We all tend to trust what we can see. If someone is always in the office early and leaves late, you’d probably assume he is a dedicated, hard-working employee. But he might actually be the least productive of his co-workers.
And that’s why numerous experts have advised that companies should avoid management by observation, and instead focus on the actual work itself. But many companies have clung to cultures of “face time,” in which staffers who log the longest hours are assumed to be the best employees. I, myself, have been guilty of that bias. Though as telecommuting becomes more widespread and the workplace becomes increasingly virtual, management by observation simply doesn’t work anymore. Supervisors can’t concern themselves with the “where” and “when” of work. Instead, they now have to concentrate on the “what” and “how.”
A number of researchers we talked to have observed that the virtual workplace is imposing a healthy rigor on companies. By focusing on what work is being done and how it’s being done, businesses are better able to assess the performance of their employees. The result is that favoritism and office politics are less likely to corrupt the selection of who receives raises, bonuses, and promotions. And laggards can be identified more quickly to receive the additional training and attention they require. But that’s the upside. The downside is the difficulty of evaluating the performance of employees who can’t be seen.
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