It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday and you’re just about to close your laptop when a sinking feeling hits you. You forgot to document your tasks this week.
And so you begrudgingly log into that free project tracking software your manager insists on using, and then meticulously account for every hour of every day of your workweek.
When Monday morning comes around, you find yourself reporting on all the projects and tasks that you’re working on this week (again) and then spending another few hours creating tasks for every item on your to-do list. Again.
Then, out of nowhere, your manager sends you a Zoom link to discuss what you’re currently working on because ‘It’s easier to have a quick chat.’
You close your eyes and try to push away the uncomfortable feeling of workplace surveillance.
Sure, this scenario feels a bit draconian—but make no mistake. This is reality for many remote workers.
Working remotely is the new normal.
Back in March 2020, only 1 in 67 job postings on LinkedIn mentioned remote work options. Companies were hesitant to offer the perk, worried productivity would suffer if their employees were out of sight.
Then, the pandemic changed everything. Almost 50% of employees switched to working remotely full-time. And while employees were scrambling to set up a decent home office, organizations and their managers were scrambling to track worker productivity. From digital time tracking and project planning to endless online meetings, solutions have ranged from reasonable to invasive.
The assumption for many seems to be that people are more productive in an office and tend to slack off at home. But is this really the case? Sure, staying on task is important, but is tracking your team’s every move causing more harm than good? How much data do you really need to confirm the people you hired are reaching the goals you set for them?
What are you collecting data for?
We live in a data-driven world—but sometimes enough is enough. In 2022 alone, just over 97 zettabytes of data was created and consumed by 5 billion internet users. While it’s important to keep track of what your team is accomplishing, if all of the information collected is just going to sit in an Excel file on your desktop, maybe consider a change in methodology.
Are you managing projects or producing stress?
“I just want to make sure my team is on track!”
We get it. As a manager of a remote team, you have your own targets to meet, and it can be nerve-wracking to wonder if your instructions are getting lost in the void. But rather than micromanage your team’s every move, consider how you can make task management a benefit and not a burden.
Keep regular team meetings short.
Report progress, raise issues, and readjust priorities. This is the time for rapid-fire questions. If a longer discussion is required, schedule a meeting with only the necessary people involved. Break out the meeting cost calculator if you need further incentives.
Make sure priorities are clear.
Are your team members not working or are they just confused? Handing out a laundry list of tasks isn’t enough. Explain which items take precedence.
Find the project management app that works for everyone.
There are tons of free project management tools out there to choose from. Take the time to find what’s intuitive for your team and create a seamless workflow.
Coordinate in-office workdays.
If people are going to make the effort to come into the office, don’t have them sit at a desk alone. Try to have everyone come in on the same day so they can benefit from some social dopamine. According to a 2022 Microsoft study, the opportunity to socialize motivates 84% of employees to make the commute.
Don’t duplicate reporting.
Asking your employees to document the same information in multiple places is a recipe for incomplete (and therefore unhelpful) data. Use a platform for overall tracking and reports if you need more details.
Don’t expect 100% focus 100% of the time.
According to the famed Pomodoro Technique, a successful workday is achieved in sprints rather than marathons. If you want to get the most out of your team, allow them time to rest and reflect throughout the day. They’ll be more productive—and appreciative.
Don’t fall for proximity bias.
Mitigate the natural tendency to favor employees you see more often in the office by having one-on-one check-ins with a focus on coaching and problem-solving.
Acknowledge different work environment needs.
There’s a clear battle happening between employers and employees over work location. Companies understandably want the expensive office spaces they rent out to be utilized, but employees have become accustomed to the flexibility of a remote job. Many have even moved out of cities entirely under the assumption that commuting would be the exception rather than the rule.
This conflict isn’t relegated to management vs. employees. It can appear within teams of workers, too, and it often comes down to working style, gender, and life stage. According to a Standford study, among employees with small children, women were 50% more likely to prefer working from home.
While you may be at your most productive seated in an open office space, reveling in the hustle and bustle of it all, team members with ADHD may find it much more difficult to get any work done at all. A discussion with your colleagues on the latest episode of Succession may brighten up your afternoon, but it may very well pull the teammate you’re chatting up out of their flow state.
And it may take them another 30 minutes to get back into the zone.
For decades the image of white-collar work was sitting in an office building with everyone else. But according to a study by ConnectSolutions, 77% of people who are able to work from home a few times a month (or in a space of their choosing) actually report being more productive than their office-bound counterparts.
It’s all about trust.
While many are opting to stay remote, with the continuous improvement of workplace technology, productivity levels have only continued to increase (in some cases, up 200% in the past 2 years).
An upward trajectory that is likely at its peak with more than 40% of office workers feeling burned out. So rather than overly focusing on whether everyone has enough to do, allow for ebbs and flows in workloads if possible. You want your team to do their best work which means giving them the space to take advantage of their peak productivity hours and to let their mind rest when they’ve hit the wall.
Amid the Great Reshuffle, there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every company, team, or even individual. Like most things, it’s all about trust, balance, and communication.