Navigating productivity paranoia in a hybrid world

Dispel the idea that remote workers are less productive than those in the office with new approaches that provide focus and visibility in the hybrid world, says executive coach Jeremy Campbell

‘Productivity paranoia’ is the latest challenge to be thrown up by the hybrid world. This new phenomenon is based on the concern that employees who are out of sight may not be as productive as they were when we could watch them in the office. It’s bothering bosses. But really it raises issues core to the way we lead in the new world of work.

So, how can leaders navigate this dilemma? At the heart of productivity paranoia are three things:

1. A lack of trust between managers and their people

2. The challenge of moving to managing by results rather than time spent

3. The issue of how individuals and their leaders can communicate effectively in the hybrid world

To address these three issues, we need to reimagine how to maximise performance in the post-pandemic world. Doing it the way we did before Covid-19 just won’t work.  

Lessons from an eight-year journey to double Olympic gold

At Black Isle Group, we teamed up with an Olympic sports psychologist to try and solve the problem. Sarah Broadhead has worked with many elite athletes as well as business leaders. She coached the British teenage taekwondo star Jade Jones to win Olympic golds in London in 2012 and in Rio in 2016. 

Sarah is passionate about focusing on the process and not the big goal at the end of it. What could we learn from how Sarah and Jade took the dream of Olympic gold and broke it down into the everyday actions they needed to continuously improve?

In the lead up to the London Olympics in 2012, Sarah and Jade compiled a list each week. It covered what the teenage athlete would need to do around sleep, diet, stretching, strength, technique, and many other things to move towards her dream of gold. A dozen specific actions each week translated into more than 50 small steps each month and more than 500 every year. Sarah told us that by focusing on the everyday actions they removed the anxiety of the daunting goal of gold.

At the end of each week, athlete and coach would review their progress and agree the small steps for the following week. On this eight-year journey to double gold, they were constantly being distracted by things which could push them off course or break the new habits they were embedding. But the everyday actions brought them back on task.

Creating everyday action plans

So, how does it work if we take that methodology and apply it to addressing performance and productivity paranoia in the new world of work? We put our minds to trying just that. We created a new methodology based on everyday actions, backed up with a technology called ‘Nudge’ which allows visibility and accountability for bosses and their teams working in the hybrid world.

We started by working with teams to identify and create clear, simple big goals which they could all buy into. Next, we worked with the individuals to find the right everyday actions to help them deliver the desired results. 

Each individual was able to download the Nudge technology onto their smartphones and PCs. Through the tech, they were then nudged to carry out those everyday actions which will take them closer to their goal. The tech constantly worked to help individuals avoid distractions and stay focused on the key things they need to do.

We blended the Nudge tech with 10-week focused sprints. Then, we gave everyone in the team a coach to recreate Sarah’s weekly reviews with Jade. Hey presto, the world changed and performance soared.

Exceeding targets: case study

Take, for example, the managed IT and solutions provider, VCG. Following an acquisition, it was faced with the challenges of bringing together two teams and two cultures while coming out of the Covid pandemic. They wanted to accelerate sales, increase employee engagement and achieve several behavioural changes across the business.

We brought the VCG team together for a big kick off to establish clear goals and to motivate and inspire them for their 10-week sprint. We worked with them to help create the right ‘everyday actions’ to achieve their big goals. We coached their senior leaders and helped them peer coach their colleagues in the business.

We rolled out our Nudge technology so that the VCG team got daily reminders to keep them on track. Our Nudge tech brought visibility – especially in the hybrid world – and meant they could track progress in real time. They described our reporting suite and the data they got from it as “gold dust”. It dispelled any productivity paranoia they might have had.

The results took even us by surprise. They put a stretch target on attracting new business into their sales pipeline and over-achieved that by 360%. Employee engagement went through the roof. They created a performance coaching culture, just like Sarah Broadhead and Jade Jones.

The group head of sales at VCG, Jeff Wheeldon, said: “The numbers were superb. But the standout for me, is seeing the inter-team coaching and support. That is what makes a team succeed together. sales, marketing and pre-sales, all of which need to coexist for the success of VCG and the customer experience. There is no doubt this approach achieved much more togetherness.”

From paranoia to trust and inspiration

Another insight that people in business can learn from elite athletes is this – Olympians don’t leave the learning in the classroom. They take what they learn and turn it into results. In business, we waste millions of pounds acquiring knowledge but not putting in place the process to turn that knowledge into action.

That’s why we believe that we now need a very different approach to managing teams and maximising performance. This is essential in meeting the unprecedented challenges of the current economic climate and the new hybrid world of work.

Instead of nagging our people, we need to nudge them. Instead of distracting them we need to focus them on the small steps they need to take every day to shift towards the big corporate goal. Instead of being paranoid about them, we need to trust and inspire them.

To do all that, we need a new methodology which provides focus and gives accountability and visibility to what is being achieved out there in that hybrid world. As Olympians say, successful people consistently do what others only occasionally do. With the right commitment, energy and approach, we can all be winners.

Jeremy Campbell is an executive coach and CEO of Black Isle Group, a leadership and performance improvement business

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