The shift from traditional office set-ups to hybrid and remote working has had inevitable consequences for employer/employee trust. When workers come into the office less, their presence and output is less visible, which can lead to distrust and “productivity paranoia” in managers. “Productivity paranoia” is when a manager is uncertain that their employees are working as effectively as expected.
A common side-effect of this uncertainty is micro-management: but nobody likes to have their manager breathing down their necks. Therefore, leaders need to learn to overcome productivity paranoia and instead focus on building a culture of trust that gives employees the space and support to thrive independently.
At Laundryheap, we have teams operating in over 25 cities. As our business has grown, I’ve learnt that it is indeed possible to maintain high standards and cultivate trust across a large business by setting clear expectations and having robust management processes in place.
Here are my three tips on how to prevent productivity paranoia from becoming a barrier to your business’ success:
Set clear goals and expectations
Productivity paranoia stems from the worry that employees aren’t working at the level and pace managers expect. On some occasions, where employees are legitimately underperforming, this concern is warranted. But at other times it can be a feeling that isn’t actually grounded in fact.
To remove subjectivity from the equation, it’s a good idea to set clear, time-bound and realistic goals and expectations around employee output and performance. This can give managers confidence that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet and working towards a shared aim. Having clear goals also makes it easier for employers to assess and measure employee performance objectively by checking progress towards the goal.
Using KPIs can help managers set and measure goals and expectations. Always aim for transparency around any shared goals, so your team is motivated to work towards and meet them as a collective.
Check your biases
Productivity paranoia can easily become the enemy of remote and flexible working if not kept in check. It can be all too easy for managers who are experiencing productivity paranoia to consciously or unconsciously express a positive bias towards employees who are present in the office, or employees who they’re working more closely with on particular projects, as they’re more aware of what they’re up to. This can create an unhealthy culture of “presenteeism”, where those who are in the office or working directly with managers less often feel as though they’re missing out on opportunities or not having their contributions recognised equally.
To mitigate against this, it’s important for managers to check their own biases and recognise when they might be showing preferential treatment to certain colleagues over others, or micro-managing those they don’t have as close a proximity to.
Do your utmost to start with trust as the default. This way, you can give employees autonomy, and only relinquish that freedom if employees give you reason to by breaking that trust (in my experience, most employees won’t).
Create open communication channels
Good communication can put an end to productivity paranoia. Keeping in regular contact with colleagues means you’ll have a clearer steer on their priorities for the week, what progress they’re making and what they’re struggling with. This leaves less room for the kinds of assumptions and guess work that can lead to productivity concerns.
Similarly, creating safe and open communication channels means employees feel able to voice any concerns they might have, particularly if they feel their contributions aren’t being recognised or valued.
If your team is hybrid, ensure you’re checking in with remote colleagues as regularly as those who are in the office, and are extending opportunities equally.
By actively listening to your employees, and taking feedback onboard, you can stay ahead of any particular sticking points and create a culture of trust and collaboration where managers and employees can work together to create a productive and happy working environment for all.
Hybrid and remote work aren’t going anywhere: so rather than worrying about what people are up to, put the right processes in place to track performance effectively and build trust with your teams. Leaders and managers can’t be everywhere at once, so trust and independence are important qualities to nurture in your people and your company culture as you grow.