A fierce battle is raging in the world of work.

On the one hand, we have employees who have grown accustomed to spend less time in the office; and on the other, we have employees who dearly wish they would come back.

According to a recent Microsoft report, the snappily titled “Empowering your workforce in economic uncertainty,” has revealed a great chasm between management and worker. The study gathered data from a survey of 20,000 people in 11 countries and this is what it discovered: 87% of employees say they’re productive at work, while 85% of leaders disagree.

But where does the truth lie?

Part of the problem is that when it comes to hybrid working, management does not know how to measure productivity. There has been a tendency in some quarters to conflate activity with outcomes, which is neither practical nor desirable. The acid-test of productivity must be results. By all means monitor work volume for your teams, make sure your deadlines are being met and identify bottle necks.

“…if you agonise over what your staff is doing every second of the day, you will get nowhere.”

However, if you agonise over what your staff is doing every second of the day, you will get nowhere. The arithmetic remains the same: divide the average output per period by the costs incurred or the resources consumed in that period. But to look over an employee’s neck is ill-advised at best and positively disastrous at worst.

Bottomline: to micromanage your people is a sure-fire way to erode trust, stifle creativity and beget resentment.

That’s why in measuring the productivity of a hybrid team (and managing one, too) it pays to think like a human being first, and a manager second. To this end, you need to draw upon your arsenal of ‘soft skills.’ To gauge an employee’s effectiveness and abilities, you need more than a management textbook and an equation. Feedback and peer assessment should be sought sensitively.

One way to do so is to study the feedback they get from others about their performance.

Another is daily check-ins either in writing or virtually. Bear in mind that the manner in which they are made matters as much as what is said. Here, the knowledge you glean from an employee’s personality from a reliable psychometric instrument will comes in most handy in tailoring your approach to each person.

Customer satisfaction will also furnish you with useful intel on how you are doing on the productivity front. Gathering data from customer surveys is an excellent way of going about this.

Can’t we just to return to normal?

The truth is Covid changed everything and there’s no going back. There has been a sea change in how we work, where we work and why we work.

Pace Apple, there is compelling evidence that hybrid working…erm works. According to the future of Work report, 69% of no-grow or little growth companies are stilled wedded to the old one-location idea. By contrast, 63% of ‘high growth’ companies believe that you can be productive anywhere.

So is the old model dead? Paradoxically, yes and no. 9-5, clocking in and out, being shackled to a desk is undoubtedly moribund for many types of business and quite rightly so. Times have changed. Furthermore, employees rather like:

  • The flexibility of hybrid
  • The healthier work-life balance it brings
  • The time in saves in commuting
  • The increased efficiency and productivity

That said, there is still and no doubt always will be a place for bricks and mortar. We humans are social beings par excellence and a Zoom meeting is a poor substitute for being able to shake somebody’s hand. And there’s no getting away from having an HQ, a hub is very seductive both practically and symbolically.

Against this has to be set the fact that many of givens of work, hitherto thought sacrosanct, no longer apply. Superfast broadband renders geography an irrelevance. The ‘where’ of work matters less the both the ‘what’ and ‘how.’

Hence the importance of getting your hybrid strategy right, for there is a good deal at stake. Get it wrong and you face the prospect of mass resignation, higher turnover, poor morale, greater disgruntlement and woefully low productivity. In short, it is a recipe for disaster.

So, what’s to be done?
First, leaders to work with workers’ preferences not against them. Witness the Apple affair. Productivity paranoia is a is rife. Good leaders know that the only way to ensure prosperity to balance the interests’ workers with those of their organisation. You cannot do one without the other.

Second, if you have not already done so, you need to build an organisational structure that is fit for purpose, one that treats a business not as a static thing, but a system of moving parts.

Third, you need to ensure that every aspect of your company passes muster. Wise leaders know that adapting to this new paradigm means taking nothing for granted. This goes for every aspect of business running the gamut from recruitment to HR.

Slaying Sacred Cows

The pandemic afforded us a once-in-lifetime opportunity to rip up the rule book and design a new way of working. To do so, we need to question everything and very possibly slay some sacred cows. An important first step is to identify the hidden assumptions we make about the very notion of work. What is work in the 21st Century? How does one maximize productivity and profitability and keep employees sweet at the same time? It is a quite a Gordian knot.

But in fashioning a hybrid model which is fit for purpose, calls for some big picture thinking on the part of management.

ASK WHY 5 times

It is an instructive exercise to study your business, noting down every aspect, every process, every role and ask why. Doing so lays bare that which we take for granted. The 5 whys method.

Assumption Smashing
Without assumptions, life would be well-nigh impossible. Suppose in returning home and turning the key in the lock, you question the assumption that it is your house. If the green man flashes, you assume the traffic will stop. If however, you see a speeding car hurtling towards you at 150 kph, it is safe to assume it will not stop. from an evolutionary standpoint, assumptions are very useful. We human have developed heuristic, simple short cuts which enable us to arrive at quick judgements, solve problems and make decisions.

That said, there are times when assumptions do not serve us well. It is well sometimes to approach a problem from a different angle. Conventions tacit ‘rules’ (sic) shape thinking and perception. The Pandemic has gifted us an opportunity to ask: What if? Before we go about designing a new model of work, we need some means of identifying that which we take for granted. In other words, what hidden assumptions govern our thinking.

From an evolutionary perspective, assumptions have been and remain useful, not to say essential because enable us to react quickly to events. Unfortunately, this is the very thing which can make assumptions problematical. Left unchallenged, they can quickly become what one might term ‘Concept prisons’ which get in the road of what we are trying to do and indeed stifle creativity.

The truth is that many people will go through life blithely unaware of the preconceived ideas that may have; and although there are many in business and the world of work who are beginning to question the wisdom of 9 to 5 and all that it entailed, it took a pandemic the like of which we have not seen for a century to concentrate minds.

Not Business as Usual

But as the horrors of Covid recedes (one hopes) many executives are at pains to get staff back into the office, under one roof. This is not unreasonable. But forcing staff to return is ill-advised and turning back the clock will only serve to make matters worse.

7 Takeaways

  1. If getting people back into the office for a number of days a week is essential, then you need to think long and hard about how to make the office an agreeable place to be.
  2. Concentrate, not on where work is done, but on how and why
  3. Keep the psychology of the individual uppermost in your mind
  4. Persuade, don’t coerce
  5. Make team days memorable and worthwhile
  6. Lead by example. Passion is contagious
  7. Think like a human being, not a management textbook

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