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Bridging the Productivity Paranoia Gap

October 05, 2022 Collaboration and Productivity
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Since the proliferation of remote work models over the past few years, there's been a polarization of opinions regarding employee productivity. A September 2022 Microsoft survey found 86% of employees believe they are more productive when working from home, while 85% of managers said they don't have confidence in their employees being more productive in that environment.

On one hand, employees' opinions are self-reported, which can cause bias. On the other, managers were asked about their level of trust, which can also paint a picture that is different from reality. So, the obvious question at this point may be: What does the data tell us? And, most importantly, how do we move forward?

Are Remote Workers More Productive?

So far, the research conducted by numerous organizations has found that in many locations across the world, remote workers are, indeed, more productive than when they are in the office.

Apollo Technical recently aggregated some of the research to demonstrate how remote work can benefit not just workers but also companies. For instance, it has found that remote employees spend ten fewer minutes a day being unproductive, work one more day a week than those in the office and are 47% more productive overall.

There are numerous reasons for this. One of them is the lack of distractions often found in an office setting, which allows those who work from home to be undisturbed as they complete their tasks.

Another reason is that remote work provides employees with enough flexibility to work at times when they are more effective. Everyone's internal clock is different; some people are more productive in the morning, others in the afternoon. Having the ability to do work in accordance with a person's peaks and lows can result in greater productivity, efficiency and overall satisfaction. 

Related Article: Leaders Want People Back in the Office, Workers Ask 'Why'

The Elusive Productivity Measure

There's been a boom of so-called productivity tools recently, all aimed at filling companies' desires to track remote work productivity. They offer reliable ways to keep an eye on workers who aren't in the office, but they also raise serious ethical considerations.

For some employees, tools that log their presence and the files they access — and even keystrokes — suggest they aren't trusted by management. There's also significant privacy concerns, as some tools can go as far as snapping pictures of the employee at regular intervals throughout the work day or not providing a way to "opt out" of tracking during breaks, for instance. Worse is the fact that some of those tools are installed without informing the employee they are being monitored.

Some argue if companies permit remote work, there should be no need for these kinds of surveillance tools. Organizations that make the decision to offer employees greater flexibility and boost job satisfaction should not do so at the detriment of privacy, trust and ethics. After all, even in-office employees aren't monitored to that degree.

More to the point, some say productivity tools aren't all that reliable anyway, depending on the type of work at hand. For instance, how do you measure the productivity of a salesperson who spent 45 minutes on the phone capturing a large account? Should that person be flagged for going over the average call time per lead, regardless of the end result? Should they be flagged for not being at the computer during that time and not logging any keystroke or accessing files? 

And if productivity monitoring isn't uniform, when does bias set in? How can it be avoided? There is a lot to unpack from using these tools, and many companies are opting to tread carefully in that domain.

Related Article: Can AI Nudging Help Keep Workers on Track?

The Role of Communications

Communications is one of the most critical components of remote work — or of any workplace for that matter. Best practices for the digital workplace include regular check-ins between managers and employees. These not only help ensure things don't go amiss, but they also enable managers to understand the depth of work being done. In other words: productivity.

With all the technology that is available today, there is no reason for failures of communication. Monthly companywide meetings, weekly team calls, daily emails, real-time messaging, shared drives and cloud-based project management tools all serve a purpose in enabling today's remote workplace. 

No matter where they are located, productive employees show up, respond promptly, complete assigned tasks, participate in discussions and propose innovative ways to improve workflows. In return, managers need to set the tone, communicate expectations and continuously engage and inspire employees to drive the business forward. That alone has better chances of delivering stellar results than any software on the market.

Related Article: Why Flexibility and Trust Define the New World of Work

Learning to Trust

Of course, for all this to happen, managers need to trust employees. Employees need to feel they are entrusted to make the best decisions for themselves and the company, from finding the location where they can accomplish their best work to choosing the times of day when they can be most efficient.

Not being "online" at certain times (e.g., the traditional 9-5 schedule) should no longer be a measure of productivity. The modern workplace requires trust and accountability — both of which can easily be integrated into corporate training programs.

Kerry Sherin, PR manager at The Lifetime Value Company, said her company has achieved great results from training managers to be more trusting. "Our employees report higher levels of satisfaction at work and an improved work/life balance," she said.

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