When I ask people why remote working isn’t allowed at their companies, the answer is shockingly swift and direct: “Management!”
I must admit, at first I was genuinely surprised to hear this response. I had assumed that people would say things like, “The kind of work we do isn’t quite suited for remote” or “We prefer working in the office together.”
But here’s what I’ve learned in the workshops I lead for companies large and small on best practices for remote work: there are plenty of managers out there who are stuck in the past, locked in by old paradigms that don’t apply today.
To be fair, making the shift from co-located to remote isn’t easy. Going remote introduces a whole new set of issues to struggle with: how will we communicate? How do we know what each other are doing?
It’s true — managers who want to offer flexible work options are taking a risk. More importantly, there is very little apparent risk for a manager who wants to keep things as they are.
(Of course, when you factor in the cost of potentially losing outstanding employees who crave more flexibility, the risk goes up.)
As a manager, I gave someone permission to work from home for one day a week. But I remember that sinking feeling of, “This is a risk. If this goes wrong, it’s going to be on my head. If I say no, there is no risk to me.”
— Judy Rees, Virtual Collaborationist, Freelancer
I’ve interviewed managers and team members on my podcast from almost 100 companies who are working remotely, and I’ve come across a lot of assumptions.
I’d like to dive into three misconceptions that I’ve heard most often…and maybe change the minds of a few managers in the process.
Misconception #1: Remote workers are lazy
Not at all. In fact, they often go above and beyond.
Many managers assume that people want to work outside of the office in order to take it easy and slack off. But in my interviews, the opposite rang true: remote workers have a hard time turning work off, especially when they’re passionate about what they do.
I can do almost all of my work anywhere. And I love my job so it’s very easy to always work.
— Marion Smits, Associate Professor of Neuroradiology
Most people I spoke to prefer to work from home because they feel they are more productive or they simply want to avoid the commute.
These people are looking for ways to get more work done, not how to lie around on the couch more.
One of the secrets to successful remote working is going from a time-oriented mindset to a results-oriented mindset. As managers, we need to focus more on what needs to get done rather than when it was done.
So if you’re afraid that your colleagues are working too little or too much, try getting the team together and coming up with some ground rules. It pays to set expectations and outline acceptable behavior such as core hours, response times, and communication preferences.
Misconception #2: Remote workers are less productive
When they’re not distracted by the noise and activity of a traditional office, they may be getting more done.
A lot of managers say that in order for a team to be productive, they have to work together in the same place.
From what I’ve seen, the opposite can be true. Why not give people the choice of where to work depending on the tasks that need to get done?
I don’t define an office. I look for the office I need to solve my task.
— Teo Haren, Creativity Expert
One of the benefits that working from anywhere gives us is the opportunity — the luxury, even — to design and choose the workspaces where we’re most productive. Some people prefer being in an office with others. Some people like to work from home. And some people thrive while traveling.
Personally, I love working from home. It’s the small things that I appreciate most. My standing desk. My favorite coffee. Being able to control the temperature. The neighbor cat who comes over to visit. Playing my own music on a high-quality surround-sound system. Going for a run to clear my head in the middle of the day. I could go on and on.
The point is, different people thrive in different environments — and some work best when they can experience multiple work environments in a single day. In my interviews, numerous people mentioned how beneficial it was to switch the places from where they work.
You have to get out of the office, see new things, and meet new people because otherwise you’re just interacting with the same people all the time. And eventually, we start whining with those people instead of being creative.
— Per Frykman, Reputation Advisor
When we allow people to work where they are most productive, everyone wins.
Misconception #3: Remote workers aren’t loyal
In some cases, they’re actually the most loyal.
When we discuss loyalty amongst remote workers, it’s important to discuss two different categories: telecommuters versus freelancers.
As someone who studies and leads workshop on remote work, I define a telecommuter as someone who works remotely (usually from home) on a fixed team for one company either part-time or full-time.
If a company is results-based, there should be no reason to question a telecommuter’s loyalty, assuming that you’re seeing results. The number of options that exist for keeping in touch with each other is overwhelming. And with great video conferencing software like Zoom (built into Redbooth, hint hint) or Sqwiggle, we can more easily than ever simulate what it’s like to be together in the office, online.
Freelancers are self-employed, usually with more than one client. And there is a certain truth to freelancers having to split their loyalty. When you work with more than one client, it’s the nature of the beast.
However, because freelancers can, for the most part, choose the projects they are working on, most people choose to work on things they like. Loyalty amongst freelancers comes in doing interesting, meaningful work and solving challenging problems.
Not coincidentally, the same thing happens to motivate telecommuters as well. And when you can work on meaningful challenges and choose your own location? That’s a powerful combination.
Every one of us has a story about working all night long on a project. The problem is not motivation. There’s plenty of motivational power in the world. People regularly move mountains. The issue is “was the all-nighter worth it?” Or did I work all night long only to see my work released and then fizzle. That’s important.
— Luke Hohmann, Founder and CEO at The Innovation Games Company
Changing our mindset
Technology is making the standard 9-to-5 job less necessary. And at the same time, the 9-to-5 job is becoming less attractive to younger generations. A manager who isn’t comfortable taking the risk of going remote might be able to maintain the status quo for a little while. But eventually, flexible work requests will come knocking. It’s better to start preparing now rather than waiting for the inevitable.
Whether you plan to allow for flexible work options at your company or not, it’s good to have the processes in place that allow being able to work outside the office just in case. If the weather is bad or if there’s a transportation strike, your workforce isn’t affected because your employees can keep going.
Technology has come a long way in the last five years. Don’t let your assumptions get in the way of exploring flexible work options for your company. I guarantee you will find some hidden value. My advice is to start now, do small experiments and iterate often. Go out and learn about best practices (my workshop is one place to start!).
And most of all, listen to your team members, employees, and contractors. The ones who want to work remotely may be among your most industrious, most productive, and most loyal.