How do we control remote employees

    Many companies are deterred from losing control over the situation from switching to remote interaction with employees - it’s not clear how to make sure that a specialist really works for eight hours, and does not sit on social networks. It would seem that the solution is in user tracking tools: in working time accounting systems, in presence monitoring, webcam shooting, etc. But we in “Maxillect” in principle do not use such tools, acting on a different, managerial level.

    (in the photo - the famous street art from Banksy, photographer - Niv Singer)

    How we keep abreast of the company's work to be effective, and why it works - under the cut.

    We trust our employees. A rather banal statement for the story of control, but this is true. At the same time, I agree with the well-known proverb: “Trust, but verify.” And we trust, but we control. However, it is impossible to go into the details of this control without some introduction to the original agreements and tasks that we are engaged in.

    What we agree at the start

    When applying for a job with an employee, all conditions are specified - we adhere to the policy of maximum transparency. No "I meant" - everything needs to be discussed.

    For each of the points we try to be flexible - to take into account the peculiarities of the life of children from different regions, their personal wishes. For example, we have a certain standard schedule - from 8-9 am to 5-18 pm Moscow time, taking into account the hour lunch on working days, in accordance with the production calendar of the Russian Federation. But sometimes an employee has personal circumstances because of which he wants to secure, for example, a two-hour lunch or a break in non-standard time. Projects on which specialists will work may also have their own characteristics (suppose a client with whom you need to keep in touch is in a different time zone). We discuss all this at the start.

    Not only the schedule of work is discussed in detail, but also other aspects of interaction, for example, obligations regarding releases (the fact that the whole team should be available at a specified time), the possibility of travel once or twice a year, etc. In fact, we agree on the framework within which we will cooperate .

    We have conditions that must be met in case of violation of this framework.. If circumstances arise, due to which you need to start later, finish earlier or not go out at all on a certain day, everything should be open: the employee must warn his team. Theoretically, missed hours need to be worked out, but in our corporate policy we have some kind of temporary backlash for which no one will punish: two days a year, each employee has the right to spend on his business without explaining the reasons. If the “allowed absenteeism” is over, you can always take a day from paid vacation or time off at your own expense, well, or work out in agreement with the team. The main thing is to warn. By flexible conditions, we try to minimize the need to somehow get out and break the agreement.

    No shadowing!

    Initially, building processes for remote work, we did not spend efforts on introducing the practice of monitoring calls to employees or introducing micromanagement tools - means of controlling online presence or video surveillance via a webcam. From my point of view, they are meaningless for intellectual work. First you need to invest in the purchase of tools, then spend time and effort on the analysis of reports. But the answer to the main question - whether the employee decided the task - they still do not give.

    Our position is also explained by the fact that employees who have everything in order with self-organization have a negative attitude towards such tools. "Resultants" feel discomfort when they are closely watched . Motivation is declining, and we cannot allow this to happen.

    We are not "processors",
    we are "resultants"!

    In the first year of the Maxillect operation, we even had a project at Upwork, where we denied the client the inclusion of controls, since We believe that our employees should not work under the counters (at the Upwork level, he demanded a screen of our employee’s screen every 10 minutes). Despite our refusal, the client agreed to work with us and was pleased with the final result. Then we agreed that we would write off labor costs manually, sending short weekly reports. As a result, there were no questions about them.

    We control the result

    So far, it was only about our arrangements with employees. How we control their compliance depends on the project.

    “Maxillect” is more focused on performing complex turnkey tasks. With this formulation of the question, we decide how to work out the project, and decompose the problem into elementary components. And then comes the usual work of the project manager or team leader (in some projects - their joint participation) in accordance with the agile-methodology. Like everyone, we also have weekly sprints and daily calls to coordinate development.

    We assume that the employee is doing useful work for all the declared time. Based on this, tasks are distributed, video conferences are appointed, etc. After all, the workflow is not just getting tasks for the week and their execution in proud loneliness. Teams are constantly interacting - with a remote work format it is even more important than in the office. Imperceptibly "disappear" from all this interaction is impossible.

    Since everything happens inside the team, the control on the remote is in fact no different from the control in the offices of distributed companies, when, for example, one part of the team sits in the region and the other in the capital. Possible overlays in time, the backlog of individual employees and other troubles, if they arise, they become noticeable for about a week, which allows you to quickly respond to the situation. In other words, there are no principal difficulties here.

    On some projects we have a working time account for internal needs. Naturally, it was implemented not through automatic surveillance, but through manual reporting (“one task was done for so many hours, the other - by so much”).

    We do not use common ways to assess the team and its involvement, for example, the 360-degree method, because we are not faced with the task of measuring the work of our employees by HR-metrics - they do not give us the necessary information. All project communication is informal, in human language. But in order to see the situation more or less objectively, for each employee we have a plan for the next few months, which indicates the tasks that he has to solve, and personal goals, such as learning new tools, technologies, programming languages. This plan is formed by the employee together with his immediate supervisor.

    By protecting ourselves from the burnout of technical specialists, we give employees the opportunity to move to another project, for example, if a technology stack has become boring. The company initially declares that this is a normal practice, which does not lead to economic or other sanctions, so the employee freely reports such problems at an early stage and we can make replacements on the project with minimal losses, having said all the permutations and provided time for training a new specialist.

    We have separate projects where part of the Maxilekt team works side by side with the customer’s specialists. And from a control point of view, they deliver more headaches. The difference is fundamental. In the first case, we have the usual internal team, and in the second, we simply do not have access to the part of the team, and the impact on the project is limited to the frames set at the start. In this situation, save the relationship with the customer, built together.

    Our main tool for controlling the solution of problems is collecting feedback from clients on whose projects employees work. Account managers communicate with the client at least twice a month, discussing whether each individual employee in the team and the team as a whole decide the task:

    • whether the work is done well
    • whether it is done on time
    • are there any flaws
    • what you liked or disliked in the work lately
    • what needs to be improved in the work of a particular specialist.

    We ask the same questions (only much more often) to the team - this allows the managers to get an understanding of the state of the project, as if it were an internal team.
    I mentioned above that within the framework of regular calls we are discussing not only the project, but also the personal development of the employee. When an employee works together with the customer’s specialists, the client can also contribute his “five kopecks” to his personal development plan if, in his opinion, the employee lacks certain technical competencies.

    As a result, we get control at the level of the key metric - quality (in the context of development - code style, time, etc.) - without intermediate and useless data for us, such as sites opened on an employee’s computer or hundreds of photos of his desktop. And besides, everyone is happy. The wishes of the client are taken into account, the work goes. The employee has a certain level of involvement in the project (not just writing code, but becoming part of the project team) and receives the necessary feedback.

    Everything works, but there are limitations

    It is clear that not every employee can be embedded in our workflow so that his contribution is appreciated by the participants. Employees must be organized and possess a number of soft skills . Having met with the problem, they cannot sit and wait until it resolves itself, but should try to solve it on their own. If the solution is impossible without outside participation, the problem must be voiced. Not everyone can do this, so we take into account the soft skills we need when hiring (we wrote about this recently ). And this is another component of our control system: those who, in our opinion, do not fit into the process, simply will not pass the interview.

    I want to make a reservation that no matter what soft skills an employee has, everyone has moments when the head doesn’t work: during illness, family problems, etc. For us, this is not a reason to dismiss. But we expect that the employee himself will inform us about the problem, and together we will find a solution (for example, we will provide an unplanned vacation). Even if there is no explicit talk about it, in the course of personal communication, we still see changes and try to help. Contact with employees is also important from this point of view.

    Budgets and deadlines

    Mistakes happen to all. There were misses and our system of control. But we build all the processes so that the cost of the error is minimal.

    We decompose any task into fragments no longer than 32 hours. On the one hand, this requires a lot of effort at the evaluation stage. Given this, we do not participate in contests, tenders and other evaluations, where presale with a low probability will lead to the project. But on the other hand, in those negotiations where it came to calculating the cost, we try to get maximum detail at this stage. The additional 8 hours spent on the details can save the project budget and meet the originally announced deadlines. This applies to projects of both types mentioned.

    If for some reason an employee fails, we will find out about this not in six months, but in a few days, in the worst case, in a couple of weeks. Maybe the employee has objective problems or he doesn’t use the most optimal approach to solve - then we will connect and help.

    We already had such situations when deadlines “moved out” - this was also seen from the number of conditionally identical tasks solved by an employee, and according to customer feedback (the problems were just on projects implemented jointly with the customer’s employees). And just then all the control mechanisms worked out at an early stage. Even before the client openly announced problems, the first bells within the team were noticeable. In one of the cases, we even had a small amount of time to allow a person to correct. Well, when he did not use the chance, we still coped with the situation in such a way that it almost did not affect the project. With the employee had to leave. Although, to be honest, for those who have worked for some time in the company and showed the result earlier, dismissal is considered as a last resort.

    Instead of the results I want to note that our scheme can hardly be implemented in any company. Here it is necessary to work through all what is called corporate culture, changing the focus from processes to results. “Maxilekt” was relatively easy, since the company was built from the very beginning. Although many things had to learn from my own experience. And we continue this path, improving processes as we gain new experience.

    Author of the article: Sergey Marina

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