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OKR is the language remote teams must speak to succeed

Are you fluent?

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Henrik-Jan van der Pol
Story by
Henrik-Jan van der Pol

Founder & CEO, PerdooHenrik-Jan is a well-known thought leader in the OKR space, and previously consulted for companies like Heineken. He has accompanied several hundred OKR implementations at companies worldwide, just la… (show all) Henrik-Jan is a well-known thought leader in the OKR space, and previously consulted for companies like Heineken. He has accompanied several hundred OKR implementations at companies worldwide, just launched a fully free OKR software at Perdoo, published multiple e-books (which have been downloaded close to 50K times) and videos (which have been watched close to 200K times) on the topic of OKR.

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Across organizations worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the way teams work together. Most of us had to transition to remote working within only a few days.

I know I don’t just speak for myself when I say that for many teams and their management, working from home represents a new and unknown situation that bears various challenges. 

To successfully navigate through this new way of work, it’s more important than ever to master the rules of the goal management method OKR and to have implemented it within the company.

Main challenges of remote work

The adaptation of communication across team members can be quite a hurdle when switching to remote work. It’s not just dry theory, I’ve experienced it, too. 

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In my team, we often talked about KPIs and OKRs during lunch and at the coffee machine. This informal communication is lost now that we’re no longer physically gathered in one space, making it all the more important to review progress on goals in 1-on-1s with direct reports.

Another hurdle is alignment. Especially teams who are not used to working from home find it difficult to keep their focus on what needs to be done and how they can contribute to the company’s goals. 

It can well happen that they 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. 

Last but definitely not least, transparency can also be a tough one in a remote working 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. 

How the OKR method sets remote teams up for success

Now I expect you’ve likely heard about OKR (Objectives and Key Results), the prominent way to set and manage goals throughout an organization — but still let’s go over it quickly so everyone is on the same pages. 

The Objective tells you where you want to go, the Key Results are measurable results that you need to achieve in order to get there.

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%.’

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

It’s a common language that leaves little or no room for interpretation, making it clear to everybody on the team, what they should be focusing on.

More transparency

The transparency aspect within the OKR method does not end with defining your OKRs and sharing them with your team. 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 that they set them at the beginning of the quarter and then forget 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 everyone is progressing, keeping the team in the loop. 

When we feel in the loop, it unleashes constructive, positive energy across the organization. It’s motivating to see what other team members are up to. After all, we’re all in the same boat — no matter where we’re working from.

Better alignment

Working with the OKR method also promotes alignment across the organization — an aspect that can easily get lost for teams not used to working remotely. A good OKR implementation connects quarterly goals that teams work on every day to the higher-level long term goals of the company. 

This way, OKR also enables a focused and purpose-oriented work environment in which everyone is actively involved in the company’s journey towards achieving its vision. This is a crucial aspect when it comes to employee motivation, not only when working remotely. 

Gain back control

COVID has impacted businesses across all verticals and many of us still feel overwhelmed with uncertainty. Working with OKRs can help to gain back control and create the focus you need to adjust to the current situation. 

Companies should reflect on whether their strategy needs to change in order to adapt to the current circumstances. If necessary, new company OKRs mirroring your new priorities and what everyone needs to focus on to push past the situation have to be created. For some businesses, this may mean a complete shift in strategy in order to survive. 

What’s most important in these uncertain times is to take enough time to properly communicate new company OKRs so teams can add goals that align with the new strategy. Also, an OKR software plays an important role in keeping goals top of mind and everyone informed about progress, when working remotely.

The pandemic will pass eventually but it should be clear to everyone that the immense changes in the way we’ve been collaborating for the past months 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 of us, 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. 

Personally, I have observed that the quality of our meetings, including our OKR-related meetings, has improved. Everyone starts on time now, people are better prepared, and the meetings more effective. 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 successfully communicate across locations — so start speaking it as soon as possible. 

Published July 17, 2020 — 08:00 UTC