Leadership   //   October 14, 2022

Managers lack confidence in employee performance as hybrid setups become permanent

Hybrid work arrangements may be the status quo, but many business leaders worry they’ve created a drag on productivity. 

In a recent poll of 20,000 people in 11 countries, Microsoft found that 85% of managers believe hybrid work has made it challenging to feel confident that their employees are as productive as ever. Some have chalked up a perceived decline in productivity to something that’s been dubbed “Corporate Long Covid,” referring to the strain that’s been put on employers and employees more than two and a half years into the pandemic. Meanwhile, employees continue to insist that they are just as productive working under hybrid and remote arrangements as they are in an office.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the BBC this tension needed to be resolved as workplaces are likely to remain hybrid. “We have to get past what we describe as ‘productivity paranoia,’ because all of the data we have shows that 80% plus of the individual people feel they’re very productive — except their management thinks that they’re not productive,” he said. “That means there is a real disconnect in terms of the expectations and what they feel.”

Richard J. Brandenstein, a partner at New York law firm Fusco, Brandenstein & Rada, noted that the Microsoft study is merely a reflection of what employers believe about their employees’ productivity, not that hybrid employees are actually less productive.

For his part, Brandenstein said he finds that his employees are more productive working remotely, commenting that “the balance between having some days in the office and some days at home keeps employees fresh and motivated.” Employees, he believes, appreciate the opportunity to work from home some or all of the time and want to repay the trust placed in them by their managers by being as productive as possible. 

How can an employer prove the workforce is productive? While many larger companies have employed sophisticated technology to track the activity of their employees, many smaller businesses do not have that luxury, operating largely on a trust system, Brandenstein pointed out. At any rate, tracking technology can be subject to manipulation on the part of the employee, he stressed. “Trust your employees, and I believe if they enjoy a good relationship with you as their manager, they will repay that faith,” he said.

"If you can be diligent about the processes you set up and be an involved leader who gets their hands dirty, then you can run a company that is productive while working remotely."
Sam Wilson, cofounder of U.K.-based business services firm Virtalent.

Natalia Morozova, a partner at New York law firm Cohen, Tucker & Ades, said she uses spreadsheets — sent to all employees on a weekly basis, singling out daily key objectives — to keep up with what employees are working on. She also meets with team leaders once a week to communicate any pain points, discrepancies and suggestions for better hybrid work practices. “Remote teams and in-office teams are both vital to a business’s success nowadays,” she said. “It is a must to implement effective methods to manage both of them efficiently.”

Sam Wilson, cofounder of U.K.-based business services firm Virtalent, which is fully remote, said he believes setting up processes to track employee work is essential, enabling the manager to look over work as it happens and giving them a scope of things every hour, every day. Specifically, project management tools can help managers track to-do lists, project progress and timelines.

Wilson also advised hiring people you trust to be productive even without constant supervision and regularly communicating with them. “Instill a level of communication that leaves nothing unanswered and can push everything forward,” he said. “If you can be diligent about the processes you set up and be an involved leader who gets their hands dirty, then you can run a company that is productive while working remotely.”

Adam Crossling, marketing manager at U.K.-based information technology services firm Zenzero, agreed that hybrid and remote work tech tools are essential for better managing employees outside an office environment and ensuring their output. He advised that such technology can assist in areas including:

  • Project management: “Coordination of efforts is a cornerstone of any efficient organization of workers,” Crossling said. So, project management software such as Smartsheet assists in coordinating the efforts of disparate people toward a common objective. Intranet software like Powell Software, meanwhile, can facilitate two-way communication between employees, making it easier for remote workers to communicate and collaborate. 
  • Training: Tech like ezTalks Cloud Meeting and digital adoption platforms like Walkme make it easier to teach courses and educate employees, according to Crossling. Many of these programs also provide educational materials that may be used by workers to further their careers and gain valuable skills.
  • Analytics: When it comes to reviewing staff data, providing feedback, conducting performance reviews and developing strategies to boost productivity and accomplish employee goals, a number of software solutions offer valuable insights for human resources and leadership. For instance, Crossling advised, HR managers may make sense of changes in team dynamics and gauge the efficacy of hybrid working with the aid of relational analytics in Scalable Software’s hybrid work system.

Still, other leaders are coming up with unique ways to ensure employee productivity in this hybrid age.

For example, Julia Voloshchenko, international public relations and marketing manager at Chinese IT support company Usetech, said games have helped the company boost employee loyalty and productivity.

After switching to a remote setup once the pandemic struck, Usetech began to notice that employee engagement and motivation were declining. In addition, the company faced an outflow of specialists. To solve the dual problems, Usetech instituted its own loyalty program based on a gamification system. 

Under the system, employees are given an internal corporate currency (dubbed “UseCoins”), which can be exchanged in an online store for merchandise like hoodies, computers and trips. Employee achievements are reflected in a corporate portal, which tracks how much currency each employee has amassed as well as their ranking in the company. Employees receive currency by participating in meetups and conferences, mentoring, publishing an article on the company’s blog, offering innovative ideas and more.

Since the start of the program, according to Voloshchenko, 76% of employees say they intend to spend at least the next two years at Usetech, while 77% report being highly satisfied with the corporate culture.