According to the Global State of Remote Work report (2019), 68 percent of the employees across the globe work remotely. And this number is expected to increase tenfold in the foreseeable future. And yet, misconceptions about employees working from home continue to persist and make employers vary of working with a mostly-remote team. Questions around productivity, data security, and even work attire (do remote workers even get dressed?) seem to plague managers constantly.
In this post, we address the most common misconceptions that surround remote employees. Further, we discuss how companies can benefit from work-from-home as we navigate the current crisis climate.
Misconceptions About Remote Employees
Remote employees are less productive
When you’re not sharing the same working space with your employees, it’s common for employers to assume that less work is getting done because you usually don’t have a clue about what everyone is really up to. However, the idea that remote employees are unproductive has been disproven time and time again. In fact, most remote employees admit to working longer hours, as it’s hard to know when to walk away from “office” when it’s also your home.
An HBR study found that companies saw a 13.5 percent increase in productivity after authorizing remote work. This is mostly because a person not confined to an office space is less susceptible to the breakroom effect. In-office employees always have a myriad number of distractions contending for their attention. For instance, being pulled away from their desks for a water cooler chat, after which they’ve to refocus and get back to work.
“Now that my office is in my house, I’ve found that I work longer hours but more flexible hours which has improved my quality of life,” says Tony Baum, Senior Customer Success Manager at HubSpot. He adds, “In addition, my performance has increased since I’ve started to work remotely now that there are fewer distractions in the office and I can focus on my work day-to-day.”
In his TED Talk, Nicholas Bloom talks about a study he conducted in collaboration with James Liang, co-founder of Ctrip. It’s a Chinese platform geared towards travellers seeking accommodation reservations, packaged tours, and transportation ticketing. Employees were divided into two controlled groups, where one group worked out of the company HQ in Shanghai. The other group worked remotely. The results were extraordinary, as Bloom observed that remote employees observed a productivity boost that was “equivalent to a full day’s work”. Not only this, in addition to employees taking shorter breaks, and less time off, he also noticed a 50 percent drop in resignations.
Overall, there’s enough evidence that working remotely often lifts productivity instead of hampering with it.
Being a manager with a mostly-remote team is hard
Another widespread misconception with remote working that managers should be able to physically interact with their team to supervise effectively. What employers tend to miss is that in-person supervision isn’t a full-proof solution to getting more work done, either. An employee streaming Netflix or playing an online game can easily switch screens when you approach them.
If anything, your job as a manager is much, much easier when your employees are working remotely. As long as you have a system and/or processes in place to track the progress of your pipeline, management is not an issue. By setting up appropriate OKRs (objectives and key results), you can easily measure the collective output of your team. Task management platforms like Asana + Slack, along with periodic video meetings can ensure seamless communication and maintain accountability.
A weekly action review (WAR), for example, can last 30-50 minutes where you can go over the priorities and bottlenecks in your team’s pipeline. You can also organize one-on-one meetings during this time to boost employee morale by allowing your team members to ask questions, clarify doubts, and review individual responsibilities. Some companies also encourage end-of-the-day check-ins where remote employees can offer a quick update on their daily progress on assigned tasks.
A TINYPULSE survey about remote employee productivity and satisfaction found that 52 percent of people interact with their managers on a daily basis, whereas 34 percent reported a weekly interaction.
Overall, leading a remote team is not as hard as it seems. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what tools, platforms, and processes support your management style.
Remote work puts your data security at risk
Employers are often worried that sharing sensitive information across multiple devices on unsecured servers can lead to large-scale confidentiality breaches. However, with the latest IT advancements, data security concerns are reduced to a minimum.
IT teams everywhere leverage a wealth of safe cloud-based solutions that are backed by vetted software programs. You can also easily exercise version control without having to access the physical machines being used by remote employees. Setting up two-factor authentications, and using VPNs ensures that your data is locked down and inaccessible to unauthorized personnel.
Moreover, data security issues that come with remote work are often people’s problems and not location problems. Conducting a thorough walk-through for your team about good security practices should solve that problem for you. Jerry Bennett, CEO of Privateer IT, shares that he’s “constantly training employees, including a monthly all-hands conference call dedicated specifically to maintaining data security”.
GitLab, for example, has a publically available employee handbook that documents their onboarding process. In that, they encourage employees to familiarize themselves with the best data security practices at their own pace. “As an all-remote company, we try to really be accommodating of users and team members,” says Mark Loveless, a senior security researcher at the company. “We try not to make it a dictatorship–you must do this, you must do that. We try to give them choices.”
Adapting to a remote workforce has its advantages. The biggest being that you’re opening yourself up to a trend that most employees are already in favour of. Furthermore, 80 percent of them also admitted to choosing a job that offers a more flexible working environment over a job that doesn’t.
We all hope to come out on top of the current pandemic crisis. But, in the meantime, learning how to effectively manage a remote team is great for the long-term.