The questions to ask yourself if you think remote workers aren’t working

I come across all kinds of mindsets in my work. I have clients who were already 100% remote before the pandemic and choose to relocate themselves to sunnier climates in the winter. I have clients who are working with the hybrid model successfully, some not so successfully. And inevitably I meet the leaders who are still forcing their people to do their 9-5 at their desk every day.

Upon talking to each of them, they all have strong beliefs about what work is, how it is done, and the nature of human beings. These beliefs drive their leadership approach. Those that are rigid in their belief about work being on site are finding it more challenging to retain and recruit. They think people should be grateful for a job and can’t understand why people moan about the commute. 

Yesterday, Microsoft released its latest research results on remote working. Now the skeptics might argue that they have a vested interest in promoting remote working and the tech required to make it happen. I could be swayed by that argument if it wasn’t for the research headline results. The question about whether workers were more productive, the same, or less productive when they work from home generated a very clear answer.

87% of workers felt they worked as, or more, efficiently from home, 80% of managers disagreed.

This was no surprise to me at all based on the work I do and the conversation I have had. But having the data to support this is critical. Before I would need to ask some pretty powerful questions to get to the answers. So here are the questions I ask. Answer them for yourself.

  1. Do you trust your people? 
  2. If the answer is no, why did you hire someone you don’t trust?
  3. How do you measure performance?
  4. If someone wasn’t performing, how would you know?
  5. Would that change if they worked in a different place to you?
  6. How do you know people are working when you are out of the office or in a meeting?
  7. Do you work the same, more, or less when you work off site?
  8. What elements of the job really can’t be done off site? Is this really true?
  9. For all other elements of the job that could be done anywhere, how do you currently know if they are being done?
  10. What are the real costs to you/your clients/your people by working off site?

Now that you have answered these questions, lets deep dive into them a little further.

Do you trust your people? Some people believe that the only way to make sure people are working is to direct, manage and watch over them. The belief is that people are inherently lazy, and without management intervention, they would slack off at the first opportunity. People only work because they have to, not because they want to. This might be true in some jobs, the jobs that are repetitive, boring, dangerous or horrible. However, most work isn’t like that. Most work can have variety, stretch, challenge, and is interesting. Most people work because they also like to work. They are self-motivated to do a good job and feel like they are making a difference. It is the reason people hate micromanagers who hover over them constantly. It signals, “I don’t trust you”. If you do believe that people are lazy, you will micromanage whether they are working by your side or from a coffee shop near their home. 

Performance measurement. Seeing someone at work doesn’t mean they are working or performing. It just means you can see them. I know plenty of people in my past who would be the first in, last out, but did little extra work. Performance is measured by output and behaviours. Unless you can monitor or measure the outputs and gain feedback when things aren’t going so well, you won’t be able to manage your people regardless of where they are. Data suggests that people working remotely waste 5 hours per week demonstrating they are present, without adding any additional value. That might be joining endless email chains, chatting in chat boxes, or attending meetings just to show they exists. Those 5 hours of proving productivity are actually harming productivity. 

Some jobs can’t be done elsewhere. If some of your work means you have to physically be at a place to do it, then of course you would be expected to be there. Alot of work can be done anywhere providing you have a device connected to the Wi-Fi or phone systems. Some work can be done remotely but actually works better when done face to face. But that shouldn’t mean that ALL work needs to be done on site or face to face. That is where hybrid working comes in. Looking at the tasks and activities and assessing how to perform them best will challenge you to think about the best way to make sure the work is done.

I want to change the conversation from whether remote work or onsite work is the answer. I want to shift it towards how do we do work and what is the most performance enhancing way of working? 

It will be different for all. I like collaborating. I can do it on WhatsApp, teams, but I am far better at it when I am in the room with someone. I like concentrated work, but I find I am better at it when I am at home, quiet, with no distractions. I love coaching but can do it effectively face to face or over the phone. I love building relationships, and much prefer doing them in a relaxed social environment. By having these conversations with your team, you will find the right balance for performance. And when they are involved in the solution, they will be more likely to make it happen.

When you, as a team, begin to look at the important elements of the work and ask “How can WE do this more effectively?” you will get much better results.