How To Avoid ‘Productivity Paranoia’ In Hybrid Teams

The changes in the workplace caused by the pandemic have been accompanied by a lot of new terminology. “Quiet resignation,” “boomerang employees,” “career damping,” and “return to office” (or simply “RTO”) are just a few phrases that express the new realities. But among remote and hybrid workers, “productivity paranoia” might be the term most feared.

In a global survey of 20,000 people, Microsoft identified productivity paranoia as a phenomenon in which “leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though the hours worked, the number of meetings and other activity metrics have increased.” In other words, leaders’ unwarranted belief that their hybrid teams are not productive is completely disconnected from the evidence that they are.

Any turn of phrase that includes the word “paranoia” cannot be healthy for leaders, their teams, or the company they work for. Trust, which is part of the leader-employee relationship, is destroyed by paranoia, so it must be avoided at all costs. Here’s how you can.

Bring down the curtain on the theater of productivity

Productivity theater is the employee’s response to management’s productivity paranoia. Team members want to appear busy, regardless of whether they are doing actual work at any given time. In fact, they spend more time doing business than doing their job.

If this is how your team responds to your micromanagement and overt surveillance, the sound you hear is true productivity being sucked down the proverbial drain. You want your team to focus on what’s strategically valuable to the business, not pretension.

The point of productivity is to make progress in meeting deadlines and achieving goals. So keep your focus on project deliverables and milestones, not how quickly a WFH employee responds to your latest Slack. Reach out periodically, not to monitor team members, but to ask them if they’re running into any obstacles you can help them clear.

You can’t end productivity theater just by telling hybrid team members to stop putting on a show. Instead, clearly outline your work and work life expectations. If you tell them they aren’t expected to respond to emails 24/7, they might not spend as much time trying to look like they’re working non-stop.

Provide your toolbox

First, you had to figure out what tools your team needed to do their work 100% remotely. Now that they are doing them in a hybrid situation, the same tools may not work. Talk to your team to find out what they think about the technology they use in and out of the office.

Stop with multiple daily Zoom meetings. This may have been necessary when video conferencing was the only way for teams to meet. Now you can schedule regular check-in meetings when they’re in the office and short calls when they’re working remotely. This approach will keep you updated without looking over their shoulders.

Another way to avoid productivity paranoia is to use project management software that helps team members stay on top of deadlines and report on the status of project tasks. Shared calendar software lets everyone know when multiple team members are in the office, working from home, or taking time off. This information helps the team stay in sync and allows everyone to schedule necessary meetings at mutually beneficial times.

The right tools provide responsibility and autonomy. Use them to keep your finger on the pulse of productivity without having your team members under your thumb.

Discover best practices and processes together

You have a problem obsessing over whether your employees are being productive when you can’t see them. They have a problem with your surveillance and micromanagement. No one likes to be under the proverbial microscope.

To put productivity paranoia behind you, invite your team to help you solve the problems that arise with hybrid work arrangements. Perhaps they have become asynchronous work schedules too asynchronous and you need to schedule an overlap time to facilitate faster task delivery. Perhaps remote workers feel they are being passed over for plum tasks in favor of their colleagues in the office.

Whatever problems you identify, sit down, physically or virtually, and discuss the underlying reasons. Then collaborate with your team to find solutions that make you a more effective leader and your employees more productive. Collaborating to solve problems and establishing practices that make team members comfortable will give everyone ownership of those solutions.

Making this right will require transparency and candor. But you’re really all in this hybrid situation together. For it to work, everyone will have to commit to trusting others.

So long, paranoid android

Just because your team members are out of sight from time to time, doesn’t mean they’re out of mind or that you can’t trust them to be productive. If you react to hybrid work arrangements with paranoia, they will return the favor with productivity theater and resentment. Your job is to lead with confidence so your team can follow suit.

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With remote and hybrid teams becoming more common as the world acclimates to the new normal, managing productivity in hybrid teams can be a challenge. As managers, we instinctively want to keep track of our teams’ progress and ensure everyone is doing their best work, but if we let ourselves become consumed with paranoia, it can result in detrimental outcomes such as micromanagement, burnout, and decreased productivity for both the team and the leader. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help managers effectively manage productivity in hybrid teams without sacrificing their team members’ well-being.

Ikaroa, a full-stack tech company, has seen success in combatting ‘productivity paranoia’ through embracing open communication. By allowing team members to communicate openly about their progress and challenges, managers can quickly identify any problem areas and work with their team to develop solutions. Open communication also allows managers to clarify expectations so everyone is on the same page when it comes to deadlines and workloads.

Another useful strategy for combating ‘productivity paranoia’ is to set achievable goals and have a productive team member lead the way. This allows team members to stay motivated and celebrate successes along the way, reconfirming that the team is working together toward a common goal. Celebrations like virtual team lunches and video game nights are another great way to build rapport and team morale.

Additionally, managers should make sure to encourage regular breaks, both virtual and in-person. Unplugging from work from time to time is essential for keeping everyone’s minds and motivation refreshed. Managers should also be aware of signs of burnout, such as decreased productivity, high absenteeism, and low morale. If any of these signs start to appear in their team, managers should take action and adjust the workload, grant more breaks, or even consider rearranging team members to different tasks.

Overall, managers should focus on developing a positive and productive team environment, rather than resorting to paranoia. By utilizing open communication, achievable goals, and regular breaks, managers can ensure that hybrid teams remain productive and motivated without becoming victims of ‘productivity paranoia’.


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