Slacking Off Does Not Need the Home Office

With the latest lockdowns due to COVID19 around the world, managers ask themselves about their teams’ productivity in the home office. A question raised quite often lately by executives in coaching sessions with me. But what is the underlying assumption?

Executives seem to believe that they need to watch their employees working to ensure that they are productive. Well, that might have been true for the shop floor of a factory, where you really could see someone adding a bolt, welding some metal, or adding another ingredient. But that time has long gone.

Already back in 1959, Peter Drucker defined the term “knowledge worker”. To understand the productivity of a knowledge worker, one would need to monitor their brain activity. This probably would not work.

The productivity of knowledge workers is independent of the location they work at. Productivity depends on various factors, including purpose, social support, perceived responsibility, and felt trust. These factors are independent of where someone works. These factors depend mainly on leadership styles and company culture.

Purpose and social support are the main drivers of adult learning, as research shows. Purpose means that we need to see a meaning in what we do. We need to understand what it relates to and how it benefits the greater good and ourselves. This requires leaders not to tell knowledge workers what to do but to explain the greater objective and how a specific piece of work fits into it.

Social support is one of the most underrated factors in today’s business world. Social support means that there is a stable group of people around us, supporting us mainly emotionally. Sometimes this group can also provide important content or a hint for a solution. This kind of social support is far away from what we call teamwork today. It is much more of a non-hierarchical support one finds in agile units.

Especially knowledge workers with a high level of education and experience need to be given responsibility. This pays into their feeling of purpose but also perceived trust. For leaders, this means not to explain how to do something, but why it is vital for the unit or the company. Leaders should leave the how to the knowledge workers. They will find social support for figuring out the how.

The last factor mentioned is trust. The fascinating aspect of real trust in the workplace is that it is multi-directional and on an adult-to-adult level. One not only can give trust, but it also needs to be received or taken. That requires a relationship of people seeing eye-to-eye.

With these thoughts in mind, one might encourage co-workers to work from any inspiring place around the world. A place that gives them positive energy and opens their minds to more creativity. A place they feel happy and joyful in. And, some companies have abandoned offices completely to enable their staff to do just that: the result – agility, profitability, growth, and much more.