The future is flexible: How to adapt OKRs for remote teams

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Remote work has transcended from a trend to a fundamental aspect of modern working life. Advances in technology, coupled with the evolving preferences of workers, have propelled organisations to reimagine the traditional office structure. What was once considered an occasional perk is now a mainstay for many employees and despite an increase in return-to-office mandates, remote work is here to stay. A recent report from Atlassian shows that after the company implemented its Team Anywhere policy, remote hires went from 14 percent in FY 2020 to 57% in FY 2023 - almost a 4x increase. According to Forbes, 57% of workers would consider leaving their current job if their employer stopped allowing remote work. With this trend in mind, it is imperative for businesses to recalibrate their approaches to goal-setting and performance management to ensure engagement and alignment among remote teams. 

The unique dynamics of remote teamwork

The shift to remote work has introduced new complexities in communication and coordination. Without a centralised office space, remote teams must navigate a growing array of digital tools including video conferencing apps, instant messaging platforms, virtual whiteboards, and more. A recent survey by Gartner found that the average number of applications a knowledge worker uses is 11, compared to six applications in 2019. While these tools enable greater flexibility, the multitude of fragmented platforms means vital information often gets siloed. This can lead to priorities becoming misaligned, and employees feeling disconnected from broader organisational goals.

47% of digital workers struggle to find information or data needed to effectively perform their jobs"
Gartner

Likewise, the promise of autonomy must balance with structure. Remote workers appreciate freedom from micromanagement but still require guidelines to prevent scope creep and lack of direction. Goals keep teams focused amidst the turbulence of distributed work. OKRs outline ambitious yet attainable objectives while granting flexibility in the specific key results. This high-level vision anchors employee tasks to organisational priorities.

With no organic hallway conversations, keeping remote teams engaged poses difficulties. Motivation and morale suffer without frequent collaboration and recognition. Regular check-ins centred around OKRs realign individual efforts to collective purpose. Reviewing objective progress re-engages staff with the “why” behind their work. Syncing key results provides opportunities to showcase incremental wins that might go unnoticed in asynchronous environments. Check out these four essential feedback loops for staying in sync with your remote team

Finally, asynchronous communication between distant time zones demands greater coordination. Regular OKR stand-ups combined with collaborative project management enable greater transparency. Shorter iterations allow for course-correcting objectives or realigning tasks to ever-evolving priorities. More touchpoints ensure employee efforts sync up across geographies and departments. With responsiveness built-in, OKRs tailored for fluid remote teams enhance clarity, sharpen focus, and maintain alignment. Learn more about some of the benefits of asynchronous standups

Tips for adapting OKRs for remote teams 

At Tability, our team operates remotely, spanning locations in Australia and the United States. As a burgeoning startup, this approach allows us to optimise cost savings, tap into a diverse global talent pool, provide flexibility and foster work-life balance, and enhance our agility and scalability. While we use various collaborative tools to communicate and share knowledge with each other, OKRs are our north star, keeping us all on the same page, and providing clarity around our priorities. 

Over the years, we’ve learned some valuable lessons for adapting OKRs to remote teams:

1. Emphasise clear and measurable objectives

Define specific and measurable objectives that align with the overall strategic goals of your organisation. Ensure that objectives are easy to understand and leave no room for ambiguity, especially considering the challenges of remote communication.

2. Establish clear key results

Define key results that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART). Clarity in key results is crucial for remote teams to track progress effectively and understand the expected outcomes.

3. Involve teams in OKR creation

Encourage a collaborative approach by involving remote teams in the OKR creation process. This fosters a sense of ownership and ensures that OKRs resonate with the day-to-day challenges and aspirations of remote team members. Regular conversations centred on OKRs redirect focus to collective purpose. 

At Tability, we always begin by analysing the previous quarter. This helps us to have the right context in mind and avoid recency bias. One of the activities we do during this analysis is to create a timeline of events, which helps us to identify things like seasonality, holidays, offsites, travel, or unexpected events that may have affected our progress. After that, we revisit our long-term vision to determine where we need to be. 

Based on these considerations, our co-founders will draft our objectives. The team will then come together to discuss them. We usually keep our OKRs flexible for the first few weeks of the quarter as we learn and adjust. Once we have a good understanding, we solidify our plans.

4. Align OKRs with company goals

Ensure that quarterly OKRs are directly aligned with the broader company goals and strategic initiatives. This alignment helps maintain a cohesive vision, even in a dispersed remote setting.

5. Regular check-ins and progress updates

First popularised by Intel and then Google, OKRs traditionally operated on quarterly cycles. But in an asynchronous work environment, frequent check-ins better support remote collaboration. The more fluid nature of remote work demands greater coordination at more frequent intervals. Schedule regular check-ins and progress updates to review OKRs. Virtual meetings, video conferences, or asynchronous updates ensure that team members stay informed about the progress of individual and team objectives. 

6. Encourage transparent communication

Foster open communication channels where team members can discuss challenges, seek clarification, and share insights related to OKRs. Transparency is key to overcoming potential misunderstandings that may arise without face-to-face interactions. At Tability, in addition to our regular check-ins, we encourage team members to post in our public Slack channels as much as possible. This way it’s there for everyone to see. Oftentimes, this information is helpful and beneficial to others. 

7. Integrate tools for seamless workflows

Leverage tools like Tability to facilitate the creation, tracking, and updating of OKRs. Tability integrates with various project management platforms such as Asana, ClickUp and Jira, as well as communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. 

Our goal for integrating data sources into Tability is to save time. By automating the process of creating check-ins, we can free up more time for individuals to reflect, analyse their progress, and make changes if necessary. We aim to link data sources to Tability wherever possible, allowing for an automatic pull of our current metrics into the check-in form.

While we have fully automated check-ins, we still require a weekly human check-in. Although metrics are automatically generated in the form, it is important to have a team member assess the actual progress. Are we on track? Are we at risk? Should we approach things differently? AI can do many things, but it lacks the necessary context and insight that comes from human input.

Check out the full list of integrations 

8. Provide training, resources and support

Offer training sessions and resources on effectively implementing OKRs in a remote setting. Ensure that team members understand the OKR methodology, the significance of each component, and how to use collaborative tools to support the process. At Tability, we’re continuing to expand our resources for customers to help them get the most out of our product.

9. Flexibility for dynamic work environments

Acknowledge the dynamic nature of remote work and build flexibility into the OKR framework. 

At Tability, we understand that people may not have the time to do their check-ins at the same time. Therefore, we have made it possible for users to do their check-ins asynchronously. Tability will automatically send weekly reminders to the people who own key results (KRs) and mark them with a red dot to indicate that status updates are pending. This way, each user can go to their focus dashboard and do all their check-ins from one place. We also understand that some individuals may prefer to do their check-ins in advance, so Tability can also accommodate for that. For instance, you can post your check-in on a Friday and then turn the pending status off by skipping your check-in.

10. Celebrate achievements and learn from setbacks

Celebrate successes and achievements at the end of each quarterly cycle. Recognition reinforces a positive culture and motivates remote teams. Use setbacks as learning opportunities, encouraging a continuous improvement mindset. 

11. Collect feedback for ongoing improvement

Gather feedback from remote team members on the OKR process. Understand what worked well, what could be improved, and iterate on the process for the subsequent quarters. Continuous feedback ensures that the OKR cycle remains relevant and effective. 

Normally at Tability, we conduct short monthly retros using a start/stop/continue list that we vote on. This helps us identify process improvements that we can make, not just for OKRs.

12. Implement data-driven decision making

Use data and key performance indicators (KPIs) to make informed decisions. Data-driven insights help in assessing the impact of OKRs, identifying areas for improvement, and refining strategies for subsequent quarters. 

At Tability, we have a set of long-term models that utilise simple KPIs such as leads, revenue, churn rate and number of customers. These KPIs help us to stay focused on our long-term goals, but we do not provide specific commentary on them as we do with our OKRs. However, we use this model to set targets for our quarterly OKRs.

As remote and hybrid work cement themselves as mainstays of the modern workplace, organisations must adapt to support distributed teams. Implementing OKRs optimised for the unique dynamics of decentralised collaboration will allow companies to unite and align remote workers. With an emphasis on transparent objectives, regular check-ins, seamless integrations, and continuous iteration, the future is flexible. Remote organisations that customise their OKR strategy will be poised not merely to survive but thrive in the emerging era of asynchronous teamwork. Though the vectors of communication and coordination multiply across distances, the fundamentals remain — clarify the goals, define the measurable results, celebrate the wins, and learn from the losses. By following an iterative OKR process tailored for remote staff, the bonds of alignment and engagement will only strengthen, no matter the physical separation between team members.

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Jeremy Yancey

Head of Content, Tability

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