| 23 April, 2020 | 6 Min Read

Beginner's guide to remote work: Setting goals with OKR

Understand what OKR means and how to set and achieve company goals to maintain business growth in a remote working setting.

The COVID-19 outbreak has made remote working one of the most important features of today’s work life. Along with it came the new challenge for organizations to find a more efficient approach to align remote employees. This is where the OKR framework comes into play. While working remotely can make employees feel isolated, OKRs offer a way to keep them engaged and motivated by aligning their work with their team and organizational goals. 

However, many companies are not familiar with the concept of using the OKR framework to set and manage their goals. Not having a goal management guide may severely affect their growth, especially during this period. To help these companies, we have come up with this beginner’s guide to remote work with a special focus on setting goals with OKR. First, we are going to start by asking:


What is OKR?

Objectives and key results (OKR) is a collaborative framework used by businesses to define their goals and measure the outcome. It became popular after Google, in its early days, used it to identify and achieve its business goals. Today, companies such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Dropbox have adopted the OKR framework.

The objectives in the framework are the qualitative descriptions of what you want to achieve. In other words, it is a clearly defined goal. An objective should be inspirational, concrete, action-oriented, and engaging. When well put together, they will prevent poor execution.

The key results are the metrics used to measure your progress towards your objectives. A good KR should be specific, time-bound, quantitative, and verifiable. At the end of the designated period, typically a quarter, it is essential you do a regular check to know if the key results are on track or not.

OKRs should contain three to five high-level objectives and another three to five key measurable results for each objective. While an objective can be long-lived, perhaps for a year or more, key results change as the work progresses. Once they are all completed, the objective is achieved.

Having known what OKR means, let's take a look at why it is necessary to set goals when working remotely.


Why is it important to set goals when working remotely?

  • Clarify the objectives: Setting goals when working remotely helps establish a clear objective for the team. With the team being apart, it will allow each team member to expect what needs to be achieved at a specific period of time.
  • Help the team stay focused: Setting goals helps your remote team stay focused on a specific line of actions at a time. It prevents them from chasing less significant targets and channel their energy towards the most important objectives.
  • Motivate the team: Keeping your remote employees motivated can be difficult. However, with a set goal, your remote employees will know that not doing their part will make it impossible for their colleagues to do theirs. As a result, they will work harder.
  • Help track progress: Having a laid down goal helps you know how close you are to achieve it. By having a clearly defined goal for your remote team, everyone will also know when a task needs to be reevaluated or overhauled.
  • Increase productivity: Setting goals for your remote team will actively boost their performance. As a result of increasing motivation, sharper focus, and better prioritizing, your remote team members will be able to perform and deliver better.

Now that we know the importance of setting goals when working remotely, let's see a step-by-step guide to set goals with OKR for your remote team.


How to set goals with OKR in a remote working environment

Since you and your team are working apart, the first step is to communicate the importance of the OKR framework to your team members via a virtual meeting. Next, you adopt the use of a shared doc tool. The tool you choose should be easy to use for collaboration. Lastly, set your objectives first and separately from your key results. This will help you and your team avoid confusion while focusing on the task ahead.

How to set objectives

  • Brainstorm ideas: Your aim when setting your objectives should be to look for the top problems you and your remote team hope to solve. To make this work, ask members to come up with some OKR goal ideas within a stipulated time (e.g 2 hours) and put those ideas down in the shared doc. After collecting a list of objectives, you move to the next stage.
  • Prioritize: For you to be able to achieve your OKR goals, you must be willing to cut out the less important ideas and focus only on vital objectives. This means cutting down your objectives until you have only 3-5 objectives left.
    Your chosen objectives must be ambitious and inspiring. More importantly, it must align with individual objectives in order to keep them motivated.
    For instance, at Google, 50% of their objectives come from the bottom up. This is done to show the employees the organization trusts in their decision-making ability - thereby motivating the employees to achieve their goals.
  • Set a duration: While choosing your team objectives, consider the length of time it would take to accomplish it. While most companies will go with quarterly, you and your team might set weekly or monthly OKR. The main point when choosing a duration for your objective is to ensure the time is enough to help you achieve the set goals. For instance, a remote team stuck at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak, a 7-10 weeks OKR plan may be enough.

How to set key results

  • Brainstorm: Setting your key results is almost the same as setting your objectives. Choose a metric with the same focus strategy as the objectives. Tell your team not to worry about the value of their key results when submitting it on the shared doc. Instead, have them use placeholders like X% to help them focus on getting the form of the key result right.
    As with the objectives, you should not have more than 3 - 5 key results per objective so your attention won’t stray from the goal. Once you’ve settled on a set of key results for the first objective, do the same for the other objectives.
  • Decide the target: You and your team should decide how big or small you want the target goal to be. This would be done by taking a look at the full context of everything you’re trying to achieve and deciding what numbers make sense to set as targets. Ask yourselves if the metric adopted tangible enough to make the change stated in the objective.
  • Add a grading system: A grading system is essential to let you know how far you are to achieving your goal. At Google, the OKR grading system is 0 - 1.0. This means if an employee gets a 1.0 score point, they are successful with their objective.. Therefore, a successful OKR score at Google is 0.7 while 0.4 and below counts as unsuccessful. For your team, you may adopt a 1 - 10 with 7 being the benchmark of success.
  • Wrapping up: After having your objectives and key results ready, you and your remote team should take your time to review and make necessary changes. Things to focus on are whether the OKRs are understandable, whether it’s representative of the most important company goals, and whether it can be achieved in the set time frame. Ask yourselves if it is possible to achieve the objective without hitting the key results or vice versa.
  • Make the OKRs public: Let everyone know one another’s OKRs. This will motivate team members to collaborate, be accountable and work hard. Upserve, formerly Swipely, makes everyone’s (including the CEO) OKR public. With that, they believe, different minds will be more inspired to work together to achieve the set goals.


Get started with our free OKR example worksheet

Ready to set goals? Download our free OKR example worksheet right here. This free OKR example worksheet contains an OKR plan template for the company as a whole. It also includes OKR examples for your Marketing, Product Management, Engineering, Sales, and HR team. You can easily customize each section to match your company’s criteria.

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