Stop Micromanaging Remote Workers

My Post (12).pngConnor worked as a full-time graphic designer for a large marketing agency based in Los Angeles, California. Throughout the day, his boss would send check-in messages every two or three hours to track his and his teammates’ productivity.

He would send an imposing and foreboding, “What are you working on now?” If he didn’t like Connor’s answer, responses ranged from criticizing slowness to downright personal insults on laziness. Within a year at the company, Connor was gone—the fourth employee on the team to leave that year.

We’ve all heard stories—or experienced ourselves—of colleagues and friends who worked for terrible bosses, and more often than not, micromanagement is to blame. There’s no greater way to demoralize a team than Big Brother incessantly checking on employees’ productivity at every opportunity, waiting to pounce on them for any signs of non-work related activities.

Recent events have led to a new form of micromanagement that goes beyond the office and is impacting remote employees around the world. Let’s understand this new era of work, and why eliminating micromanagement is essential to driving business success for every organization.

The rise of COVID-19 employee monitoring

When COVID-19 struck, remote work transformed from a generous employee perk to business necessity overnight. Employees everywhere suddenly had their traditional in-office work schedules turned upside down. A Gallup poll shows that 63% of Americans shifted from office environments to working from home, all in under two months.

You’d think that with the widespread adoption of remote work, employees would have significantly more freedom from their previously strict nine-to-five work schedules. After all, bosses aren’t several feet away breathing down their employees’ necks waiting for projects to finish. Employees could strategize their schedules and work when they feel most productive. It’s every employee’s dream work scenario, right?

Sadly, for many employees, this isn’t the case. Micromanagement has taken on a new form in the COVID-19 era of remote work. We see this in the unprecedented proliferation of employee surveillance software such as Time Doctor, ActivTrack, and Hubstaff as companies around the world purchased these tools in droves as they sent employees home.

These apps are installed on employee computers to actively track employee productivity at all times. Some simply collect and report usage habits that help managers adapt their work-from-home strategy. Some, however, allow managers to remotely view their employees’ screens, and evaluate parameters such as lines of code typed, emails sent. Some even go so far as to automatically clock employees out when they’ve been away for too long.

An anonymous worker in Minnesota told NPR:

“If you’re idle for a few minutes, if you go to the bathroom or whatever, a pop-up will come up and it’ll say, ‘You have 60 seconds to start working again or we’re going to pause your time.”

Newly remote bosses are to blame

So what’s behind the sudden interest in monitoring remote employees’ every move? The pre-COVID-19 remote work landscape gives us a clue. According to Gartner, only 30% of employees had ever worked remotely or flexibly before the pandemic. That means 70% of workers had never experienced a consistent remote-work arrangement.

Both employees and managers entered the COVID-19 uncharted territory without any prior experience, and naturally, this leads to a lack of trust. As Alison Green, founder of workplace advice website Ask A Manager, puts it:

“Because [bosses] don’t know how to effectively manage people who are remote, they don’t feel like they have enough control, and they’re getting very anxious about accountability, and whether people are taking advantage of them, and they’re micromanaging.” – Read More

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Why Your Organization Needs Scalability in Periods of Recovery

My Post (16).pngAirbnb was one of the first Silicon Valley tech companies to send employees home in the wake of COVID-19. The tourism and hospitality giant, renowned for its generous flexible work perks, already had the technology, practices, and culture in place to continue business operations remotely, and was as well-positioned as any to weather a massive work-from-home event.

As all forms of nonessential travel came to a halt, however, the company’s outlook wasn’t so great. Airline travel dropped 96% in April compared to the same time last year, and according to AirDNA, bookings of Airbnb listings plummeted around the world (Beijing saw a 96% decrease). To save on overhead, Airbnb was forced to cut 1,900 of its 7,500 employees—a 25% downsizing and one of the largest layoffs reported during the COVID-19 era.

The unprecedented nature of COVID-19 caught most organizations off guard, and despite how ready organizations were to embrace remote work, many of them were still adversely affected. Remote work helped companies like Facebook, Microsoft, and Google endure the lockdowns and keep business operations moving, but others such as Airbnb weren’t so lucky.

Business priorities are changing

The unfortunate reality is that in times of crisis, nothing is certain. Organizations just as prepared as others might undergo more damage simply due to the nature of their business. Recovery plans should include the ability to scale operations to accommodate changing business needs and structural cost cuts.

For example, reducing staff was an unpredicted yet necessary change for companies like Airbnb, and many organizations are likely to follow suit. A recent Gartner survey on 161 finance executives found that 34% of organizations plan to furlough staff and 25% plan to reduce their workforce, among other actions such as hiring freezes and reduced salaries. Similarly, a recent PwC study on 867 CFOs found that 49% anticipate changes to their workforce as part of their post-COVID cost-containment strategy.

Whether organizations shrink or expand their workforce in the coming months, the bottom line is that technology must scale accordingly. Less staff means fewer users on a system, providing an opportunity to scale down capacity and cost. Once an organization recovers, IT teams might need to scale up their technologies to support an increase in staff.

It’s time we recognize the role scalability plays in helping organizations survive and thrive in periods of recovery. Here’s why cloud technology is so important.

The issue with on-premises infrastructure during disasters

As soon as people were mandated to stay at home amidst the pandemic, Netflix subscriptions for the first quarter surpassed original projections by double. After all, when you’re trapped at home with nowhere to go and nothing to do, Tiger King makes for superb entertainment.

The massive influx of new subscribers, however, meant Netflix needed to scale up quickly to meet the spike in demand. The company’s hybrid cloud model—with Amazon Web Services (AWS)—allowed it to effortlessly scale up cloud capacity and continue operations without any interruptions for end-users. As Dave Temkin, VP of Network and Systems Infrastructure at Netflix, said during a webinar, “We’re seeing that, generally, nothing is absolutely melting down. It is scaling quite well, both our system and other people’s systems.”

Netflix’s reliance on cloud infrastructure might have saved the company from a possible uptime disaster, but many organizations with on-premises infrastructure won’t have the capability to scale workload capacity in the same way. Traditional on-premises systems often rely on older software architectures that can be complex and inflexible. As a result, businesses aren’t able to quickly adapt and respond to evolving needs.

In periods of recovery, however, flexibility is key. For example, organizations experiencing rapid business regrowth in the post-COVID-19 era can quickly outgrow servers. On the other hand, organizations experiencing slower regrowth might end up with extra capacity while paying for licenses and tech support. This amounts to extra, unnecessary technology expenditures at a time when money is especially scarce.

Why cloud scalability matters

Scalability allows organizations to optimize costs wherever possible—and in periods of recovery, money matters. If an organization with on-premises architecture is suddenly operating at half capacity, that’s extra money down the drain in maintenance, security, real estate, and personnel costs. Companies need to optimize their IT productivity to ensure a rapid and efficient disaster recovery. This is where public cloud’s scalable architecture comes in.

Public cloud solutions allow organizations to customize services for their changing business needs and require no major commitments to service providers. For example, the amount of cloud-based communications tools (such as unified communications) are expected to skyrocket as 74% of companies plan to permanently shift to more remote work in the post-COVID-19 era. Cloud communications providers can easily meet the surging demand for remote work tools and work closely with organizations to cater to their unique requirements. As those organizations continue to grow, the cloud grows with them. – Read more
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It’s Time to Rethink the 8-Hour Work Day

My Post (11).pngWhen it comes to productivity at work, one might think that the eight-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week schedule is pretty standard. After all, the majority of us in the workforce today endured the prototypical modern work schedule as somewhat of a rite of passage into our professional careers. Yes, we all underwent strict, grueling work schedules in our past (some even currently). Does that mean we should continue this practice? Absolutely not.

A look into the history eight-hour work days might shed some light. Eight-hour work days started during the Industrial Revolution as a labor rights movement to curb the exploitation of manual laborers who were often working 12-14 hour days. The concept took over 70 years to catch on at an institutional level, and in 1938, Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act which limited the workweek to 40 hours. If companies wanted more hours out of employees, they had to pay overtime.

At the time, the eight-hour work day made a lot of sense due to the sheer number of manual laborers. Agricultural workers comprised 38% of the workforce at the turn of the century, while production workers in industries such as mining, manufacturing, and construction comprised 31%. Regulations were necessary to prevent manual laborers—who made up the majority of the workforce—from being worked to the bone.

While the eight-hour day was designed to protect workers in blue-collar jobs, it doesn’t reflect the labor landscape today. As of 2019, 71% of employees in America now work in the service industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of manual labor professionals is also decreasing by 0.5% every year.

It’s clear that the labor market has transformed significantly in the past century, but sadly our schedules are still stuck in the past. For the most part, the average employee today sits at a desk plugging away at a laptop—not exactly a physically-intensive task. Yet, many organizations still cling onto eight-hour work days like it’s the gospel. Rethinking this practice will be the first step in supercharging productivity and preparing for the future of work. Here’s why.

Long work days are inefficient

In an ideal world—and probably in the minds of many bosses—employees would be productive the entire eight hours that they’re on the clock. After all, employees are being paid for their time. What exactly are they doing all day?

survey on 1,979 office workers in the UK found that in an eight-hour work day, employees are only productive for three hours. That’s less than 40% of the time. The rest is spent on a combination of reading news, browsing social media, eating, socializing, and perhaps most alarmingly, searching for new jobs.

This statistic prompts the question, why aren’t employees working for all eight hours? It’s not laziness, as one might expect. As knowledge workers, our attention spans aren’t designed to focus for such long periods of time. A study on employees in multiple industries by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that employees had significantly higher fatigue and lower alertness at the end of long shifts. It’s simply not feasible to expect multiple hours of concentration without eventually reaching a tipping point.

At the same time, many employees want to juggle work with life, and eight-hour work days simply don’t allow them to. Think about your child’s afterschool soccer game. If you could leave work at 3 PM, you can attend the game and bring your child home after. You can also carve out time for doctor’s appointments and other personal errands. Eight-hour schedules prevent these from happening and have no productivity to show in return. – Read more

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