How leadership can build trust in a remote workplace and beat productivity paranoia

Managing Productivity Paranoia: Breaking Down Remote Work Barriers

Remote work has become more prevalent over the years, especially since the pandemic forced many companies to shift operations online. Despite the many benefits of remote work, such as increased flexibility and productivity, there is still a persistent level of paranoia surrounding it.

This fear of decreased productivity is one of the biggest barriers to remote and hybrid work acceptance, leading some companies to call employees back to the office. But what is really behind the buzzword, where does it come from, and how it can be managed?

What Is Productivity Paranoia?

Productivity paranoia is the (irrational) fear that remote work leads to decreased productivity. While the term was recently coined by Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO, of Microsoft, to describe the results of their recent research, it’s not a new phenomenon.

What is new is that despite the many research studies that show remote employees are working better and harder than ever, managers are still not confident that their employees are productive. In fact, Microsoft’s study found that 85% of managers said the shift to hybrid work made it hard to be confident in employee productivity. A contradiction of 87% of workers who said they were performing well.

What Does Productivity Paranoia Stem From?

What is the cause of this massive disconnect between managers and workers? According to Dr. Camille Preston, a leading business psychologist, “Where there is productivity paranoia, there are nearly always other problems plaguing one’s team or organization.” A few of these problems include:

  • Not knowing what motivates or inspires your team members or direct reports.
  • Setting vague or unrealistic expectations can also lead to productivity paranoia.
  • Low levels of trust existing prior to remote or hybrid work.
  • Not understanding the conditions necessary for remote employees to work most productively and in a state of flow.

How Managers and Company Leadership Can Beat Productivity Paranoia

To manage productivity paranoia, leadership must focus on providing the conditions needed for employees to perform at their highest level. Here are some steps managers and company leaders can take to ensure productivity without becoming micromanagers:

Manager Training

What can be seen from the problems listed above is that managers and leaders have primary responsibility for creating a positive work environment where employees can thrive. Training managers to lead in remote environments should be at the top of any company’s to-do list when transitioning to new work models.

This is because leaders who lack knowledge about remote management strategies are most likely to feel productivity paranoia. With additional training, not only do they feel more confident in their ability to lead remote teams, but they can also become a valuable example of good work habits. This can encourage employees to do the same and help beat productivity paranoia.

Improve Communication

One of the most important tools for remote work is effective communication. It is vital that goals, expectations, and feedback are communicated clearly and regularly to ensure that everyone is on the same page. This can help avoid misunderstandings and conflict as well as increase productivity.

Since the pandemic, there are many new communication tools available, such as video conferencing, chat tools, and project management software. Scheduling video conferences for team meetings while using chat tools for quick questions and updates are both effective communication channels. Project management software also enhances communication by creating a level playing field. Everyone on the project has access to the same information regarding assigned tasks, deadlines, and project progress.

Use ROWE (Results-Only Work Environment)

A results-only work environment (ROWE) is a management strategy that focuses on outcomes rather than the number of hours worked. In a ROWE, employee evaluations are based on results rather than work hours. This strategy can help to increase productivity and reduce the fear of decreased productivity in remote work.

For example, instead of focusing on the number of hours worked, a manager could evaluate an employee based on the number of tasks completed, the quality of their work, and their ability to meet deadlines. This provides employees with more flexibility and autonomy, which can lead to increased productivity.

Leverage OKRs as a Framework 

Another framework that is effective in measuring productivity in remote and hybrid work environments is using OKRs. The term OKRs refers to Objectives (what needs to be accomplished) and Key Results (how to gauge success). The achievement of OKRs is reinforced by initiatives, demonstrating to team members how their contributions support OKRs at the team, department, and organizational levels. This structure promotes a common language and helps everyone understand their part in shared success.

If you’re unfamiliar with OKRs, it’s best to begin with a pilot program involving your leadership team and manageable objectives. When implemented effectively, OKRs are a great way to keep employees accountable, engaged, and inspired to work together towards a set of common goals.

Use Employee Sentiment Tools

Employee sentiment tools are software or online applications designed to help employers gauge the mood and attitude of their employees. These tools use a variety of methods to gather feedback and data from employees, such as surveys, polls, and feedback forms. The results are analyzed, sometimes in real-time, to provide insights into employee satisfaction, engagement, and well-being.

The employee responses provide insights into their attitudes and identify areas for improvement in the remote or hybrid workplace. By taking action on this feedback, employers can improve employee engagement, retention, and productivity and create a better workplace culture.

Encourage Employee Wellbeing

According to a survey by RAND, more than 80% of large employers are implementing workplace wellness programs. However, a recent Gallup poll indicated that just 24% of employees strongly believe that their company genuinely cares about their well-being. These findings reveal another disconnect in trust levels between employers and employees that can lead to productivity paranoia.

If employers feel they are taking care of their employees, there is no motivation on the side of leadership to address productivity paranoia. They assume that the problem lies on the part of the employees. Meanwhile, employees are uncomfortable reaching out when they need help and think that working hard will not achieve favorable results.

Avoid Monitoring

As remote work has limited in-person interactions, some managers are resorting to digital tools to monitor employee productivity. Instead of adapting to a world that requires more trust with less oversight, they are attempting to regain control through new methods. However, this level of scrutiny can adversely impact employees. Employees feel micromanaged and not trusted to do their jobs.

A better approach is to give employees the autonomy to make decisions and manage their own work. Recognize and reward employees for their achievements. This can increase morale, motivation, and create a more positive work environment that promotes teamwork, collaboration, and open communication. In addition, this approach can also reduce stress levels and increase productivity.

Foster a Culture of Trust

To rebuild trust, go back to the basics and focus on the core elements of trust. Organizational consultants, Dennis and Michelle Reina, boil these elements down to trust in competence, communication, and character. By focusing on these elements to improve trust levels, your company can not only overcome productivity paranoia but also promote greater output.

The relationship between trust and productivity was revealed in a 2017 study that found trust had a powerful effect on work performance. Respondents whose companies promoted trust through a wide range of best practices reported having more energy, being more engaged at work, and being more productive. They also were 40 percent less likely to report burnout on the job.

Despite the many benefits of remote work, productivity paranoia remains a persistent barrier to its acceptance in some organizations. To manage productivity paranoia, leaders should focus on providing the conditions needed for employees to perform at their highest level. By doing so, companies can create a remote or hybrid work environment where their workforce can thrive.

What are the most effective ways to beat productivity paranoia in a remote workplace? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts and tips. We’d love to hear from you!

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