How to avoid ‘productivity paranoia’ in hybrid teams

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Workplace changes ushered in by the pandemic are accompanied by a host of new terminology. “Shutting down quietly,” “boomerang employees,” “career dampening,” and “returning to the office” (or just “RTO”) are just a few phrases expressing the new reality. But among remote and hybrid workers, “productivity paranoia” is perhaps the most feared term.

In a worldwide survey of 20,000 people, Microsoft identified productivity paranoia as a phenomenon where “leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working even though hours worked, meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.” In other words, leaders’ erroneous beliefs that their hybrid teams aren’t productive are completely separate from the evidence that they are.

Any phrase containing the word “paranoia” cannot be healthy for leaders, their teams, or the company they work for. Trust, which is an integral part of the leader-employee relationship, is destroyed by paranoia, so you should avoid it at all costs. Here’s how you can.

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Lower the curtain for productivity theatre

Productivity theater is the employee’s response to management’s productivity paranoia. Team members want to give the impression that they are busy, regardless of whether they are actually working at any given time. In fact, they spend more time conducting business than doing their job.

If this is how your team reacts to your micromanagement and overt surveillance, that sound you hear is the sucking of real productivity down the proverbial drain. You want your team to focus on what is strategically valuable to the business, not appearances.

The point of productivity is to make progress in meeting deadlines and achieving goals. So keep your focus on project results and milestones, not how quickly a WFH employee responds to your latest Slack. Check in regularly, not to keep an eye on team members, but to ask if they run into any obstacles that you can help them clear.

You can’t end productive theater by telling hybrid team members to stop performing a show. Instead, be clear about your work-life expectations. If you tell them they aren’t expected to respond to emails 24/7, they might not spend as much time pretending to be working non-stop.

Restock your toolbox

First you had to figure out what tools your team needed to do their work 100% remotely. Now that they’re doing them in a hybrid situation, the same tools may not work. Talk to your team to find out what they think about the technology they use in and out of the office.

Stop the multiple daily Zoom meetings. They may have been needed when video conferencing was the only way teams could get together. You can now schedule periodic check-in meetings when they’re in the office and short calls when they’re working remotely. This approach keeps you informed without looking over their shoulders.

Another way to prevent productivity paranoia is by using project management software that helps team members stay on top of timelines and report the status of project tasks. Shared calendar software lets everyone know when different team members are in the office, working from home, or taking time off. This information helps the team stay in sync and allows everyone to schedule necessary meetings at mutually workable times.

The right tools ensure both responsibility and autonomy. Use them to monitor productivity without weighing down team members.

Discover best practices and processes together

You have a problem obsessing over whether your employees are productive when they’re out of sight. They have a problem with your surveillance and micromanagement. No one likes to be under the proverbial microscope.

To leave productivity paranoia behind, invite your team to help you solve the problems that arise with hybrid work arrangements. Perhaps asynchronous work schedules have become at asynchronously, and you should schedule some overlap time to allow for faster task transfers. Maybe remote workers feel they are being overlooked for plum jobs in favor of their office colleagues.

Whatever issues you identify, sit down – physical or virtual – and discuss the underlying reasons for them. Then work with your team to come up with solutions that make you a more effective leader and them more productive employees. By working together to solve the problems and establish practices that put team members at ease, everyone takes responsibility for those solutions.

Doing this well requires transparency and candor. But you really are all in this hybrid situation together. For it to work, everyone has to commit to trusting everyone.

Goodbye, paranoid Android

Just because your team members are occasionally out of sight doesn’t mean they’re out of mind or that you can’t trust them to be productive. If you respond to hybrid work arrangements with paranoia, they’ll return the favor with productivity theater — and resentment. It’s your job to lead with confidence so your team can follow suit.