Reasons the “Butts-in-Seats” Culture Doesn’t Work in Our Remote Working Age

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While many people do thrive in an in-office setting, and there are instances where it is indeed beneficial to have in-person, face-to-face contact (tricky professional conversations, career coaching), forcing a “clocking in,” or “butt-in-seat” mentality can do more harm than good to your organization.

One clear reason for this is that many workforces have figured out how to successfully manage their tasks from the home office. The global pandemic put the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way” to the test, and showed us that people are not only willing to work remotely, but many are also more productive when working this way.

Read on to learn why you might consider avoiding this “butt-in-seat” (or for our UK readers, a bums-on-seats) mentality.

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“Butts in seats” doesn’t equal productivity, here’s why

When an organization operates with a butts-in-seats culture, it’s subconsciously telling employees that “it’s not what you achieve but how long you sit in front of your computer that matters.”

The truth is, this butt-in-seat mentality does not necessarily equal productivity. The reality is that if you want employees to be productive and creative, they need to be balanced and content. For many people, especially after having gotten a taste of it in 2020 and now 2021, this means working more flexibly, following a schedule that best suits them.

While many people – and organizations – believe that the typical 9-to-5 workdays are over, what with remote working allowing for more flexibility around work schedules, there are a few companies planning for physical office re-entry.

Take Google, for example; this spring, it told its staffers that it’s accelerating plans to get people back in the office ahead of its initial September 1 return deadline.

If the hopes are that we will all get back to the way things were, the fact of the matter is that employees and companies alike know that remote work does indeed work, and there is no going back to the way things were before the pandemic.

Here are the reasons why getting “bums on seats” won’t guarantee productivity in the office.

1. “Butts in seats” interferes with work/life balance

The pandemic irrevocably changed the way that we all live and work (and learn!), and all these things are frequently happening simultaneously. Employees with children, pets or aging loved ones (or, in too many cases during the last year and a half, a sick family member) are obligated to take care of these dependents – feed, entertain and even educate them, in the case of needing to homeschool kids.

Oftentimes, a dependents’ need arises during traditional work hours (a pet needs to be walked, a child needs to be fed or tutored).

And while schools, daycares and nursing homes might soon open up again, as vaccinations are rolled out and the world (hopefully) returns to a bit of pre-pandemic normalcy, it’s likely this won’t happen overnight. Furthermore, a lot of people – worldwide – have become accustomed to being able to do sports, take walks (a lot of us at Speexx are fans of the “fake commute”), and spend time eating breakfast and lunch – not just dinner anymore – with their families during the workday.

And when people feel that work and life is properly balanced, this leads to increased job satisfaction and from there, greater employee retention.

2. Trusting employees in the remote working age

Requiring that employees come into the office – especially when some of them might prefer to do remote work, for childcare, health, or other personal reasons – might lead to resentment. Your employees are adults; unless there’s a critical meeting that has to be face-to-face, or if one of them has done something to call your trust into question, then there’s no reason to monitor where they are, and when.

Most of today’s workers are set up for success from home, thanks to the pandemic and stay-at-home mandates – and chances are, you’re an organization who has, to some degree, embraced digital transformation. Therefore, you’re likely to be able to rest easy leaving it up to your employees to decide whether it’s best for them to come (or not) into the office on a given day. Trust their judgement until they give you a reason not to; in that case, it’s certainly acceptable to ask them to check in, in-person, once in a while.

Giving an employee autonomy to manage his or her own schedule is freeing and leads to better, more inspired output and work satisfaction. Nobody likes to feel as if they’re being micromanaged!

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3. Why butts in seats culture doesn’t work

Extending this notion a bit further – we know that unhappy, dissatisfied people don’t produce their best work. Happy people who feel both autonomy and support drive better results.

If, even subconsciously, you’re delivering the message that time matters more than outcome (i.e., scrutinizing the hours they’ve clocked, or commenting on the amount of times you’ve literally “seen” them at the office), you risk creating colleagues and employees that are frustrated, uninspired, and more likely to physically, but not mentally, show up at work just to meet an arbitrary, outdated notion of the 9-5 workday.

The whole idea of “clocking in” not only sounds unappealing to the modern workforce, but it doesn’t incentivize your workforce to produce the best results. Instead, they are more concerned about what hours their management might see.

4. Finding a balance in the remote working age

HR and L&D managers worry that this “always on” anxiety might be at an all-time high in a post-pandemic world. After more than a year of working, exercising, schooling, living entire lives at home, we’ve gotten quite used to work and play hours blending together.