‘Big Brother’-style managers who are used to riding office workers’ backs must learn how to monitor productivity remotely ‘ based on outcomes not tasks
We’ve all had bosses who hover over our shoulders ‘ demanding constant progress updates and dictating our workstyle. However, with the rising popularity of remote and hybrid working, it’s literally not possible to watch employees 24/7. Letting go of their toxic micromanagement practices is the single biggest challenge facing people managers today.
A societal shift in what people want from their work has been coming for years. Research by McKinsey found that employees desire interesting work that makes a difference and aligns with their personal sense of purpose and values. They want leaders who care about them as individuals, and they want the opportunity to work flexibly.
Worker-led demand for hybrid arrangements has skyrocketed, with the pandemic being the catalyst. The ONS reported that 85% of workers want to use a hybrid approach (Business and individual attitudes towards the future of homeworking, UK: April to May 2021). YouGov research also found that only four in 10 people want to leave their house to go to work (September 2020).
If companies want to attract talent seeking flexible working arrangements, then the argument for embracing hybrid working could not be clearer.
The good news is that outcome-based working practices are a proven concept. Research done as far back as the 1970s indicated that focusing on the outcomes of work, rather than the activity, led to higher performance. Tech and digital creative companies in particular have pioneered this approach to people management with great success. However, for leaders and managers in other sectors ‘ especially those whose management style has been one of ‘command and control’ ‘ change has brought challenge.
Adopting this framework remains a significant shift to make. Consciously changing the culture of an organisation requires genuine buy-in from every member of the team and takes time and effort from leaders.
Traditionally, companies have adhered to a culture where the physical presence of employees determined the value of their work. Being visible in the office was a measure of performance and the willingness of that employee to do their job. This resulted in presenteeism: the act of showing up for work without necessarily being productive.
Where it was important to see employees physically in the past, in the post-pandemic environment, managers cannot watch remote workers all of the time. Basing performance solely on attendance or visible activity is not viable.
So, what are the core elements you need to have in place if you’re considering making the shift to outcome-based working in your business?
Firstly, having a clear purpose, vision, mission and values is essential. When you leave people alone to get on and achieve outcomes, there is inevitably more reliance on their judgement. The framework to support them making the right calls for the business comes from employees knowing why it exists, where it’s going and how it will get there.
Secondly, a high level of acceptance and support from employees is key. The cultural change will naturally give more flexibility to employees, but it also places more accountability on them to be productive over simply ‘showing up’. Any disengaged employees will struggle to adapt.
Thirdly, the role of a manager is fundamentally different in an outcome-based culture. Effective training must be put in place so they develop the skills to operate as coaches rather than overseers.
A survey of 1,500 business decision-makers across Europe found that more than two thirds did not fully trust their staff to do their job at home (Ricoh Europe, August 2021). That level of distrust is guaranteed to destroy hybrid working. However, those leaders who did focus on the output and not the presence of their workers during the pandemic self-reported that, when trusted, most people will do their best work without being watched.
If people leaders whose management style belongs to the cotton mill days can ‘cotton on’ to outcome-based working practices instead, then hybrid working may yet have a chance of success.