We live in interesting times!   And 2020 has certainly been interesting.  COVID-19 has shone a light on some great employers and some not-so-great employers.  Change is part of our everyday experience – both at work and home.  Embracing some of the awesome performances from teams during 2020 will stand organisations in good stead for what is to come.

On the other hand, micro-managing employees might feel like the organisation is regaining control but will achieve the exact opposite result.  A disenchanted workforce with little trust in leadership to do the right thing when push comes to shove.  Discretionary effort that has been in abundance during 2020 will quickly evaporate the more managers and organisations seek to control employees.

3  Worrying trends we’re spotting:

#1 Micro-managing productivity through the new Microsoft 365 Productivity Score

#2 Using Microsoft Teams for control rather than collaboration

#3  Blanket policy to bring everyone back into the office

#1 There’s a saying, ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’ which applies to this latest offering from Microsoft.  A surveillance tool to rule them all – literally!  This suggests Microsoft and organisations that adopt this have learnt nothing about psychological safety.

If you want people to do their best work you have to trust them.  Human beings are not designed to be ‘always on’ like technology (!) Our brains need a rest every now and then. Measuring performance based on productivity metrics is a step back into the 80s and 90s when activity based costing and time and motion studies were popular.

Have you ever worked in a factory environment or been subjected to any of these methods?  If so, you’ll know how off-putting they are and how they have a demotivating effect on performance.  I worked in organisations that used these methods.  They didn’t dramatically improve the business performance, but  they did increase employee mistrust.

Go back to the first point – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.  Think carefully about what problem you’re trying to solve by using these tool before jumping in because it sounds like a good idea.  The law of unintended consequences can be a tough teacher.

#2  Microsoft Teams is a great tool for collaboration and helped many employees staying connected with colleagues and able to work from home during COVID lockdown.  I had the opportunity to use MSTeams in a client environment and loved the fact I could share what I was working on real time with colleagues and create different conversations about multiple topics.

Although, there’s a worrying trend that some employers are using this as a quasi ‘clocking in’ method.  For example, as a manager I can see when you’re a at work because you’ve logged into MSTeams.  If you’re not logged into MSTeams you’re not working!

Again, from my experience of working in a factory many years ago, I had to clock in and out before entering the factory floor.  Once on the floor, it was rare for the supervisor or production manager to check up on my work.  I had a certain amount of work allocated for the day and was then trusted to get on with the job.

Admittedly they could see how much work I was doing because I was producing a tangible product.  The key is they judged me on what I achieved.  I didn’t have to justify loo breaks or coffee breaks.  And I was free to decide how to do the work too.

Measuring people on outputs and outcomes is harder because it means you have to be super clear about what you want.  However, starting with a conversation and discovering along the way together is far better than just managing on one metric.  After all, just because somewhere is there, doesn’t mean they’re engaged.

#3 Wanting to get everyone back on site is understandable, given that we’ve all been grappling with isolation and no longer able to chat with colleagues as we grab a coffee or walk to meetings.  However, it’s unlikely this is the real driver for this push to get everyone back in the office.  I suspect the real driver is about trust – if I can see employees at their desk I know they’re working.  Although that is a big assumption!

It’s false logic to say that during lockdown productivity suffered.  From anecdotal feedback it seems that most organisations relied heavily on the goodwill and discretionary effort of staff.  And some organisations have dramatically increased productivity during lockdown.

Again, based on anecdotal feedback, productivity increased probably because employees had more control over their work environment, work flow and working patterns.

Taking a more balanced approach to return to work location is a better tactic.  Yes, there will be times when working from an office is beneficial – so use that as a starting point and take a more nuanced approach.

Does Micro-Managing Help Change?

The short answer is no.  In fact, not only does it not help change it can create an additional barrier to overcome before a conversation about change is possible.

I’ll leave the last words to Amy Edmondson from her book: The Fearless Organization:

” Few business leaders today can afford to squander the brainpower available in their companies.  At the very least most of us need an honest sounding board.  But better yet, we need people to bring their ideas to work to help us create better products and a better organization.”

What do you think?