Across organizations worldwide, the Corona pandemic has radically changed the way teams work together. Numerous companies had to transition to remote working within only a few days. For many teams and their management, home office represents a new and unknown situation that bears various challenges. Used correctly, the OKR method helps to overcome the main challenges of working remotely.

Main challenges of remote work

The adaptation of communication across team members can be a big hurdle when switching to remote work. Employees who regularly exchange in the office are used to sharing and receiving relevant information at their desks or the coffee machine. This informal communication is lost now that employees are no longer physically gathered in one space.

Another hurdle can be alignment. Especially employees and teams who are not used to working from home can find it difficult to keep their focus on what needs to be done and how they can contribute to their company’s goals. Maybe not within the first few days, but if the home office situation continues for weeks or months, many employees can easily lose track of what is important, what they need to achieve, and how to contribute to the organization’s purpose–resulting in reduced motivation and commitment.

Transparency also often gets lost in a remote work environment. And by transparency, I don’t mean having full control over what individual team members do and don’t do, but transparency around the progress of your team’s and organization’s goals.

The OKR method briefly explained

The OKR method has gained popularity as the secret sauce behind Google’s unparalleled success. It is seen as a guarantee for business success by countless start-ups and companies worldwide. The acronym OKR stands for “Objectives” and “Key Results”. It’s a way to set and manage goals throughout an organization.

The Objective tells you where you want to go, the Key Results are the measurable results that you need to achieve in order to get there. For example, let’s say your Objective is ‘Improve employee retention’. The Key Results could then be ‘Increase employee NPS from 10 to 50’, and ‘Reduce voluntary employee turnover from 15% to 5%.

OKR helps to communicate company strategy to employees in a clear, measurable way. It connects the goals that teams and individuals work on to the higher-level goals of the company. And it makes it clear what everyone is responsible for.

How the OKR method sets remote teams up for success

Implemented correctly, OKR helps to achieve better communication, more transparency and alignment across teams. It provides a language for sharing what everybody is working on and how they’re progressing, no matter where they are working from.

The transparency aspect within the OKR method does not end with defining your OKRs and sharing them with your co-workers. Sharing the steps towards an Objective or a Key Result is just as important, regardless of the work situation: The number one reason teams fail to achieve their goals is setting them at the beginning of the quarter and then forgetting about them (‘set it and forget it’). Teams successfully using OKRs, discuss their progress in weekly or bi-weekly 1-on-1s between managers and their direct reports. When updating OKRs regularly, every achievement matters and it becomes important to show how employees are progressing, keeping everyone on the team in the loop. When people feel in the loop, you’ll find that this unleashes a constructive, positive energy in the organization. It is motivating to see yourself what other team members are up to. After all, you’re all in the same boat – no matter where you’re working from.

Research from the Southern Illinois University also found that when people feel out of the loop, they (unconsciously) interpret it as a subtle sign of rejection. As a consequence, they report reductions in trust and like their co-workers less. Very often, they also mention feeling less loyal to the organization and less motivated to perform.

Working with the OKR method also promotes alignment across the organization – an aspect that can easily get lost in teams not used to working remotely. A good OKR implementation connects quarterly goals that employees work on everyday to the higher-level long term goals of the company. This way, OKR also enables a focused and purpose-oriented work environment in which every employee is actively involved in the company’s journey towards achieving its mission & vision. This is a crucial aspect when it comes to employee motivation, not only when working remotely. According to American economist Linda Hill, currently the Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, employees are motivated when the goals they’re working on are connected to larger company goals.

Conclusion

The pandemic will pass eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later. But it should be clear to everyone that the immense changes in the way we’ve been collaborating for the past few weeks will not simply be reversed once the pandemic is over. And that’s a good thing. Even though the concept of remote working may be new and therefore challenging to many, it brings numerous advantages in the first place. For years, the desire for improved workplace flexibility has been present among employees because it enables them to organize their life in a more autonomous way. Not to mention the advantages workplace flexibility brings for organizations – from improved employee retention to higher profitability. The prerequisite for successful remote work models is a “joint language” with which employees, teams and management can communicate across locations.