The working-from-home debate gets old

If your people are happy and productive doing their job from home, let them!

Way too many bosses are sure that remote work hurts worker productivity. According to a Microsoft international survey of 20,000 people, "85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive."

Too bad the data doesn't support this prejudice.

It's productivity paranoia. Middle managers, unable to look over the shoulders of their workers or hang out with their buddies, fear their workers are getting away with being lazy.

A Citrix survey of business leaders found that half believe that when employees work "out of sight," they're not working as hard. To combat this, 48% of business leaders have installed monitoring software. That's sure to improve employee morale. Almost half of the employees with Big Brother behind their keyboards don't trust their employers — who can blame them?

True, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the first quarter of 2023, labor productivity dropped 2.1%. If anything, though, we're working more than ever. In the same quarter, the number of hours worked increased by 2.6%. At the same time, there's no proof that this drop happened because of remote work.

For example, Microsoft found that weekly meetings have increased by 153% globally for the average Microsoft Teams user since the start of the pandemic. Simultaneously, Microsoft found that to keep up, in an average week, 42% of participants multitask during meetings by emailing, dealing with non-meeting files, or working on the web.

Maybe the problem isn't that almost half of people work remotely, according to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking (SHED), with 19% working entirely from home while 20% did so some of the time. 

No, the real problem is that managers don't know how to manage remote employees.

They're afraid the top brass will realize that the real slackers are managers unable to pivot to supervising remote workers.

The same Microsoft report found managers failed to help workers focus on important work: "81% of employees say it’s important that their managers help them prioritize their workload, but less than a third (31%) say their managers have ever given clear guidance during one-on-ones. Solving this issue needs to start at the top: 74% of people managers say more guidance on prioritizing their own work would help their performance, and 80% say they’d personally benefit from more clarity from senior leadership on impactful priorities."

That does not mean having more meetings.

I see the overabundance of meetings as yet another symptom of out-of-touch managers. You don't need to see people to know whether they're working. You need to set an Objectives and Key Results (OKR) methodology so everyone's on the same page about what needs to be done.

So, you tell me? Where's the problem here? It's not the workers. They want to do a good job. It's incompetent managers that are the real problem.

As Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, aka the Office Whisper, recently wrote, far too many of them have an  "anchoring bias that tells them to evaluate productivity based on simple presence in the office…even when presented with new evidence about higher productivity among remote workers." Far too many of them double down on this belief because of confirmation bias. This makes them ignore information that goes against their beliefs. "For example, they’ll seek out evidence that in-office workers are more productive, even when there’s much stronger evidence that remote workers exhibit higher productivity."

It may feel good to go with your gut, but it's no way to run a business.

Here's the simple truth. Study after study, such as the Greenhouse Candidate Experience report, SHED, and Unispace’s Returning for Good, have found that most remote workers love working remotely. Even with more hours at work, they save valuable personal time and money by not having to commute, and they love having control over their schedule.

How much do they love it? Almost half will quit if you try to force them back into the office. Greenhouse found that if you pull the plug entirely on remote work, you can kiss 76% of them goodbye.

The moral of the story? Get used to the new remote or hybrid way of working. It works well both for your company and your employees.

If your managers can't get with the program, fire them and get replacements with a remote work clue. You'll be glad you did.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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