If there’s one good thing about 2020 and the worldwide pandemic, it’s that it has opened up some possibilities that might have seemed impossible before. In some cases that has led to greatness. In other cases, it has led to challenges.
As a result of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders, more employers than ever before transitioned to staff working remotely from home (including businesses that had previously refused to even consider permitting any remote work!).
Companies are finding out that there are undeniable benefits with remote work (not the least of which is keeping business going during a pandemic). So much so that we’re now hearing that federal government workers and employees of a variety of private businesses are going to continue to have remote workers in some capacity.
So what does that look like? And what might it mean for you? Let’s look at some common myths to see what’s true and what’s false:
Myth: Remote workers will be tempted to be lazy, avoid work and not get as much done.
Reality: Overwhelmingly, employers are finding productivity is not an issue. What’s important is how roles and responsibilities are communicated and having the right technology in place to keep workflow going.
CBC News reported that two-thirds of employees with Ontario’s Enbridge Gas transitioned to working from home and the vice president of customer care said they don’t even see a need for closely monitoring employees because, “Productivity is good.” In early May, social media giant Twitter was the first US tech company to announce that employees who were working remotely because of COVID could do so indefinitely if they chose. When I talk to my clients or the coaches on my team talk to their clients, we’re hearing that most leaders are happy with productivity. Many are sold on the value of remote work and even moving from leasing office space for everyone to instead leasing meeting rooms so remote workers can get together when necessary. But, what we’re also hearing is that many employees are overworking.
Productivity is high because people aren’t shutting off. They work in the evenings and on the weekend, “because it’s there.” That may seem like a big win for the company and a challenge for the employee (which should mean it’s a challenge for their boss, too). In fact, it’s a threat to both the employee and the company. Burning the candle at both ends while working from home is a short-term gain. When employees keep it up, they’ll burn out and while that will be devastating for them, it also means the company loses knowledgeable, capable, experienced staff.
Myth: I can’t delegate to remote workers.
Reality: In our post with leadership tips for managing virtual teams, we overviewed the many benefits of telecommuting (based on research prior to this worldwide pandemic) and highlighted strategies to effectively manage remote teams. Among these, you’ll see our ideas for using project management software, collaboration tools and shared calendars. What you need to communicate doesn’t have to change, just how you let people know what you need from them.
Ask yourself if your hesitation to delegate is because the employee is remote, or because you are uncertain of their ability or because you tend to think it will be easier/faster/better if you do it yourself. If it’s the latter, it’s time to have a talk with yourself (and hey, during a pandemic, working from home, talking to yourself is positively acceptable). If you’re struggling with delegation, take a look at this post from 2018.
Myth: Productivity = time at my computer.
Reality: For most team members, it’s the quality of the work and not the quantity that matters. And yet, how often before the pandemic did people measure a person’s commitment by the time they showed up and the time they went home? It wasn’t a very good measure then, and it’s even worse with Work from Home. In fact, as we said above, studies have shown that people who work remotely tend to devote MORE time to their work, not less.
When people have clear goals and deadlines for the tasks to meet those goals, productivity switches from X amount of time in front of a screen to successfully completing assigned work. As leaders, we need to shift our thinking from work hours to deliverables.
Myth: We can’t really engage when most or all of us are working remotely.
Reality: While I do think we lose the synchronicity and camaraderie of having folks in the same workspace (not just meetings but, more so, chatting face to face and bumping into each other in the hallway or break room), companies across various industries have been working hard to connect teams remotely. We’ve even seen doctors using tele-appointments effectively, and school for the youngest children to university students being taught online. One team we work with logs on together on Zoom, even though they are each working independently (as they would in a cubicle at the office) but they can pop in and ask questions, chat with colleagues on the team whenever they need to (as they would in a cubicle at the office).
As leaders, we can be creative about connecting with remote teams and celebrating their wins.
Myth: Communication suffers with remote work.
Reality: It can, but it doesn’t have to. When leaders communicate well and foster a culture that encourages people to communicate, they can continue to do so whether some or all of the team is working remotely.
It’s important to question yourself on how you’re showing up to others and how you’re communicating. Are you adapting your style to the person you’re trying to communicate with, or using one size fits all? Are you consciously seeking to communicate with staff more often given you won’t be running into them in the hall?
You may not have noticed that some staff never interrupt you but chat you up in the corridor. In some cases, they were watching for you to walk by so they could ask you a question without interrupting your day and they can’t do that now. Are you making opportunities for them to ask you those questions?
Myth: People who like working remotely don’t like working with others.
Reality: Many different personalities enjoy the flexibility to be able to work from home. There are many very extroverted people who have worked remotely for years (like the writer on our Padraig team!). The pandemic has shown us clearly introverts and extroverts have challenges managing through social isolation.
Myth: Remote workers will have way better work-life balance.
Reality: While many folks used to think working from home means you’ll have extra time for all kinds of things, the reality is that most people are working really hard to complete their work. Particularly given their spouse or partner, children, possibly elderly parents are also now home all day, too. Managing the expectations of other family members is a challenge.
With the onset of the pandemic it has also become more apparent that multi-tasking doesn’t work as well as we’d all like to think it does. I’m hearing from clients that they’re realizing they can’t focus on a Zoom call while simultaneously checking emails, let alone juggling household tasks or childcare. Working parents have had to figure out creative ways to share childcare duties during the pandemic or shifting their schedules to work when the children are napping or sleeping.
Working well remotely requires dedicated space, and establishing the same boundaries with loved ones as you would with coworkers in the office who interrupt: “I’m sorry, I’m in the middle of this work. I’ll have to get back to you later.” Instead of trying to find balance, it can be helpful to try to find work-life synergy — whether you work remotely or in the office.
Which myths did you believe were true of remote work before the pandemic? How have your views changed? What can you do this week to improve remote work for yourself and your team? What changes will you implement if this interruption in your normal becomes your new normal?