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Microsoft highlights 'productivity paranoia' in remote work research

You know you're working, your colleagues know you're working, but the boss? Survey says: Paranoid

The vast majority of employees working remotely are satisfied with their output but employers still don't know just how fruitful their staff are when away from the office, leading to "productivity paranoia."

This trend was highlighted in research by Microsoft, a company that found itself and the Productivity Score feature in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center under the spotlight in 2020 when privacy campaigners decried the tool’s ability to track individual-level employee data via metrics such as meeting, emails, etc.

Microsoft also drew the ire of a UK union that was most upset at workplace monitoring systems being increasingly used during the pandemic.

According to the research, "Bridging the employer-employee disconnect", some 85 percent of biz leaders say they have a "hard time knowing for sure that their people are being productive." Yet whether working remotely or in a hybrid way, 87 of staffers say their corporate yield was just fine.

Not perturbed by the flack the company has come in for for helping company bosses surveil their workforce, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said concerns about work rate was causing company bosses to have "productivity paranoia."

"Leaders think their employees are not productive, whereas employees think they are being productive and in many cases even feel burnout," he told Bloomberg. "One of the most important things for us in this new world of work and hybrid work is to bridge this paradox."

Microsoft won't build that bridge via Productivity Score, the creepy sounding tech was wound back at the end of 2020 following the privacy backlash. "We've heard the feedback," corporate veep Jared Spataro said at the time.

In a blog post published this week, Spataro says understanding the workforce is more important than ever for organizations as they need to "drive business impact" in the "face of economic uncertainty."

He said it's clear the world of work has changed and there's no going back to how it was pre-pandemic: staff value the freedom to work where they want but at the same time business leaders "crave the familiarity" of the traditional office setup where groups can huddle to brainstorm or "chance encounters in the hallways led to an unexpected collaboration."

"In short, there's a disconnect between employers and employees. And in an unpredictable economy, that disconnect is only growing wider," says Spataro. "That fear [from bosses] has led some companies to institute digital monitoring, tracking trivial metrics to assuage their angst."

Indeed it has. And the solution? Rather than relying on a "productivity theater" – assessing individual metrics – leaders should give workers clarity on the work that matters and listen to their staff to truly hear their experiences at work.

And vendor research wouldn't be vendor research unless it has a goal to sell more stuff. With this in mind, Spataro says Microsoft is "dialing up new ways to help leaders drive clarity and alignment, eliminate time-wasting busywork, and determine what is getting in the way of your people making a real impact."

What is this mystical service? Viva Pulse, a new app that lets managers get regular and confidential feedback from staff on their team's "experience." This works with Viva Goals, launched earlier this year to bring "goals into the flow of work." New integrations include an enhanced Teams apps to inspect objectives and key results, a link to Azure Devops to update work items, connection to Power BI datasets to monitor KPIs and Microsoft Planner and Project for automatic product management updates.

There's more – including Viva Amplify; People in Viva; and Viva Connections home experience, which lets employees access Viva apps in one place.

So apps will solve this corporate hot potato, according to Microsoft. Let's just hope it has learned lessons from Productivity Score. ®

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