Breaking the Productivity Paranoia: Managing Remote Employees

January 16, 2023

Breaking the Productivity Paranoia: Managing Remote Employees

“When the work isn’t physically seen, it’s easy to assume it should have been done sooner.”—Ayelet Fishbach

A lot of managers are still finding it difficult to adapt to the new world of remote and hybrid work. After the pandemic and the Great Resignation, employees see autonomy and flexibility as rights rather than privileges. That’s why most employers are either choosing to embrace this new norm or finding themselves with no other options but to get on board if they want to keep their talents.  

But the problem of productivity paranoia still persists—managers are still suspicious of whether their teams are really productive when they are not in the office. How can we, as leaders, resist micromanaging our people, break this productivity paranoia, and embrace this new work landscape we live in?

What is “Productivity paranoia”?

A 2022 Microsoft survey of 20,006 knowledge workers globally showed that managers do not trust their teams who work remotely, with 85% of leaders saying they are not confident that their employees are being productive and only 12% of employers saying that they have full confidence in their team’s productivity. However, the overall productivity of these businesses has not significantly decreased—in some cases, remote teams report higher productivity than their in-office counterparts.

According to the BBC, "productivity paranoia" is “the idea that even if workers are putting in the hours, bosses won’t believe it if they are out of sight.” That is because it is easier to track the number of hours worked than the quality of outputs and ideas.

A better alternative: Outcome-based management

By observing their activity at their desks, managers are accustomed to assessing productivity and preventing employees from slacking off. When we all work together in the same space in the office, it is easy to see whether everyone is working by walking down aisles and engaging in occasional conversations.

However, that doesn’t translate well in a remote or hybrid setting.

The level of scrutiny and monitoring that most companies enforced on their remote workers during (and after) the pandemic is taking its toll on their employees. Most employees are working more remotely than they did in the office, with data showing that:

More employees report that they feel pressured to “prove” that they are working, which impacts the concerning rate of burnout among workers in the past couple of years. All of these combined risks, according to the BBC, are making hybrid and remote work unsustainable.

Leaders and managers need a mindset shift and perhaps even a shift in roles and functions, from monitoring worker inputs such as hours worked to outcome-based management.

Outcome-based management centers on communication with employees. This includes facilitating collaborative efforts, setting expectations and standards for hybrid and remote work early on, clarifying goals and casting a vision, and keeping each other accountable through feedback, regular updates, and clear communication.

This involves a lot of trust that can be built by nurturing a relationship with your people. Caring for our employees as people, helping them resolve the different work-from-home challenges that all of us encounter, investing in the right tools and technology, and creating fluid and flexible systems that help encourage adaptability and productivity are some of our responsibilities as leaders.

Managers who are unable to adjust to the modern workplace are responsible for productivity paranoia. It is imperative that leaders learn how to change, overcome biases, and think of better and more effective ways to assess what good performance looks like.

Thank you for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”