“There must be a suspicion that some people have spent the last 15 months working from home but haven’t actually been doing very much.” – British Cabinet Minister, August 2021.
The idea that people are, at best, less productive at home, and at worst indolent, is a persistent theme that ignores the accumulated evidence of higher productivity and performance in remote working and the benefits of a hybrid workplace.
The implicit solution conjures the image of a room full of clerks sitting in rows diligently performing their tasks under the ever-watchful eye of the malevolent overseer who sits perched on a raised platform – ‘if I can see them working, then they are working’.
It also recalls Douglas McGregor’s description of Theory X where management sees the typical worker as having little ambition, avoiding responsibility, being inherently lazy, and only in it for the money. The way to manage and motivate such workers is through the judicious application of reward and punishment. I suspect there are more managers in today’s workplaces that would privately agree with this view than we might think.
The truth is that being in an office-based environment does not grant the ‘boss’ a superpower to know who is working and who is not.
Remote working and the hybrid workplace have probably exposed more poor management practices than they have poor worker performance. Yet we hear very little public commentary that focuses on the need for leaders to adapt to the reality of remote working and prepare for the inevitability of the hybrid workplace.
Is the hybrid workplace really a new phenomenon?
The idea that the hybrid workplace is not a reality for a substantial proportion of Australia’s national workforce, and a large proportion of the public sector workforce, is delusional. The most recent national lockdowns seem to have shifted public commentary from denial to acceptance.
It is difficult to understand what would drive a difference in performance between working in a fixed location to working remotely, and for me it raises a few questions. Have good leaders not embedded good work habits in their teams? Is location-based work less reliant on trust between managers and employees to get the job done? Is work not allocated with clear reporting guidelines and outcomes? Has there not been a proper investment in training to ensure employees are skilled in their roles?
The truly excellent teams are redefining what it means to create a workplace and a workforce that feels more complete…
Why would we expect the people we work with every day would behave less diligently when they work remotely?
The truth is that being in an office-based environment does not grant the ‘boss’ a superpower to know who is working and who is not. If the management practices are good, the experience is that poor workforce behaviours and practices are even more exposed when working remotely.
How can leaders respond to a hybrid set-up?
Good leaders spend time building the good habits of workforce productivity and performance, and they and their teams are successful regardless of where the work is done.
The lazy response is for leaders to point to poor workforce performance as a feature of remote working. It is easier to take a rosy view of the how effective management is when the team is all based on one location.
For many good managers, that habits of good communication, clarity in the design of work, and thorough assessment of performance transcend the location of work. Similarly, people who are internally motivated to do a good job, who are proud of the work they do, their team, and their organisation will continue to perform diligently. In good teams, managers and employees are learning from one another and finding their way through lockdowns and remote working. They are also working together to design how a hybrid workplace will operate.
Most importantly, these teams are openly discussing what ‘performance’ means in the workplace. The truly excellent teams are redefining what it means to create a workplace and a workforce that feels more complete, simpler, and more human than it was before the pandemic.
Synergy has built a Hybrid Workplace Framework to help leaders, managers, and employees to understand and adapt to remote and hybrid working. The Framework introduces you to the leadership and employee mindsets that shape workplace behaviour, helping you to generate new ideas and areas of opportunity to improve the experience of work in your organisation.