Remote and hybrid work is here to stay. And many managers struggle to learn how to manage the performance of a dispersed team. Some leaders have turned to productivity tracking software to monitor their teams’ productivity and performance. While this may allow managers to track “performance,” it can break trust between employees and management. According to 15Five’s “Managing Effectiveness Report,” 72% of employees reported that productivity tracking software either has no impact or actually diminishes their performance.

New research from MIT’s Sloan School of Management identified trust as one of five critical psychological powers for thriving in the modern workplace. To perform at their best, employees need to feel trusted. Unfortunately, many leaders operate under proximity bias and assume employees they can “see” are performing better. This may cause them to micromanage remote workers or rely on technology to monitor their work. However, this can establish a culture of distrust, and if employees don’t feel trusted, they won’t feel apt to trust back. This can lead to poor performance and outcomes from your remote workforce.

What’s Micromanaged Is Mismanaged

The observer effect is the fact that observing a situation or phenomenon can have a hand at altering the effects. This explains why observing remote employees via productivity tracking software can result in poor performance. For the report mentioned above, 15Five surveyed 1,000 employees and 1,000 managers based in the U.S. The data showed that while most managers think productivity software improves performance, nearly three-quarters (72%) of employees think tracking diminishes performance or has no impact. And 20% of employees said they would look for a new job if they knew their employer was tracking their productivity.

Digital micromanagement and surveillance software sends the message to employees that they are not trusted. The alternative is to establish touchpoints between managers and employees, and to train managers to be skilled communicators who can coach employees toward better performance. Let’s evaluate some ways organizations can increase remote employee productivity.

1. Create Regular Touchpoints

Managers must have a regular cadence in which they check in with employees. Instead of using technology to monitor how often employees log in, they should use software to measure progress on valuable metrics like employee sentiment and the completion percentage of weekly priorities and quarterly objectives. This concrete data along with qualitative questions about employees’ experience can paint a vivid picture for managers of which employees are struggling or performing well. It also provides trend lines around these performance metrics.

 2. Don’t Rely on Data Alone

Digital assessments and objective completion numbers may help gather necessary information about remote employee performance, but it still doesn’t work to build a relationship with them. Trust is built through one-on-one conversations where managers can dig deeper into what the data reveals. The data cannot be relied on alone. If an employee is scoring low for work satisfaction or their scores indicate a lack of motivation, the solution is for the manager to listen to their concerns and solicit feedback. That’s when the manager can ask the employee how they’d like to be supported and direct them to any resources the company may have.

3. Implement Manager Training and Coaching

Not all managers know how to actively listen to employees or respond to feedback well. They also don’t necessarily know how to build trusted relationships with their employees. Managers should be trained in key areas like how to give effective feedback and create a psychologically safe work environment. Organizations should provide manager training not only to advance their managers’ skills, but also to help improve the employee experience and outcomes that drive the business forward. Manager training and coaching work especially when delivered to cohorts with the ability to practice and apply it in the flow of their work.

Looking Ahead

Company leaders must ask themselves what they want: to feel better at night because their surveillance software is providing data on how often remote employees interact with their terminals or a common-sense strategy resulting in skilled managers that know how to build trust and rapport with their employees?

People who genuinely care about one another not only show up to work, but also act with integrity and commitment. They share in each other’s triumphs and support each other through challenges. That is what it takes to build a productive workforce, but it’s not a quick fix. It takes time, energy and know-how that should have started long ago. Your second chance is to implement it today.