Remote workers feel the pressure to demonstrate their productivity

People who work from home say they are working and numerous objective studies show this to be true. But many managers are still worried they aren’t.

In a new Microsoft study, nearly 90% of employees said they are productive at work, and objective measures (increased hours worked, meetings held, and quantity and quality of work completed) show this. Meanwhile, 85% of bosses say hybrid work makes it difficult to be sure employees are productive.

That uncertainty, coupled with a looming recession and many companies returning to spend more time in the office, is driving workers to show they’re working, which is definitely not the same as they’re actually working. Rather, it is what some have called the “theater of productivity”.

The theater of productivity is when workers frequently update their status on Slack or activate the mouse to make sure the status light in Microsoft Teams is green. They say goodbye and greet each other and during the day they enter different channels to chat. They talk to the managers and tell everyone what they are working on. They even attend meetings they don’t need to attend (and there are many other meetings) and answer emails late into the night.

By themselves, these are small expenses of time and some of them are useful. En masse, they are a dizzying waste of time. According to a recent survey by software companies Qatalog and GitLab, in addition to normal working hours, employees said they spend an extra 67 minutes online each day (5.5 hours a week) simply making sure they work visibly online. Workers around the world feel exhausted by this behavior. In other words, fears of lost productivity could cause a loss of productivity.

Of course, this kind of productivity theater is as old as the office.

At the office, people arrived early and stayed late to indicate a good work ethic. Or colleagues would gather at the coffee station to tell how busy they were, regardless of how much work they were actually doing. George on Seinfeld would simply act annoyed to make his boss think of him that he was busy working when he was actually doing the crossword puzzles.

But with remote work and now the specter of bosses taking remote work away, the situation has become more exaggerated. Add to that belt-tightening company and quit smoking titles – a little-called term for when people refuse to work too hard but that managers interpret as working less than they should – and you have a lot more performance these days.

“Doing my job isn’t a problem,” said a Minnesota-based writer, who asked to remain anonymous so as not to jeopardize his work. “I just want receipts that I’m not quietly giving up.”

According to unpublished August data from experience management company Qualtrics, about a third of all workers said they feel more pressure now to be visible to leadership than they did a year ago, regardless of their performance in the job.

Who is driving all this theater of productivity? Employees and employers, but especially employers. Workers feel like they’re paying for the privilege of working from home and don’t want to be cut into an upcoming recession. Bosses are signaling that they prefer office work – demanding it, neglecting some remote workers and overloading others – and they hold a lot of the ropes.

“I’d say a lot has to do with – and this probably isn’t suitable for print, but – the shit rolls downhill,” Monica Parker, founder of human analytics firm Hatch Analytics. “The reality is that older people in organizations have had the freedom to work however they want, and many of them are older and just don’t feel comfortable with this new paradigm, so there is this downward pressure.”

The Qatalog and GitLab survey report found that C-suite executives were working on their own schedule without providing the same freedom to younger staff members, behavior that means a disconnect between employer and work and the personal life of employees.

“It gets to work in 15 minutes. I’m from Jersey and it takes me an hour and a half for a good day, “said a mother who works as a vice president at a Manhattan-based media company, referring to her boss. She asked to remain anonymous to avoid losing. He said his company still expects the same amount of productivity that employees were able to achieve when they were trapped at home at the start of the pandemic, but now requires them to come two days a week. next month, it’s three o’clock.

She wants to keep working from home most of the time to be able to take care of her son, so she says she is doing the equivalent of two people’s jobs. She is also reporting that she is working by replying to emails right away, even late at night. “There are no more borders,” she said.

The tension is less in companies where the majority or all employees are remote, but there is still a lot of performance going on. Kassian Wren, a programmer at web framework company Gatsby, said things are much better in their current job since it’s completely remote.

“I’ve always enjoyed introducing myself to show that my illness and disability aren’t taking my job away,” they said. “It’s just even more so remote.”

In a previous job, Wren spent up to 30 percent of her working time “doing” the work, while also doing the actual work.

“I call it performative because it usually takes more time away from the work I was actually doing to write all these reports to people about what I was doing,” Wren said.

It is well known that remote working does not affect productivity. What is more open to discussion is whether people are particularly collaborative or creative from home, or whether they are doing too much work to be. Creating an environment where workers spend more time showing they are working doesn’t help anything.

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