Myth-Busting Remote Work – Separating Truth from Fiction
Updated: Jun 1
Author: Sandy Dunn, VP Communications AGM Digital. April 7, 2023.
There are endless articles arguing the pros and cons of remote work. This is not one of them. Nor is it a post preaching the virtues of working from home; I've done that, and quite honestly, I'm bored with it. If there are those amongst us who still believe working from home (WFH) can't be "collaborative," "productive," or "engaging," then so be it. Arguing in favor of remote work by quoting research and statistics, or even using plain old common sense can expose a dangerous mind chasm. I’ve heard all sorts of blather and flawed logic. Like the time my old boss told me she'd written the most creative copy of her career because she was so inspired by returning to the office after a year of WFH. She said the whole team should return so they too, could do their best work. Her reasoning confused me, but she'd moved on to the next topic faster than I could say anecdotal evidence fallacy, which was a blessed relief. I’ve never quite understood why some folks believe the office to be a magic productivity portal. I find my living room much more inspiring than a fluorescent-lit cubicle, which I’m pretty sure is a widely-shared (although seldom expressed) sentiment.
My boss back then was what I call an office traditionalist, which, incidentally, I found out much later because I took that job during the shadow of the pandemic when the entire company was remote. Office traditionalists and remote workers are often battling it out, and like political opponents, are highly unlikely to change their minds when confronted with dissent. What makes an office traditionalist? Who can say, there are myriad reasons why these folks think working in a physical office is best. And don’t even bother trying to change their minds because they'll stick to their guns like a cowboy at high noon.
You've probably guessed by now that I'm a big proponent of remote work. You might even call me a Remote Work Evangelist (although my evangelizing doesn't involve too much converting these days for the reasons mentioned above. I'm basically just going around spreading good news now). Having said that, I do understand that remote work isn't for everyone and there are various reasons people can struggle with it, which leads me to debunk myth number one.
Myth #1 – Remote workers think everyone should work from home
One of my colleagues lives alone in a 500 sq foot studio apartment with three cats, and while I wouldn't class her as an office traditionalist, she's settled at her office desk each morning at 8:30 am, coffee cup brimming and halfway through her to-do list. She has confided in me that having an office to go to and colleagues to be with wards off feelings of confinement and loneliness and preserves her sanity. I get it.
We work-from-home-warriors don't care where YOU work. If you're fortunate enough to be given the option, choose where ever makes you the most comfortable and productive. Choose a location that provides the structure, fulfillment, and work-life balance you need. We're just as happy on a Zoom call with you in your bedroom as we are with you in an office meeting room. It makes no difference to us and we understand that people might prefer not to work from their homes for all sorts of reasons.
Myth #2 – Remote workers are introverts
The notion that remote workers are all introverts is a common misconception, and as someone who defies this stereotype, I can confidently assert that yes, it's a myth.
This fallacy stems from the idea that introverts draw energy from within, not from the people around them, therefore preferring the solitude that remote work provides. By extension, extroverts will thrive in an office environment where they can engage and collaborate in person. But it's not quite that simple. As an extrovert, I am far more productive at home, away from the very thing that defines extroverts – people interactions. In the office, I love to chat with Kevin in the breakroom as my tea steeps, Liz, who I cross paths with on the way back to my desk, and Jeff as he walks to the restroom. I visit Sue for morning coffee and Alex on my way back from coffee with Sue. You get the picture. The reason my boss might want me back in the office - to be around my team - is the reason I shouldn't be there. It's not Netflix or the basket of laundry at home that distracts me; it's my inability to refrain from personal interactions at the office when I should be working. I heed the words of Louisa May Alcott, "The best way to avoid temptation is to create a barrier between yourself and the object of temptation."
Of course, WFH doesn't mean I don't need social interaction throughout the day (because it really does recharge my batteries) so thank you Zoom and friends who visit me for lunch! I do love seeing my colleagues in person. It's just better that we don't work in the same building.
Myth #3 – We’re all striving for executive slacker status
It's true that we've mastered the art of the mute button and the virtual background and can no longer imagine a commute that's any further than from bed to laptop. However, that doesn't mean we don't work hard, meet deadlines, achieve our goals, and so forth, just like anyone else. Productivity is not tied to a physical location. When working from home, we face unique challenges that our in-office counterparts may not experience. I've never been more self-motivated, disciplined, or proficient in virtual communication and collaboration tools than I am now as a remote worker. I'm adept at creating structure and routine in my home office environment, and have defined that often-blurry line between work and personal life. Admittedly that last one took me a while, but I'm happy to report I no longer refer to my kitchen table as the conference room. So yes, we may not have the effort of commuting to a physical location every morning, and can have the odd pajama day, but we're still committed to our work and careers. In fact, it takes a certain level of determination and motivation to succeed as a remote worker; maybe we should get some extra recognition!
Myth #4 – Remote employees don't really know what's going on at the company
You might have heard the joke - how many remote workers does it take to change a lightbulb? None, they all just work in the dark.
Amusing, yes, but not true!
The ways to stay connected may seem blatantly obvious, but just in case:
Communication. Never has there been a time when workplace communication tools have been so abundant and I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the plethora of options in my corporate arsenal. There's email, instant messaging, video conferencing, project management tools, social media, collaboration software … should I go on? These are the same tools that get used by employees IN the office. For better or worse, our sophisticated tools are making in-person meetings about as popular as communication by carrier pigeon.
Company Updates. Any company with a communications department worth its weight in unicorn tears will make sure employees stay informed. All we remote workers need to do is ensure we're on the distribution lists! Company emails, newsletters, announcements, and events all keep us updated and privy to the latest.
Intranet or Online Resources. Most companies have an internal online portal for employees to access information, resources, and company news. We just have to use it.
Social Media. Who doesn't have a social media presence today? I've gleaned some valuable information over the years from checking my company's social pages.
Networking. Social time with colleagues, company events, and team-building activities are all chances to become apprised by those in-the-know.
Gossip. Yes, I said gossip. I've never shied away from a little playful office gossip. Maybe it stems from my youth, sitting around the kitchen table with my mother, the Avon lady, and a pot of coffee, systematically discussing the hidden affairs of neighbors. But not all gossip is bad gossip. A healthy little dose can build relationships, identify problems, provide insight, and boost morale. After all, workplaces, whether physical or remote, are just microcosms of the outside world and can be seen as a reflection of our larger society. Those who partake in a bit of gossip in ordinary life, are likely to do so at work as well.
Remote work is not a passing trend spurred by the Covid pandemic, it's a growing and essential aspect of the modern workplace.
We remote workers come in all shapes and sizes and cannot be defined by a single personality type. Employers and colleagues need to avoid stereotyping us and instead strive to understand each individual's unique needs and preferences. Unfortunately, the four myths dismantled in today's post are just the opening salvo. It's time all myths and misconceptions around remote workers were laid to rest so we can create an innovative work culture that allows individuals to work in ways that best suit their abilities and needs, because that will benefit everyone. And if we’re going to fully accept remote work practices, that seems like a good place to start.