Office stress team
It won't be easy mixing and matching hybrid working... But managers cannot keep using processes from the past to track worker productivity. They need new benchmarks fast. Image Credit: Shutterstock

In recent months, I’ve touched upon the idea that crisis doesn’t so much create change as speed it up. Well, if that is the case, then someone needs to inform the managers. Since the arrival of COVID-19, innovations in science and technology have skyrocketed as humanity searches for ways to ensure its physical, psychological and economic survival. Yet, when it comes to the tricky business of managing people and their productivity, we are stuck in the past.

In decades gone by, the job of a manager was to physically monitor the tangible output of employees who were present and accounted for in their places of work. That worked fine, then. But not anymore. Increasingly, companies are basing their business models on a virtual offering produced by virtual employees, and all the while leaders are trying to manage the way they always have: with physical monitoring and old-school techniques that rely on visibility that’s no longer there.

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Just as society is adapting to a new way of life, management practices need to as well. Instead of clinging to the past, managers need to start looking forward and reflect on the virtual world of work that was thrust upon us almost overnight.

‘How do I know my employees are working if I can’t see them?’ is a common complaint of today’s remote manager. The answer is you can see them, if you look in the right places.

It’s in the mind too

To gain the visibility they crave, managers need to overhaul not just their systems of operating, but ways of thinking too. That means addressing some key questions, starting with what work actually means and what it looks like in today’s world.

Back in the days when offices were filled with the sound of chattering voices and the rapid tap of fingers on keyboards, being physically present counted as “working”. As a manager, the sight of a room packed with busy-looking people might have filled you with satisfaction.

But did that scene translate to optimal productivity? Probably not.

Know what’s what

With remote working now a non-negotiable reality, it’s time to re-visit your definition of work, unpack what exactly you mean by productivity and think carefully about how to monitor both. Here, clarity is key: once you get your head around these essential components, you will feel more confident about managing people, and your employees will feel happier too, relieved that they understand the what, when and how of what is expected of them.

In fact, keeping your people onboard will be critical to success, and that means resisting the temptation to compensate for physical absence by piling even more work and reporting responsibilities on the team. Remember, employees are probably as anxious as you are, so ramping up the pressure won’t help.

The same goes for monitoring. It is vital now more than ever to focus on accomplishment, not activity. Tracking keyboard activity or observing a worker’s every move via webcam won’t deliver results - it will demoralize.

In any case, if you distrust a worker to that extent, then maybe you need to re-evaluate the way you hire.

Rephrase it

The big question is not ‘How do we catch the slackers?’, or ‘How do we replicate office-based work habits in the comfort of our own homes?’. It is, ‘How do we help our remote workforces become the best they can be?’

And here, the answer lies squarely with AI.

There is a plethora of AI-driven tech solutions out there that provide much-needed feedback, support and encouragement to remote workers and similarly important insight to employers on how people are performing, and where improvements can be made. Managers may not be able to see their employees with the naked eye, but thanks to artificial intelligence, we now have tools at our disposal that offer all the visibility we need.

AI is about helping people to work smarter, not harder – and as a manager, that goes for you too.

- Tommy Weir is the CEO of enaible: AI-powered leadership and author of ‘Leadership Dubai Style’. Contact him at