Top 5 Myths About Remote Work
Over the past year and a half, thousands of workers have been moved onto flexible work systems – still, remote work gets a bad rap. As the global workforce goes through the inevitable shift towards remote work, businesses and managers alike feel apprehensive about the abilities and accountability of their remote workers. In this article, we’ll be debunking the top five myths about remote work.
1. Remote workers are not productive
For a long time, workplace productivity has been built upon the assumption that by keeping employees where employers can see them, productivity is ensured. Less engaged and unproductive employees are correspondingly assumed to be more likely to remain remote.
Recent research on remote work and employee productivity have disproved such presumptions. A study by Great Place to Work conducted between 2019 to 2020 on 800000 employees from Fortune 500 companies reported ‘stable or even increased productivity levels after employees started working from home’. By providing employees with the flexibility to work anywhere, businesses actually cut down on tiring commute times and workplace distractions. In fact, instead of ‘slacking off’ being a problem, 45% of professionals that went remote due to the Covid-19 crisis reported an increase in work hours. Additionally, according to PwC, 52% of surveyed company executives also reported an increase in employee productivity with remote work.
2. Remote workers are lonely and less exposed to social opportunities
We often associate remote workers with being cooped up at home and deprived of the interpersonal relationships formed at the office. While loneliness and isolation is a potential consequence of remote work that employers ought to look out for, collaborative technology and alternative work arrangements have allowed remote workers to connect and effectively communicate with their team.
For example, online tools like Slack have allowed for direct, professional communication between co-workers. Remote work also means a greater articulation of ideas online and frequent (or even daily) collaboration which mold strong professional relationships between employees. However, most importantly, remote work doesn’t have to be done alone! Given the flexibility to choose their workplace, employees are free to schedule work sessions and small-scale meetings with their colleagues in environments that best suit them. In fact, this can result in the added effect of encouraging employees to be more proactive in building healthy working relationships with their fellow co-workers.
3. Remote work means better work-life balance
In direct contrast to the image of remote workers as deprived and isolated, remote workers are sometimes stereotyped as ‘having it easier’. The image of remote workers getting up an hour later for work and having team meetings in pyjamas has led to the inaccurate assumption that remote workers have better work-life balance.
Remote work (brought upon by the pandemic) has actually led to digital overload and higher rates of employee burnout. The ‘comfort’ of working from home actually means that employees are now expected to maintain workplace performance levels while also attending to the needs at home. Employees have described not ‘knowing when to stop working anymore’, particularly due to hazed boundaries between work and home and uncertainty surrounding performance expectations. Hence this suggests that businesses still need to play an active role in adjusting and enforcing their respective workplace code of conduct (CoCs) on remote work systems.
4. Remote work erodes company culture
If there’s one thing top business executives fear the most about remote work, it’s the decline of company culture. But this is only another of our myths about remote work. The Chief Executive Group reported that 60% of its CEO survey respondents ranked ‘managing culture’ as a primary concern when it came to remote work. Netflix’s CEO notably described working-from-home as ‘a pure negative’. Understandably, with remote workers being off-site, businesses are worried about employees being misaligned with company values and disconnected from their employers.
Instead of viewing remote work as an undesirable product of circumstance, businesses can view it as an opportunity to revamp their approach to company culture and building genuine connections with their employees. Several top MNCs have successfully reconstructed their promotion of corporate culture around the new age of remote work. For instance, IBM created a ‘Work from Home’ pledge stipulating the need for employees to support each others’ work-life balance and familial needs while remaining socially connected. Alibaba North America, on the other hand, held a remote quilt-making event for their employees to jointly create ‘one quilt for each office to commemorate this special time’. These examples show that company culture is not restricted to traditional definitions, but can be adapted to fit current times.
5. Remote Work is expensive
While the IT costs involved in supporting a remote workforce might seem daunting to businesses beginning their switch to flexible work systems, remote work actually saves businesses more money overall, particularly in terms of real estate costs. According to HubStaff, ‘44% of companies expected remote work to increase profits’ particularly in terms of rent, office supplies and utilities costs. By making the initial investment to aid employees in their transition to remote work systems, businesses reap the long-term cost benefits of going remote.
Reverting to the pre-pandemic workplace isn’t a sustainable solution for businesses if employers want to continue to attract and retain talent. They need to adapt important facets of their current business model to fit the new demands of their remote workforce.
Keeping to traditional perspectives on workplace culture only limits the potential remote systems could offer businesses both in terms of cost and efficiency. In short, it’s time for employers to recognise that going remote definitively isn’t a zero sum game.