Most employers believe hybrid workers are less productive, Microsoft survey says

The result is 'productivity paranoia', with some workplaces using surveillance tools

Microsoft asked workers and managers about productivity levels when working from home because of the pandemic. PA
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The past two years have shown that there are plenty of advantages to remote working, but for managers, it has created a dilemma — just how hard are employees working?

This has created "productivity paranoia", according to a new study from Microsoft, which found that while 87 per cent of employees said they were productive at work, 85 per cent of leaders said the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to know whether their employees are being productive.

"As some organisations use technology to track activity rather than impact, employees lack context on how and why they’re being tracked, which can undermine trust and lead to 'productivity theatre'," Microsoft said in its report titled Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?

"This has led to productivity paranoia: where leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings, and other activity metrics have increased."

Microsoft surveyed 20,000 people in 11 countries and analysed trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals, along with LinkedIn labour trends.

The report said that leaders and managers are missing the visual cues of what it means to be productive because they are not able to see who is hard at work by walking down the hall or past a conference room.

This has had an effect on employees, who feel pressured to prove their level of productivity, and "digital overwhelm is soaring", Microsoft said.

"Productivity paranoia risks making hybrid work unsustainable. Leaders need to pivot from worrying about whether their people are working enough to helping them focus on the work that’s most important."

One of the most important things in the current trend of hybrid work is to bridge this paradox of worker and employer trust over productivity, according to Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella.

While workplace surveillance tools are available, this is not a path Microsoft recommends to solve the issue.


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“There’s a growing debate about employee surveillance, and we have a really strong stance — we just think that’s wrong,” said Jared Spataro, vice president at Microsoft.

“We don’t think that employers should be surveilling and taking note of the activity of keystrokes and mouse clicks and those types of things because, in so many ways, we feel like that’s measuring heat rather than outcome."

The work-from-home trend, driven by the coronavirus outbreak, did not significantly dent staff productivity, according to a Willis Towers Watson study in 2020 of how UAE businesses were coping with the shift.

More than 20 per cent of employers said new working arrangements actually boosted productivity, while 11 per said there had been no change and 39 per cent noted a slight negative effect.

The survey of 35 Middle East employers that have a combined workforce of 590,000 globally and 92,000 in the UAE, found only 11 per cent of businesses reported a moderate negative effect on their operations and no companies noted a large impact.

Hybrid work-from-home (WFH) models can potentially be a tool to help address employee issues around stress and excessive working hours, according to a study by Nicholas Bloom and Ruobing Han of Stanford University, and James Liang of Peking University in Beijing.

About 90 per cent of UAE employees want to work either in a hybrid or fully remote working model in the future, according to a May survey by technology company Cisco.

Updated: September 23, 2022, 9:10 AM