remember with OKRs is that they are a marathon, not a sprint. Their purpose is to help teams gain momentum gradually and reach an optimal operational standard, rather than rushing up to speed but compromising quality in the process. Beyond daily duties, OKRs also nurture a positive work culture, one where employees are motivated, respected, and able to continually grow.