Productivity over visibility.
The following two stories sum up the problematic relationship with work.
Bob gets into the office at 8am and leaves at 7pm, he replies to email anytime of the day or night, evenings and weekend.
Everyone knows that Bob’s busy because he’s always in the office. His boss is impressed and he keeps getting favourable reviews. The trouble is his colleagues don’t quite know what he does. His projects never seem to land on time, and his team constantly feels like they are under the cosh.
Sue gets to the office at 9am, and is away at 5pm. She is known within her team for delivering high quality work, and is trusted by her colleagues to get the work done, and done well.
Sue never gets thanked by her boss. As far as he’s concerned she’s not putting in the hours. It’s been noted that while everyone else is in the office until at least 6pm Sue’s not and it’s starting to become a problem. Sue’s constantly having to defend herself, not based upon what’s she delivering but because she isn’t seen burning the midnight oil to achieve it.
Bob and Sue’s boss’s understanding of value is based upon the bums-on-seat metric. He know his teams are working when he can see them, at their desk, working.
This is a dangerous metric, which is easily gamed. We have all worked with a ‘Bob’ who is always in the office, but doesn’t seem to produce much. The ‘Bobs’ have high visibility and are rewarded for it.
This public praise for all the Bobs in the world subtly manipulates others to copy their behaviour and soon everyone is in the office for even longer hours. However, longer hours don’t equal more productivity.
Remote work changes this dynamic because you can’t rely on the bums-on-seats metric. The office is virtual, there is no one view which will tell you if people are working.
All you have is what the remote worker delivers. Their productivity is based upon the quality of the work they complete rather than the time they appear to be working.
Sue is already operating as a remote worker, except now there’s an equal playing field. It becomes very obvious, very quickly who’s performing and who isn’t when you’re evaluated on your outcomes.
In addition, a side effect of the tools used by remote workers is they provide an ongoing digital record of what’s been done, when and by who.
This digital record allows the managers, and most importantly, the employees, to evaluate their performance objectively. It becomes the basis for reward and praise. Just as Bob’s behaviour influenced his office-based colleagues, Sue’s behaviour will influence her remote colleagues, raising standards and quality.
Using the bums-on-seats metric, it’s easy for Bob and Sue’s manager to evaluate Bob as a high performer as he didn’t have to think hard to know he was always around. However, when he thought of Sue, his memory is that she’s never around.
The use of the digital record ensures Bob and Sue’s manager can use the evidence accumulated through the year as a basis for review, and ensure that the right behaviours are rewarded.
The busyness culture is toxic, it impacts employee engagement and becomes demoralising for your talented folks, especially your remote workers.
By enabling remote working, it is productivity that is valued, not how often someone is visible or working late.
This is an extract from our book Ready for Remote. It’s our manifesto for the future of work. It tells the story of how we build and nurture remote teams; the tools we use and the principles we follow.
It’s a story of freedom, purpose and productivity. In the book we openly offer up some best-practice advice for anyone thinking of building remote teams.