The most pervasive myths about remote work
Early on in the pandemic, we started hearing that remote work is the “new normal.” And to an extent, that’s still true. But even after two years of the new normal, some persistent (and unfair) myths about remote work continue to pop up.
Myth #1: Remote work is less productive work
Even when public health and safety made remote work necessary for most companies within a matter of days, the main hesitation was that employees would be less productive. Managers wouldn’t be able to supervise their reports as efficiently, and there would be little to keep employees on task without the usual office routines and spaces. Managers feared that unseen workers wouldn’t be working at all, and there would be less control over the work done.
In reality, most people who worked remotely turned out to be working harder than they did in the office, in many cases. It’s easy to overlook that the in-person workday has a lot of downtime built-in: a commute, breaks, lunches, etc. People working from home tend to log in earlier and work later hours, with many workers saying they’re able to focus better and work more efficiently remotely.
A survey by CoSo Cloud found that 77% of respondents were more productive when working outside of the office, with 54% accomplishing more in the same amount of time or faster. Additionally, 52% were less likely to take time off when working remotely–even when sick. That’s hardly the picture of a slacking or distracted employee that many employers feared.
Accountability, clear standards, and frequent check-ins can help companies assuage fears of unproductivity, rather than scaling back flexible work arrangements. Evaluating employees on the quality of the work–rather than whether they sat at a desk from 9 to 5–can help form a more productive employer-employee relationship all around.
Myth #2: Most jobs cannot be done remotely
The jig was up pretty early on this one when we found out in a matter of weeks that many jobs (particularly office-based ones) could be done fairly easily via email, telemeetings, and a bit of extra IT magic. Some jobs will never be remote-friendly, like essential workers in service, healthcare, or retail industries. However, the “in-person” elements of many roles were already doable with different meeting or collaboration formats. We just didn’t realize how much that was true until we all got a crash course in Zoom life.
And now that people understand just how much they can accomplish remotely, it’s increasingly hard for companies to override that and insist that the work that’s been done for the past two years isn’t feasible in the future.
Myth #3: Remote work kills company culture
Like any other kind of culture, company culture is what you make it. Shifting from a traditional office to flexible work arrangements changes a culture, no doubt about it. But that’s a challenge, not a death knell. You’re still a team; maintaining that just means finding new ways to foster collaboration and a sense of community. Virtual happy hours, mentoring, holiday parties, even exercise classes–there are still chances for people to cut a bit loose and bond with colleagues, even if not in the same room. And guess what–those goofy-but-fun team-building exercises are just as easy to do on video as they are in person. (Plus, there’s always a chance of an entertaining kid or pet cameo!)
Myth #4: Coworkers can’t connect when working remotely
As anyone who’s ever found a significant other on a dating app can tell you: it is indeed possible to make meaningful connections digitally. Sure, remote employees can’t really grab a salad together at lunch or chat around the coffee machine. There are still ways to connect, such as encouraging video coffee chats or networking. Meet-and-greets for new employees can also be done virtually, to help newbies get to know their teams.
Companies have already invested in collaboration tools like Slack or Teams, and so have already developed the tools they need to make sure colleagues are connecting, even if they’re not having the same kinds of meetings or chance encounters that might happen in the office.
Myth #5: Remote work leads to less innovation
Because remote and flexible work started so abruptly in such an uncertain time, it had a bit of a “let’s just get through this” vibe. That led to a perception that remote work is a stopgap, and not really the format for creativity or innovation. In reality, putting people in different workspaces, and adjusting both their perspectives and how they work, has an opposite effect. Realistically, it’s the office environment, with its designed sameness, that tends to stifle any radical ideas. When people feel comfortable and like they have a bit of space, it frees up more energy for thinking differently–and coming up with new ways to get things done. The same old brainstorming sessions in the same old conference rooms don’t necessarily fuel the innovation we convinced ourselves they did.
These myths tend to reflect anxieties and uncertainties we feel about work-life in general, both employers and employees. Everyone just wants to do their best and make sure that the work gets done, but clinging to outdated (and in some cases, disproven) theories about flexible work arrangements isn’t helping anyone move forward.