Upon thinking of remote work, I’m instantly reminded of a hilarious conversation I heard in a past life.
CEO: “Bill, how come you’re never in the office?”
Bill: “You know I’m always out with our customers, right? Where do you think I am?”
CEO: “I don’t know. Somewhere in Vegas? Sitting in a hot tub?”
The idea of remote work conjures up images of white sandy beaches, lounge chairs, and someone sitting under a palm tree with a laptop and a cold drink to the side. Maybe a hammock in the forest or a car cruising down Highway 15 to the next destination. Indeed, when we think about “digital nomads” or “work from anywhere,” we tend to imagine dream scenarios where productivity is ubiquitous and work is a professional vacation.
While we often hear stories of people who gave up their nine-to-five office schedules to work and travel the world, these work-from-anywhere fables don’t represent how remote employees actually work. Instead, chances are remote employees work in cafes, co-working spaces, and at home—free from distractions that hinder productivity.
Remote work in the post-COVID-19 era
Many organizations and leaders resisted remote work until COVID-19 struck, whether in disbelief over its impact on employee productivity or simply due to a reluctance to undergo the structural and cultural changes it required (see: 5 Reasons Your Organization Should Have a Remote Workforce). In fact, companies like Yahoo and IBM even reversed their work-from-home policies in the last decade, often depicted as strange but desperate moves to turn floundering business performance around.
The pandemic, however, is transforming our work culture at breakneck speeds, and organizations might consider implementing remote work for their short and long-term business recovery strategies. Workers won’t rush to return to the office while the virus is still around, and organizations are contemplating flexible work to prioritize employee safety—some until the end of 2020. At the same time, the massive work-from-home shift brought on by COVID-19 has helped organizations realize that remote workers can be just as productive as office workers.
Many employers might have several reasons to be skeptical of flexible and remote work, but as restrictions loosen and organizations consider extending remote work, it’s time we dispel some of the most common misconceptions about remote work and highlight the realities. Here are several myths we should leave behind:
1. Remote workers are unproductive
Perhaps the most common myth about remote work is that employees are lazy and unproductive when they work from home. Because remote employees don’t sit a few feet away from their bosses, it’s difficult to gauge how much work they actually do. Therefore, many assume that remote employees mostly laze around and work slowly.
The myth couldn’t be further from the truth. A Gallup study shows that remote employees are just as effective as their office counterparts, if not more. A study by Airtasker also found that remote employees work an average of 21.9 days a month, compared to 20.5 days for office workers. In fact, a study conducted by Stanford on China’s largest online travel agency Ctrip (over 44,000 employees) found that adopting remote work led to a 13% increase in employee performance. By cutting out commutes and achieving better work-life balance, employees can drive productivity and perform better in the long run.
2. Business outcomes will suffer
Remote work often concludes that business outcomes will suffer as a result of lazy remote workers. Remote work, however, can benefit organizations in incredible ways. Organizations that offer remote work—or even flexible work—have significantly more engaged employees, and are 21% more profitable than organizations that don’t. Conversely, a Gallup study estimates that disengaged employees cost organizations 34% of every employee’s salary in lost productivity.
3. Remote work leads to poor workplace communication
Employee silos can destroy teamwork and productivity, but because remote employees don’t work in an office together, skeptics might assume their remote colleagues default to working alone. When entire teams fall into this habit, collaboration suffers and innovation flounders.
To some extent, lack of communication can happen when remote teams aren’t forced to communicate. The affliction, however, is a result of poor communication practices—not lousy employee habits. When Yahoo recalled most of its remote employees in 2013, pundits claimed that remote-work inefficiencies in the company didn’t stem from innate issues with employees, but poor communication from leaders and the larger organization.
For remote teams to collaborate as effectively as they would in the office, employees need better means to communicate. Communications technologies like unified communications allow employees to work together regardless of their locations and devices. With unified communications, employees have access to team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone tools to text for quick, and nonurgent messages and calls for deeper conversations. Unified communications break down the barriers to efficient communication at work by allowing remote teams to choose when and how they want to engage.
4. Managing remote workers is impossible
Skeptics argue that, without proximity, managing remote teams simply won’t work. The notion is rooted in outdated management styles where bosses preferred the convenience of working a few feet away from employees and chatting at the turn of a chair. Those bosses might not have the skills or know-how to manage remote teams, and thus assume remote workers are impossible to manage.
Managing remote workers differs dramatically from managing office workers. For example, without proximity, bosses have to evaluate employees based on performance rather than attendance. That means trusting employees to get the job done without micromanagement or close supervision. Many tools also exist to help track the progress of tasks. Software such as Asana and Airtable give every member of the team visibility into their colleague’s tasks so they can keep their goals aligned.
5. Remote work destroys company culture
Company culture is often defined by the friendly interactions and strong relationships between employees, which traditionally occur by spending time together in the office. After all, seeing colleagues face-to-face builds rapport unmatchable by the scant interactions remote employees might have.
If the massive work-from-home shift brought on by COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that organizations with remote teams can be closer than ever. The right combination of technologies and team bonding events allows employees to develop the closeness they need to feel included (see: 7 Easy Ways to Help Remote Employees Feel Included in Your Organization).
For example, remote teams can hold weekly happy hour video calls to share weekend plans or the new puppy they just adopted. Employees can also use the company’s team messaging app to create fun teams for recipes, sports, video games, and memes. On a larger scale, organization leaders can host monthly all-hands meetings to discuss hot-button topics and keep the entire workforce informed.
The truth about remote work
As organizations plan their post-lockdown recovery strategies, it’s time we approached the idea of remote work with healthy optimism. Remote employees are not only as productive as office employees, but also exhibit higher happiness, engagement, and productivity while reporting lower stress levels. These advantages become especially important as an increasing number of forward-thinking organizations extend work-from-home beyond COVID-19, with companies such as Facebook even announcing permanent work from anywhere. Experts seem to unanimously agree that COVID-19 accelerated the remote work movement, and it’s only going to continue.
With the right approach, organizations can leave these remote work myths in the past and build a more productive, culture-rich, and successful enterprise. Cloud communications solutions such as the RingCentral app combine team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone so remote employees have everything they need to communicate and collaborate in a single platform. Everyone in the organization can effortlessly work together and drive positive business outcomes regardless of location and ensure success in the workplace of tomorrow.
Originally published Jun 02, 2020, updated Oct 19, 2020