Overworked tired employee at workplace in office being unhappy

Despite a couple of years of planning and experimentation with various permutations of working in a physical office, working from home and multiple options in-between, there still seems to be an ongoing debate about remote work. Some companies have announced all-remote policies, while high-profile tech executives and companies ranging from Elon Musk to Goldman Sachs have mandated a 5-day “in office” workweek.

Executives and HR departments seem to be searching for some mythical “perfect” policy that will address concerns ranging from productivity to innovation. Even in companies that recognize that there’s likely not a single “magic bullet” answer to remote versus in-office work, there’s a seemingly endless quest to define the perfect hybrid working model.

Trust until proven otherwise

Oddly, many of the companies that seem to be spending the most time debating the nuances of various hybrid models also trust employees to make multimillion-dollar decisions within a relatively loose set of rules and guidelines. Presumably, your leaders are trusted to create and monitor the performance of the various teams that report to them and are capable of determining if productivity and performance targets are being met or missed.

A generally applicable set of guidelines, expectations around performance metrics and management, and perhaps an occasional performance audit should be sufficient to allow teams to determine how they get their work done. Attempting to imagine and mitigate every potential wrinkle to a hybrid work policy and developing a comprehensive set of rules and guidelines is not only wasted time but creates the expectation that employees are not trusted to get their work done. If you fundamentally don’t trust your employees to make the right decisions about completing their work, then there are deeper concerns than hybrid work policies that you need to address.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Follow the same approach to remote work abuses as you would if addressing an individual stealing from the company. You’d likely take punitive action against that single employee and then evaluate the situation to see if there was a policy oversight that created the problem. For example, if employees were allowed unfettered access to large amounts of cash and cash thefts were routinely occurring, you’d address cash access after firing the employee. If you discover a particular team without performance metrics that never checks in with leadership and never completes their assigned work, address the individuals and then create general guidelines versus attempting to address every potential pitfall and agonizing over policies for weeks.

In-office isn’t a cure-all

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the endless debates around remote and hybrid work is the assumption that putting people in the same physical space will address any and all productivity problems. Anyone who has worked in a physical office likely knows a handful of individuals who physically appear every day but produce the bare minimum required to maintain their jobs.

SEE: Home video setup: What you need to look and sound professional (TechRepublic Premium)

A failing employee working remotely is unlikely to become a top performer when brought into the office and vice versa. Debating hybrid work policies is often a scapegoat for more profound challenges. As a leader, if you find your teams endlessly discussing the nuances of hybrid work policies, there is likely a deeper performance problem at work than merely determining where workers physically sit.

As leaders at many organizations, it’s time to call “time out” on unending debates about where and when people work. Trusting your people, addressing individual or systemic problems when they are in the office, and ensuring that your remote work debates aren’t a smokescreen for deeper performance problems will make your teams productive and happy in the most effective environment for both the employee and employer.

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