Workplace Norms, Expectations and Responsibilities

Productivity signalling while remote working

Research prior to Lockdown 1 around remote working, suggested that there was a productivity bias related to those not physically present in the office.

The results of many studies showed that those who were either actively or passively present within the geographical office were more likely to be promoted, have higher salaries and were given more learning and career opportunities than those who spent more time away from the office. 

Those not (always) in the office were perceived as less dependable, potentially slacking off and less productive than those in the office. 

To counterbalance this bias, those who worked either in a hub office, while away from the office or at home, spent a lot of time and energy ‘signalling’ their working hours and productivity to their managers and others in their teams. 

This signalling behaviour came in the form of:

  • Attending every video conference meeting they were invited to
  • Taking on last-minute projects to showcase their willingness to participate in work
  • Sending emails throughout the course of the day
  • Working longer hours than the traditional in-office worker

This ‘productivity signalling’ is now happening on a much wider scale and has inadvertently changed the working hour norms – extending them into what was previously commuting time. 

Traditionally, commuting time was spent catching up on emails,  reading, listening to music, thinking about the tasks needing to be worked on and planning ahead. All relatively lower-level cognitive tasks. 

Now that time is spent doing higher-level cognitive tasks, which use higher levels of energy and are more likely to lead to longer-term cognitive exhaustion. 

Additionally, commuting time traditionally served as a distinct intersection between one life-realm and another. 

It was a signal to the subconscious brain that ‘we’re now shifting from this part of life into this other part’. We got to mentally shift gears. 

When we were working from home, there was: 

  • Regular and constant cognitive shifting between our various life realms
  • Limited transition time to help us catch up, plan and decompress from a day in the office or a stressful morning getting everyone ready for the day ahead. 

Longer working hours result in our brains still whirling by the time we go to bed – reducing both the depth and duration of our sleep. 

This results in lower levels of productivity and being more prone to distraction from notifications, emails, messages and self-distraction activities. 

We substitute for the lower productivity levels by working longer hours to get the same level of work done, leading us into a downward spiral of cognitive, physical and emotional tiredness.