Why performance data will make or break the hybrid working model

Managers now require real-time data to boost productivity and prioritize employee wellbeing.

While questions linger as to what the ideal working structure should look like, there can be no doubt that the future of work is hybrid. The pandemic has radically altered perceptions of what can and cannot be achieved online, and this holds true for both employers and employees alike. Currently, the spotlight is currently trained on employees, and according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, over 70 per cent of workers want flexible remote working options. For organizations, the ability to provide this flexibility is fast becoming a matter of survival as the war for (remote) talent intensifies. Indeed, with research revealing that over 40 per cent of the global workforce is considering leaving their employer this year, companies are under increasing pressure to introduce hybrid working to remain attractive as an employer – while at the same time achieving high levels of productivity and performance as economies recover.

At least in the short term, one of the major challenges that organizations are facing is the combined effects of burnout, digital fatigue and poor mental health. Countless studies are pointing to dangerously high levels of burnout and stress, with employees reporting that they are feeling more and more disconnected from managers and colleagues.

The good news is that many leaders are recognizing that a successful hybrid workplace will require a renewed focus on building and maintaining a strong and supportive company culture – while placing new tools, methods and metrics in place that prioritize both productivity and wellbeing. According to West Monroe’s latest Quarterly Executive Poll, for instance, 60 per cent of executives cited their top challenge within hybrid work as ‘building or keeping a company culture,’ while 45 per cent said that their top priority is ‘understanding employee wants and needs.’ Understandably, attracting and retaining talent is a major concern for c-suite decision makers, who are realizing that employee wellbeing is inextricably linked with talent retention.

Redefining productivity

To make hybrid working a viable and long-term prospect for everyone, organizations are going to have to build a stronger and more dynamic link between employee productivity, performance and wellbeing. In building this link, leaders will also have to redefine what productivity means in a hybrid world – recognizing that productivity can no longer be measured solely in terms of volumes of work completed or hours logged. Employers will also need to provide employees with new tools, information and methods that empower them to succeed. Given the reduced in-person interactions and drastically reduced managerial visibility on a day-to-day level, these tools will need to take their cue from both real-time and historical employee data. Once this data flow has been established, the next step will be for companies to overlay the employee data with operational and change management expertise in order to provide the most value to employees, and to the organization itself.

With this in mind, it’s critical to ask: how is that data being obtained, and how will employees perceive the organization’s method and approach to measuring productivity and performance?

Today, many companies are drawing their data from traditional employee productivity monitoring (EPM) technology - and attempting to make operational decisions based on an inadequate view of what is really going on. Moreover, when deploying this technology, employers have to strike a very fine balance between employee surveillance and supportive employee performance management.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a perception that EPM software is simply intended to catch employees in the act of ‘slacking off’ and browsing social media sites – which can be compounded if an organization only measures productivity in terms of hours logged, of which come with a ‘nose to the grindstone’ mentality. In fact, this negative perception of EPM harms productivity and retention. A 2017 study by Baylor University found that monitoring software correlated with greater employee tension and less job satisfaction, indicating higher turnover intent.

Driving performance with benchmarked data

Fortunately, the emergence of ethical employee productivity monitoring (paired with advanced technology) places far less emphasis on surveillance – and instead seeks to empower employees with information that helps them to be more focused and intentional in their work. Put simply, ethical and effective employee productivity monitoring turns employee behaviors into a measurable source of information about employee wellbeing by drawing on accurate, real-time data. This type of data and method shows employees, managers, and the organization how an individual spends their screen time and how productive they’ve been, so that they can adapt what isn’t working to be more intentional… not so they can punish those who aren’t working. Organizations can even take this a step further, and benchmark employee performance and/or departmental KPIs against key metrics based on industry, sector, and regional trends across the globe. By drawing on benchmarked KPIs, leaders and managers can deepen their understanding of the organization’s performance as well as its true potential going forward.

Uncovering company-wide trends

As it stands, it is early days for this type of data-driven approach to employee and business performance. One of the major challenges for companies looking to embrace both ethical employee productivity monitoring and performance benchmarking is that very few EPM tools are able to handle the myriad technical requirements for capturing the activity of thousands of employee workstations simultaneously. However, that’s exactly what an organization now requires in order to unveil real insights and implement operational changes that promote both cultural and performance consistency in a hybrid world. Many leaders will also quickly recognize that capturing data at the aggregate and individual levels in real-time can enable an organization to uncover bigger, company-wide trends that can drive overall business efficiency. In a global business environment that is both highly competitive and relentlessly volatile, access to real-time performance data – or a lack of access to that data – will ultimately make or break organizations.