When working from home became a ‘thing,’ one of the greatest fears of managers was that employees would ‘goof-off’ and not get their work done. But as working from home became more than a fad, some organizations have developed systems to ensure that everyone remains on task, But the fear of a lack of productivity remains.
A manager of a mid-sized accounting firm says he feels that some employees have taken advantage of working from home. While work is getting done, he thinks that no one is working very hard, and he has considered purchasing software that will measure keystrokes at an employee’s computer. He is not alone. One company that sells such software in the UK said sales have increased by 400%. Another company that takes webcam pictures of employees while they work has seen sales increase by 500% before Covid. But these systems don’t work. Almost half of the workers surveyed who were monitored reported having more anxiety than only 7% of those with no monitoring.
All of this raises questions of trust.
Employees who don’t feel trusted by their superiors won’t do their best work.
So how do you balance the concerns of management and the way employees feel about their bosses?
I recommend that departments establish work performance standards. If an accountant is expected to prepare 20 spreadsheets per month for various clients, that metric can assess her performance. Of course, if the employee completes 20 reports, but they are full of errors, that also becomes a performance issue.
I also urge organizations not to be fixated on the time of day someone works or even how many hours it takes to complete a report or task. As long as the work is done correctly, someone who does their best work at 10 pm should be no less valuable than someone who works best at 10 am. Of course, this would not apply to someone who works with customers during regular business hours.
Trust is a two-way street. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Mark Mortenson and Heidi Gardner note, ” research shows that the more you trust someone and act accordingly, the more likely they are to trust you in return. Importantly, these do not operate independently, and this means that to increase trust within your network, you need to shift your focus to signaling your trustworthiness.”
In addition to establishing performance metrics, another approach might be to start with the thought that everyone should be trusted. If they prove that they cannot be trusted, you can address the matter as a performance issue.
The practice of working from home isn’t going away soon. So, it is wise for employers and workers to realize that this may be an opportunity to improve morale by showing that trust can be linked to performance.