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Fact vs. fiction: Debunking remote work myths

pluto-remote-working

Working from the beach? Ha, just a bigger screen for Netflix!

Illustration by Sara Maese

It’s time to put stereotypes to rest. As thousands of businesses go remote to help combat the spread of COVID-19, some are still worrying about making the switch. When it comes to the cons of remote work, we’ve heard it all—employees never get any work done from home, meetings are ineffective, it kills your work culture, and so on—it’s difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. 

At Flock, we made the switch early and we’ve been working remotely for a few weeks already. Here’s what we learned: yes, remote work has its challenges, but most of them solve themselves when you focus on keeping your employees engaged. Plus, remote work bias is bad for business.

Often cited as reasons not to go remote, here are 5 remote work myths debunked:

  • Myth #1 Remote work turns your employees lazy
  • Myth #2 Remote work causes communication breakdowns
  • Myth #3 Remote work means your company data is unsafe
  • Myth #4 Remote work kills your company culture
  • Myth #5 Remote work is more expensive
remote work guide

Myth #1: Remote work turns your employees lazy

It’s easy to think of remote workers spending most of their day on Netflix or lazing about at home, but it’s simply not true. Consider two key stats from GitLab’s latest Remote Work Report that surveys over 3,000 remote workers around the world:

  • 52% of remote workers find themselves more productive
  • 48% of remote workers find themselves more efficient

It’s not just tech startups that are working remotely and seeing productivity gains. A 2-year study by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom of 500 employees at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency, found that remote work improved employee productivity by 13%. 

Of course, it’s not that simple. When your business goes remote, go in expecting a dip in output in the following week or two. There will be a lot of questions to answer—from employees as well as customers, and tech challenges to overcome—lack of home office setups and VPNs connectivity. All of this can significantly affect overall business output—but it’s a temporary phase. Focus on keeping employees engaged and work proactively to adopt remote work tools and best practices. As folks become comfortable with working from home and get a handle on managing a new world of distractions, productivity levels will rise back up again.

Fact: The flexibility of remote work is a catalyst for employee happiness and creativity. Happier employees are more engaged and productive.

Myth #2 Remote work causes communication breakdowns

Communication breakdowns happen in remote teams mostly for the same reason as they do in offices—employees aren’t engaged. As Gallups reports, only a third of American workers are engaged at work, remote or not. Plus, miscommunication occurs more often in newly remote teams because folks aren’t sure of what is expected of them. That’s why implementing a remote work policy is crucial—it clearly outlines expectations and tools/channels for communication (hint hint!).

A good remote work policy is just the start, leaders also need to build a culture of open communication and decisive action to help employees stay engaged. Successful remote companies go to great lengths to help employees socialize—from setting aside blocks of time for informal 1:1 video calls to creating spaces for shared interests (Flock channels for pet lovers, parents, and sports fanatics are always a hit!), and even organizing yearly team retreats (but put this off for a bit!).

Fact: Implementing a remote work policy helps employees understand business expectations. It boosts transparency and accountability within the business, so communication breakdowns can be resolved faster. 

Myth #3 Remote work means your company data is unsafe

Many businesses worry about confidential information being accessed by remote employees on unsecured public internet connections. And it’s a legitimate concern if your IT team doesn’t invest in commonplace technologies such as a virtual private network (VPN) or two-factor authentication. 

The first step is to educate your team as you implement security best practices like connecting over a secured network—VPNs might be a little trouble, but they’re worth it—or setting stronger passwords and enabling two-step verification (often using their smartphones). Investing in cloud-based collaboration tools that take data security seriously pays off, too. 

The best way to keep company data safe remains the same, remote or not—awareness and practice. Data security is more of a people problem than a location one. When employees know how to safeguard themselves from cyber attacks and are encouraged to practice them every day, it exponentially reduces the chances of a data breach. 

Fact: Data security is more of a people problem than a location one. Educating employees, giving them the tools to keep company data secure, and following infosec best practices is key to keeping lips sealed—remote or not.

Myth #4 Remote work kills your company culture

Building a positive company culture is harder when employees aren’t all in the same place, but physical proximity or water cooler gossip is not as much of a factor. What makes your company culture great is how employees are treated and how engaged they are at work. 

Toggl rightly says, “Culture is everything in a remote team.” It involves enabling open and effective communication, fostering transparency, engaging employees, as well as team building—all things you’d have to do in any business anyway. 

How do we do it? At Flock, we use OKRs and weekly check-ins to help each other stay focused and engaged. As for office chatter, Flock channels for shared interests are great for gossip. The latest—our HR rockstars creating an inspiring #LetsMake21Memories challenge as we all work from home and stay indoors!

Fact: Building a strong culture involves enabling open and effective communication, fostering transparency, engaging employees, as well as team building—all things you can and should do in any business, remote or not. 

Myth #5 Remote work is more expensive

Remote work saves businesses money. During its remote work study, Ctrip saved almost $2,000 per employee on rent alone. Similarly, American insurance giant Aetna saved $78 million—shedding 2.7 million square feet of office space—thanks to remote work programs. Just think of all the infrastructure costs of an office or a dozen—money that’s better spent on training employees and investing in secure collaboration tech.

Fact: Remote work removes office expenses from your budget. That’s a big chunk, isn’t it? That’s why many startups work remotely to start with. ;) 

If you’re still unsure whether remote work can work for your business, here’s another way of looking at it: you may not have a choice, especially if you want to keep your employees safe during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to reassure employees that you care about and trust them—that you have their best interests at heart. Necessity is the mother of invention—when your employees are safe and happy, they are more engaged and that can be all you need to overcome any challenges of remote work. 

Leadership, Remote Teams, Business Owners

remote work guide