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12 Min Read

How to Set Goals for Remote and Hybrid Employees

Genevieve Michaels

Have you ever worked with someone you’d describe as “aimless?” They flit in and out of the office, wander around during their lunch break, and never seem like they’re up to anything.

The problem rarely comes from the employees themselves. Usually, they just don’t have a clear goal to shoot for. They’re given a list of tasks, they check them off, and then they check out. Compare that to someone who has a clear goal to aim for all quarter (or all year) and who knows exactly how their day-to-day work contributes to that goal. They’re motivated, they’re on task, and they’re innovating.

If performance management is a big priority at your organization, you don’t just need the right tools, you need to give people goals they can aim for. 

But what about when you have a fully remote or hybrid workforce? How are you supposed to set goals or track progress with employees you don’t even see most days?

Let’s find out.

Challenges of managing remote employees

Before diving into setting goals for remote and hybrid employees, we need to cover the challenges inherent to these styles of working.

Remote work comes with some significant advantages, both for the employees and the business, but like anything else they don’t come free. Here are some of the challenges that come with managing remote employees.

No spontaneous interactions

Spontaneous interactions—bumping into someone in the kitchen or deciding to have lunch with someone you’ve never met—are an inherent part of building up relationships in the office. They don’t just lead to potential innovation or collaboration, they also help people get closer to their coworkers, often outside the boundaries of their team or department. 

These interactions don’t happen when everyone’s working from home. That doesn’t just make it harder to build those relationships, it also makes it difficult for managers to check in on goals.

That means you’ll need to make them happen. Introduce icebreaker sessions, team mixers, inter-department events, and the like. They’ll lose a bit of their magic—along with spontaneity—but you’ll help improve camaraderie.

Less visibility on important work

For some managers, not having their team within view can make it incredibly difficult to know who’s working on what and how well they’re doing. This can create uncertainty around deadlines for important projects or, worse, actual anxiety about remote employees not putting in as much effort. Some companies even resort to using employee monitoring software to counter this, even though more than 70% of employees believe it has little to no impact on performance.

The solution? Better metrics, better reporting, and more emphasis on creating visibility in everything you do. For managers, that means using tools that give you an accurate picture of someone’s performance instead of screen-watching. You can also encourage employees to go out of their way to share what they’re working on, the progress they’re making, and where they’re stuck. Software development teams, for example, often use a daily stand-up meeting to cover this.

Less motivation

According to some research, remote work can create feelings of isolation, decrease belonging, and lead to more misunderstandings between coworkers. That can lead to people feeling less motivated in their day-to-day work, being less productive in meetings, and overall just checking boxes until their workday is done.

Leaders who want to reverse this trend at their organization—or prevent it from establishing a foothold in the first place—can only do so by knowing what makes their team tick. Remote work can be de-motivating to some and empowering to others, and not everyone in your team will feel motivated by the same things. When setting goals for remote workers, you need a deep understanding of what they need to shoot for the stars.

(Not-so) clear communication

When everyone works in the same office, there are endless ways to communicate. You can call a quick all-hands meeting and be reasonably sure that everyone will attend. You can tap someone on the shoulder and ask them if they have a second. Even communicating in chat apps is easier in the office when you’ve got your intended recipient in your line of sight. When working remotely, everything you need to say lives or dies by the technology connecting your team. Bad wifi, audio issues, and full calendars are all obstacles to communicating clearly with your team. How are you supposed to keep tabs on their progress towards their goals?

Asynchronous communication (i.e. communication that doesn’t rely on both parties being present at the same time) is king in remote work. Sending messages in chat apps that can be answered whenever the other party has the time or adding comments to your project management tool will usually yield better results than trying to book meetings for everything. Just make sure to write as clearly as you can or send audio clips through these platforms.

Proximity bias

Proximity bias leads managers to think more highly of the places, people, and events they encounter more frequently. Many managers aren’t even aware that this bias exists, which can seriously disadvantage remote employees. That makes it harder for these employees to get ahead, and managers may deal with a constant sense that they just aren’t performing up to their standards—when in actuality both are trying to outrun a cognitive bias.

To counter this, focus on hard facts instead of gut feelings and impressions. Are your remote employees actually getting less done than their in-office counterparts? Or are you just getting a feeling that they are? Look at how many tickets, tasks, or projects they’re closing compared to the rest of the team. Build metrics into your review process and you’ll have a better sense of what they’re really contributing.

Challenges of managing hybrid employees

While many of the challenges that come with managing remote employees are also present for hybrid employees, their being in the office part-time can create unique challenges, which all make goal setting more difficult for hybrid employees.


When your organization is half in the office and half out of it, properly onboarding employees can be challenging. Even if you make them come to the office for the duration of their onboarding—or even their entire probationary period—hybrid work complicates things. Expectations might be unclear the minute an employee takes their first remote day, team relationships might get iffy, and newer employees may not be as likely to reach out for support when working remotely. This makes hitting those early performance goals much more difficult.

Unclear policies

Many hybrid workforces only became so after being forced to go fully remote during the pandemic. Once the pandemic died down, organizations had to decide whether they wanted to bring everyone back to the office full-time, keep everyone working remotely, or set up a hybrid system. Many have gone for the latter, but have struggled to put clear policies in place. How often can people work from home? Can they work remotely from anywhere? Are some employees exempt from in-office requirements?

Misunderstandings around these policies can cause friction between employees and their managers, which can impact their goals. Managers may be more critical than necessary during reviews, leading to employees feeling less motivated to pursue those goals.


Getting everyone in the office at the same time for an important event can be difficult with a hybrid workforce. You never know who’s working remotely on a particular day, who might have to suddenly stay home because of an emergency, and so on. For some managers, this is an especially frustrating part of hybrid work, and employee performance toward specific goals can suffer.

Many hybrid teams try to line up their in-office days to avoid this, planning important meetings for these specific days. It’s not a perfect system, but at the very least it gets most (if not all) of the team in the office around the same time.

Difficult meetings

When only a portion of your team is in the office, running productive meetings can be challenging. Hybrid meetings have several potential issues, from inadequate audio and video equipment in the office to uneven participation from team members. This can make it difficult for remote and hybrid employees to participate equally in projects and discussions, setting back their progress toward important goals significantly. Soon you’ll find yourself cancelling more and more meetings as you realize they don’t really bring any value to the team.

So what can you do?

Having fewer meetings isn’t a bad start. By prioritizing asynchronous communication—through chat apps and project management tools—you can ensure everyone has their part to say, no matter where they’re working from. For those meetings that are absolutely essential, put extra time into planning them so everyone can contribute equally without worrying about technical issues.

6 tips for setting goals for remote and hybrid employees

Now that you know the challenges of managing remote and hybrid employees, let’s go over some tips managers can use to help them set better goals.

Use the right goal-setting methodology

With remote and hybrid employees, goals need to be crystal-clear, robust, and measurable. Whether it’s to combat proximity bias or just to get a better sense of how employees are working towards their goal when you can’t check in on them at the office, using a goal-setting methodology is essential. Here are three of the best.

  • OKRs: Stands for Objectives and Key Results. You help your employees set a broader objective (e.g. “Be a reliable expert on paid marketing.”) and measurable key results (e.g. “Contribute to two paid marketing campaigns with 3% CTR”).
  • SMART: This methodology breaks down lofty goals to make them Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound.
  • HARD: Goals set with this methodology are less concrete than others but are more suited to channeling an employee’s passion. The acronym stands for Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult. 

You’ll want to match the methodology to your employee. Some employees prefer the hard metrics and precision of SMART goals while others use OKRs to feel like their contributions matter to the broader organization.

Encourage participation when goal setting for employees

One of the mistakes many managers make when setting goals for their team is thinking of it as a top-down process. They set a goal, hand it to their employee, and expect it to get done by a specific time. Unfortunately, that’s usually a great way to ensure that goal isn’t met.

Your employees need to feel like their goals represent where they want their career growth to take them. That’s why you need to encourage them to participate in goal-setting processes, especially if they’re remote. You’ll want to work with them to strike that fine balance between goals that move the organization forward and those that push that employee’s career forward.

Use the right tools

While a spreadsheet or a Word document might be enough for some employees, it’s not going to work for an entire team—especially if they’re only in the office a few days a month. That’s why you need a dedicated performance management platform, and there’s none better than 15Five.

With a tool like 15Five, you can give managers robust, actionable data they can use to set goals, track progress, and manage performance throughout their entire team—even if they’re remote or hybrid.

Your performance management platform is essential for building goals that work for everyone and rewarding employees based on their real performance rather than a manager’s gut feelings.

Check-in with employees frequently

When your entire team is in the office, it’s easy to check in with them about anything. A tap on the shoulder, a quick spontaneous meeting, or even just a glance and a nod can be enough to get a sense of how someone on your team is doing.

These are all things that you can’t really do when working remotely. Managers need to be intentional about dedicating time to check in on their remote and hybrid employees, even outside the rhythm of their regular 1-on-1s.

Document everything

Every single conversation and update about an employee’s goals should be documented somewhere, whether that’s in a performance management tool, a project management app, or even a Word document. The contents of these conversations are essential for keeping employees on track, communicating progress to key stakeholders, and helping promote career growth throughout the team.

It’s a little bit of extra work, but it goes a long way.

Meet those goals

Remote and hybrid employees work with notable advantages over their in-office peers, from less time spent commuting to being able to work in their pajamas. But there are situations where working from home even some of the time can affect their growth, and that’s especially true when setting goals. Managers should remember to account for these challenges when setting goals, and check in on progress regularly through communication channels that fit remote work.

That way, they can learn to rely on all their top performers, no matter where they work from.

An easy way to track OKRs 

Visibility is everything when you’re leading teams toward great things.

15Five’s centralized platform makes it easy to see how your company is progressing towards its most important objectives. You’ll be able to set company OKRs, break them down for teams and individual employees, and easily track progress. 

Our OKR tool gives you a birds-eye view of how people are progressing towards your most important objectives — and the key results that will get them there. 

Check out how you’ll see OKRs within 15Five now.