Why VPN logs don't measure worker performance

Yahoo is looking at it wrong. A decade or more into the work from home debate, companies still haven't figured out how to make it work.

By , PC World |  Networking, Yahoo, telecommuting

Yahoo recently made waves when CEO Marissa Mayer revoked all work-from-home arrangements and mandated that employees show up at the office. However, the real-world data Mayer reportedly based her decision upon is not a valid metric for work-from-home performance.

According to reports, Mayer reviewed VPN logs to determine how much time remote workers spend connected to Yahoo. She found that many were connecting infrequently, if at all, implying that those working from home were doing more "home" and less "work."

Hopefully Yahoo's CEO looked beyond the virtual private network (VPN) logs before making a decision. VPN logs alone are not enough to prove that people working from home are slacking off, because connecting to the company network is not the same thing as delivering results.

What are you paying for?

If Mayer had found that remote workers were all connected to the Yahoo VPN, would that prove they're not slacking off? Does being connected to VPN 24/7 indicate that a remote user is a dedicated dynamo putting in 168 hours of productive work each week? No.

Here's the first question companies need to consider when it comes to managing remote workers. What are you paying for, time or results?

Plenty of workers show up at an office and sit for 40-plus hours per week without doing much productive work. Time is not a good measure of performance.

Obviously, if you're literally paying users an hourly rate as opposed to a set salary, then you are, in fact, paying for time. That's why paying hourly is a poor model of compensation. It rewards sloth and encourages workers to drag out tasks to fill as many hours as possible.

How much time do workers in an office spend on breaks? How much time is wasted talking sports or politics with co-workers? How much time is abused surfing Amazon, or watching YouTube videos of cute kittens?

As a boss, you're not paying for hours, but for the value that people bring.

Measure results instead of time

Do you really care how long a worker sits at a desk, or are you more concerned with how productive she is and how much she contributes to the company?

If you assign a report to an employee--whether they're working at the office or from home--and you establish a Thursday deadline, what's important is that he delivers a well-researched, quality report on time. It doesn't matter if that person spends eight hours a day working to meet the deadline, or cranks it out by lunch on Monday before a round of golf.

That's the fundamental flaw in how companies monitor and measure employee performance. It rewards the slow and weak, and penalizes the best, most productive workers.

Assume that there are two employees making the same salary and assigned the same project and deadline. In an ideal world, the more productive employee would turn the report in on Monday, and the attitude and initiative would be recognized with a raise or promotion. What often happens instead is that the employee is "rewarded" with additional work, while the slower worker is still praised for making the assigned deadline, and they both continue to be paid the same.

Raises and promotions are too small and infrequent at many companies. Some employees are capable of producing the same or better results than others in half the time, but they know they won't actually be paid twice as much, so there's no motivation.

Let users hang themselves

So, maybe the remote workers at Yahoo didn't stay connected to the VPN very long. Who cares? Did they fulfill their duties and produce results?

Remote workers are typically more productive. A study commissioned by Microsoft and released in London on Monday found that 70% of workers believe they produce more and better results outside of the office.

While office workers are still showering and getting dressed, those who work from home just grab a cup of coffee and get to work in their pajamas. While the office workers spend two hours or more each day battling insane rush-hour traffic, remote workers are being productive. While office workers gossip and take breaks, remote workers get laundry done or take out the trash so they can kick back and enjoy their families later. While office workers put in their allotted time, then bolt back to their homes and families, remote workers often end up spending more time working, both before and after regular work hours, because it's convenient.

By all means, establish guidelines for remote workers. Define expectations, and make sure remote workers are available for calls or meetings. But beyond that, just measure the results and let the slackers hang themselves.

The bottom line is that great employees are great employees, and slackers are slackers whether they work at home or sit in a cubicle for 40 hours a week. Making a slacker show up at the office doesn't magically make that person more productive.

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