How to overcome ‘productivity paranoia’

Hybrid workers are feeling more productive than ever, according to a report by Microsoft. We’re seeing an increase in scheduled meetings, multitasking, and instant messaging in the workplace. And while research by IWG — discussed in this 2023 trends forecast  — found that companies are realising that their workforces can be both highly engaged and productive while working according to a hybrid model, there are still some traps that businesses fall into.

The Microsoft Work Trend Index found that some business leaders have concerns that their team isn’t as productive when they’re away from the HQ. A bit like that old philosophical thought that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If you’re not able to actually see your colleague at a computer / in a meeting / pounding the keyboard – then are they actually working?

This disconnect between the employer and employee perception of effectiveness has been dubbed ‘productivity paranoia’, and there are some steps you can take to overcome it.

Outcomes rather than output

The different ways of measuring output are many and varied, and of course, it largely depends on the specifics of the job. Cloud-based workflow tools such as Quixy, Hive and Nintex allow companies to monitor, track and assess who is doing what and whether or not deadlines are being met. With that comes reams of real-time data that will soon give rise to new productivity metrics.

But that level of monitoring can feel a bit, well, creepy. What’s more, it forces remote employees to work unnaturally at their computer when they might have their best ideas whilst sitting on a sofa or out for a run. It is an imperfect measure.

“Without the predictable nine-to-five, office-focused working cadence, successful companies will stop trying to measure hours worked and units produced and instead focus on customer satisfaction, revenue and time to market,” says Sheela Subramanian, Senior Director at Slack’s Future Forum.

In short – bosses could be better off focussing on the overall quality of work being produced rather than whether or not the green light is on in Teams. Companies that prioritise ‘outcomes over hours’ is a key point highlighted in IWG’s 2023 trends forecast.

Greater clarity

Clear communication and target setting are crucial to overcoming productivity paranoia and fostering employee engagement. According to Glint, an employee engagement monitor, people who have clarity about their work priorities are nearly four times more likely to plan to stay with the company long-term. Regular and effective communication with employees can also help to uncover hard-to-measure productivity points, such as creative ideas, that are essential to successful work but impossible to measure through tech analytics.

On the other hand, hybrid managers reported having less visibility over their employees’ work compared to in-person managers in the Microsoft report, which can lead to uncertainty and distance. However, this issue can be easily addressed through good, honest working relationships. Hybrid employees also feel the pressure to prove they’re working, which highlights the importance of establishing clear expectations and goals.

Boost your space

What is clear is that the root of productivity paranoia is trust. Employers need to trust that their staff are putting the effort in, and employees need to feel trusted to make choices that suit them. In-person, in-office time can help to build and strengthen those human bonds, but so too can giving your staff the space to choose where they want to work, even if it’s away from the boss’s eyeline. It’s where hybrid working, which combines the best of both worlds, really makes sense.

IWG research has found that hybrid working actually boosts productivity and leaves businesses better off. By setting out one or two days a week where people have to be physically present and together in an office, and then on other days giving them the space to work closer to home or within quiet zones, those trust bonds can begin to form. Workers feel able to hide away and get their head down for a bit, and bosses can get a clear handle on all aspects of the ongoing work.

Space to roam

Clever office design can enable both collaborative working and a bit of positive distance, even if you’re within the same building. At Spaces we have soundproof meeting rooms, collaboration spaces and areas designed for individual focus to help people maximise the time they spend in the office. But a Spaces membership also offers the chance to be physically distant too – whether that’s in an office in the suburb where you live, or somewhere abroad for a while. It’s that combination of structured work with the freedom to roam that can build some of the best working relationships, and ultimately, the best outcomes.

Find out more about how a Spaces membership can help build trust and improve output for your business.

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