I Swear I’m Wearing Pants: 5 Misconceptions About Remote Employment

I recently asked my social network what kinds of misconceptions they had heard about being a remote employee. These were just a few of the responses:

“That when you are not in the office you are taking the day off.”
“That it means you either have to work from home or coffee shop.”
“That it’s difficult to keep in touch with co-workers, access files, etc.”
“That you never see your coworkers or talk to them.”
“That you can’t possibly be putting in 8 hours a day at home.”
“That you work in a bubble of isolation.”
“That you must get nothing done.”
“That you are lazy, haven’t showered in two weeks and only wear pajamas. Pajamas? No, sir. Yoga pants? Well, yes.”

MISCONCEPTION #1: You can’t be productive if you’re not working in an office.
This misconception masquerades behind a multitude of comments — varying in degrees of subtleness. You must have so much self-discipline. How do you resist cleaning your house during the day? I wouldn’t get anything done if I didn’t come into the office. 

Frame it up however you want, the reality is that this couldn’t be further from the truth. Though it may seem counterintuitive to everything we “know” and have been groomed to believe, remote employees have been shown to be almost 14 percent more productive than their counterparts who work in an office.

“Staff at travel website Ctrip’s call center were given the opportunity to volunteer to work from home for nine months. Half the volunteers were allowed to telecommute; the rest remained in the office as a control group. When compared with their office counterparts, survey responses and performance data showed that those working from home made 13.5 percent more calls, quit 50 percent less and reported much higher levels of happiness on the job.”

It’s not as though there is a magic switch that gets flipped simply by having the option to work from cozy pants and the comfort of home. What working remote does offer, however, is the ability to work from a distraction-free environment that allows for long spans of uninterrupted time. When you remove the distraction of impromptu meetings, random desk-side chats and Starbucks runs, suddenly you find yourself with a lot more get-it-done time. (When you take into account that the average worker is interrupted in some form or another every three minutes in the workplace — and it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to regain focus on the task after an interruption — the deck of disruption is really stacked against us.)

“One-third of the productivity increase [at Ctrips] was due to having a quieter environment, which makes it easier to process calls. At home, people don’t experience what we call the ‘cake in the break room’ effect. Offices are actually incredibly distracting places. The study participants who worked from home also put in more hours and took fewer sick days, thanks to not having to commute as well as the ability to start earlier in the day.” [source]

MISCONCEPTION #2: Working remote is isolated and lonely.
As someone who really enjoys the productivity that accompanies a solo workday, I’m always surprised how many people profess they could never work remotely because they “would be way too lonely.” As it turns out, the work force is split right down the middle on this. In the same aforementioned Ctrips study, 50 percent of those who worked from home elected to return to the office in some capacity at the end of the nine month trial. Their reason? Feeling lonely and getting passed over for promotions. (Which is, unfortunately, a real challenge faced by remote employees.) It should be noted, however, most of the 50 percent who elected not to work from home exclusively did end up creating a flexible work schedule that allowed for time in the office and time working remotely.

As for the “lone wolf” fifty percent, working solo need not be synonymous with being lonely. There is no Law of Remote Employment that mandates one must work from the isolation of home. Cowork spaces are popping up everywhere. From Skype to Slack, there are countless ways to stay in constant contact with your team. In my experience, one of the greatest perks of remote working is the ability to work in the company of others outside my industry. Be it doctor, engineer or techie friends, sometimes just working on my projects in the company of other brains/scenery provides an escape from my norm, and in turn, a serious creative boost and dose of inspiration.

MISCONCEPTION #3: I can’t trust my employees to get their work done if they’re not in the office.
One of my entrepreneur friends was an early adopter of remote options for her agency. (In fact, she requires that all employees work at least one day a week outside the office, from wherever they feel most productive — be it home or beach, cowork or coffee shop.) When confronted with questions and anxieties from fellow entrepreneurs, her response hits it out of the park: If you can’t trust your people to do what they should be doing without you standing over their shoulder, you’ve hired the wrong people. That’s not a process problem, it’s a people problem. 

MISCONCEPTION #4: Working remote is for everyone.
I often hear people say that “remote employment is for introverts.” And while I think some of the perks of remote employment do appeal to the work preferences of introverts, remote employment can be for anyone. Having said that, it’s not for everyone.

The thought of thriving in chaos is foreign to me. I’ve never been someone who likes to listen to lyrical music while I’m focusing, let alone the music of multiple people. Conversations, noises and open spaces are just distractions and focus-derailing interruptions. I love collaborating and creative chaos at the onset of a project, but once it’s time to produce, I like flip a switch, retreat into my own little, quiet world to get it done.

But that’s just me.

I recognize that there are other people who thrive on the creative crazy. They live for noise and dread silence. The thought of working solo makes their palms sweaty. And for these people, the thought of working in a solo silo at home (or anywhere else) is as horrifying as the thought of working from a pit of sofas in a public common area is for me.

We all have different work styles and productivity preferences. There is no one-size-fits-all. Therein lies the beauty of the cultural shift from where you work (workplace) to where and how you work best (workforce).

MISCONCEPTION #5: Working remote is a fad.
Like it, love it or hate it — remote employment is here to stay. And many predict it’s the face of the future. 34 million Americans worked from home in 2013. That number is predicted to reach a staggering 63 million – 43 percent of the total U.S. workforce – by 2016.

Will you be one of them? 

 



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