New Study Warns of ‘Productivity Paranoia’ Impacting Hybrid Work

Employees think they’re productive at work—but not all managers agree.

Microsoft just released a study about hybrid work, and its data makes it clear that employees everywhere feel overloaded. Some 87 percent said they were productive at work—and that their meeting load per week had increased by 153 percent over the past year (with the number of overlapping/double-booked meetings increasing by 46 percent). Around 42 percent of participants said their multitasked during meetings to keep up with their workloads.

However, 85 percent of leaders claimed it was “challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.” This is leading to what the report termed “productivity paranoia,” where “leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased.” (The study surveyed 20,006 full-time employed or self-employed knowledge workers in 11 countries between July 7 and August 2 of this year.)  

There’s a worrisome gap there, and the study chalks it up to a lack of transparency and communication. “Many leaders and managers are missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t ‘see’ who is hard at work by walking down the hall or past the conference room,” it continued. “Indeed, compared to in-person managers, hybrid managers are more likely to say they struggle to trust their employees to do their best work (49 percent vs. 36 percent) and report that they have less visibility into the work their employees do (54 percent vs. 38 percent).”

Will this threaten companies’ embrace of hybrid work? That’s an important question. In the technology industry, at least, the unemployment rate remains notably low, meaning that skilled technology professionals have their choice of jobs—including jobs that give them the flexible schedules many of them crave. Whether or not this employment trend sustains, the proverbial genie is out of the bottle: hybrid work is something technologists want, and companies know they can offer it as an additional incentive to pull in the talent they need.  

The latest edition of Stack Overflow’s annual Developer Salary crunched data from 58,958 respondents worldwide and found that significant portions of technologists had either a fully remote or hybrid work option. Some 42 percent were hybrid; another 42 percent were remote; and only 14 percent were back in the office full-time. “Smaller organizations are most likely to be in-person, with 20 percent of 2-19 employee organizations in-person,” added the report accompanying Stack Overflow’s data. “The largest organizations, with 10k employees, are most likely to be hybrid.”

For managers, more communication and transparency might ease their fears about workers’ productivity. But it’s also up to technologists working from home to be as visible as possible. Frequent check-ins and updates about your project status can go a long way toward assuring managers that you’re getting the job done. If you feel overloaded, it’s time for a conversation about how your manager can help ease your workload or tweak your schedule.

4 Responses to “New Study Warns of ‘Productivity Paranoia’ Impacting Hybrid Work”

  1. Any Manager who doesn’t KNOW if their remote/hybrid employees are productive should not be a Manager. This is especially true if your organization is using the full capabilities of Microsoft 365 or an equivalent set of online workplace collaboration tools. There is nothing you can do in the office face to face that you cannot do online, other than make physical contact with others, which seems to cause more problems in the modern workplace than it’s worth. Prior to the pandemic when most office workers were in the office, the number of face to face interactions was already on a steady steep decline with the proliferation of online virtual collaboration tools. This was especially true when organization charts and teams started to span multiple office locations, cities, states, countries and continents. Productive management of teams and individuals is still reliant upon leaders setting appropriate goals, objectives and target dates. Using objective and subjective measures of status, progress and results. Regularly checking in with team members both as groups and individuals. Administering corrective action and praise as appropriate. Discussing career goals, development needs, actions and results. All of these management actions can be executed just as effectively online as they can be face to face, so let’s cut the bullshit on this topic when it comes to typical office work.

  2. Jake_Leone

    Look, before the pandemic, I spent 2+ hours getting to work, 2+ hours getting back. Driving takes a lot of my concentration. You get in to work, there is a 30m of wasted time unwinding from the road. There is the time to get ready for work (1-2 hours each day). (that’s Bay Area life)
    Ok, so now all that time I can do things like read a book on Pytorch and FastAI. Or I can learn Python in complete detail. And do all that, while still completing my projects (in other programming languages) on time.
    I am not sure, but road smog might have also cut back my IQ. I can’t confirm it, but it seems that way.
    For the last 20 years Big Tech companies have spend a lot of money on building. Google bought office buildings (even 2 near my company’s offices). And Facebook built big office buildings (example in the Menlo Park/EPA area (not just take over the Sun M.S. offices)). So what’s a CEO going to tell the board, it was all a big mistake? No, they are going to sponsor studies that promote their warped view, because that justifies their past actions.
    Managers, are going to complain, they just are not sure any more, and that hearsay, non-factual, self-reinforcing overfit on the data, is going to be incorporated into studies that justify the past mistake of buying big offices in massively overpriced real estate markets.
    It is just so much easier than facing the reality.
    The environment, workers, and companies are better off, if they can implement a WFH or Hybrid model. Only people worse office are top executives, that sit in board meetings with egg on their faces, trying to explain why they didn’t foresee this (after all Bill Gates did).

    • “For the last 20 years Big Tech companies have spend a lot of money on building. Google bought office buildings (even 2 near my company’s offices). And Facebook built big office buildings (example in the Menlo Park/EPA area (not just take over the Sun M.S. offices)). So what’s a CEO going to tell the board, it was all a big mistake? No, they are going to sponsor studies that promote their warped view, because that justifies their past actions.”

      It’s not just the huge tech companies. Companies large and small signed leases for overpriced office space that’s going to be largely empty unless they find a way to force employees back to in-person working.

  3. Productivty is thought to be decreasing but the number of meetings has more than doubled? Gee, has anyone been figure out why less work is being done? Better schedule a meeting about that.

    “85 percent of leaders claimed it was `challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.’ … Many leaders and managers are missing the old visual cues of what it means to be productive because they can’t ‘see’ who is hard at work by walking down the hall or past the conference room,’ … `compared to in-person managers, hybrid managers are more likely to say they struggle to trust their employees to do their best work’ ”

    That sounds like it might be more of a problem with some micro-managers^W”leaders” and not the employees.