A long with the factual pros and cons about working remotely or working in an office, there are also plenty of rumors and misconceptions about remote work that can make it hard to get off the ground at a company. For example, if you are working at an entirely colocated company and you want to make the case for your team, or the company as a whole, to go remote, you’d likely come up against some of these myths as reasons why it wouldn’t work.
There is an outdated conception that having something like a “water cooler” or a common space for people to congregate is important for building culture. This stands on the basis that people will not be able to have sporadic, in-the-moment conversation unless they are all co-located and working in the same place. While this may have been true in a time before technology like we have today, with things like live video chat and internal chat services like Slack, it’s easy to cultivate personal relationships and culture without being in the same space.
For example, creating Slack channels, which are effectively just chat rooms, on certain personal interest topics is a great way to allow members of different teams who are remote to build relationships with one another. Conversations that would normally occur around the lunch table for people working in an office get to happen in Slack, or a weekly video chat hangout for remote employees. Giving both sets of employees, remote and in-office, this kind of outlet is critical for culture, yes, but the space in which it takes place does not need to be located in an office to be successful.
Our “water cooler” in Chatra is a #random channel in Slack: we share links to interesting posts, photos, memes, and discuss different things that are not related to work.
It’s a common misconception that if you work from home, you’re going to be distracted by all of the things you have to do at home: like watch TV, or work in your pajamas, or hang out with your kids. But, people who work from home, because of the nature of their role, have to be particularly stringent for where and when they work to avoid running their home life into their work-life. Given that, efficient remote employees are excellent at timeboxing and planning out their day.
Conversely, when in an office, there is tons of distraction. Most offices of start-ups, for example, have fun game rooms, or even nap rooms (like Hubspot) which make it easy for employees to spend all their time there. At face value, while it might seem like spending all of your time at the office is that bad, it’s likely they’re not necessarily using those long hours to work, but using the awesome amenities available. Just because someone stays somewhere longer does not mean that they are working harder or are more focused than someone else. Also, people who work remotely often do work long hours because it is easy to do so: they don’t have to commute and it is easy to lose track of time when you are somewhere comfortable and familiar (like your house!).
Many people assume that people who work from home have little work-life balance — after all, as noted in the previous section, it can be easy to lose track of time when you’re working in a comfortable, familiar place. It’s true: if you don’t pay attention, it can feel like you’re never leaving work, especially if you do not set up a space to have for work. As a remote employee, it’s incredibly important to set up a workspace and set up routines for yourself just as you would if going into the office.
For example, for people that go into an office, they often get up, make breakfast and get ready, and then commute into work. People who work remotely should do something similar: wake up, get dressed like they would if they were going to work, and then go to their desk or other designated workspace. Creating a physical space and routine helps to enforce the mental boundary between home and work — when you leave your workspace, you are no longer in work mode and are able to be home.
Similarly, work-life balance is becoming close to impossible for all employees, whether remote or not, with tools like Slack and Stride. Asynchronous communication means that anyone can reach a co-worker at any time, thus breaking down the barriers of what is defined as “work time” and what isn’t.
When people think of meetings, it’s usually some version of a board room meeting with everyone sitting around a table. If someone isn’t there, in the past they would get dialed in — a lone person waiting to speak while all the people actually present in the room talking over them and forget they’re there. But, that no longer has to be a reality.
Video conferencing tools like Zoom and Appear.in make it easy for people to speak face to face, even if they are continents away from each other. Being able to interpret people’s tone and facial expressions is a total game changer when it comes to remote work and remote meetings. For companies that are combined with both remote workers and workers in the office, being able to hop on a video call means that the remote employees feel more present and engaged, and as though their input is meaningful and important. For entire remote teams: their offices become the video chat and whatever real-time chat tool they use.
So, while everyone being in an office can make meetings easier, it’s only because the company isn’t using the appropriate tools to equip everyone with an equal standing ground. Giving everyone a face and ensuring that they can see everyone else’s face means that everyone is able to share their perspectives equally.
It’s easy to think about all of the things that you would do if you were allowed to work from home, especially if you’ve never done it. “I’d watch every episode of Lost!” you’re thinking, “I’d sit in my pajamas all day long!” you muse to yourself. But, that’s actually not the case, or at least you wouldn’t be able to do it for long. As we talked about above, building routines and healthy habits are integral to the success of remote employees. So, likely, if you were watching TV all day your work performance would decrease and your boss would be coaching you on how to improve. You would be finding some way to get better.
The long and short of it is: working from anywhere can be distracting. Working in an office, for some, is incredibly distracting, just as working at home may be distracting for others. As long as you hold yourself accountable to performing well at your job, no one place will be more distracting than another — you just have more flexibility when working from home, so you need to be more rigorous with your own boundaries and allowances for yourself.
You do not need to be right next to someone or near them in order to build relationships. Long distance romances all around the world prove this every day. While it takes more work, effort, and intentionality to maintain a relationship with little in-person contact, it’s easy to do if the people that are in the relationship genuinely care. That goes for both work and personal relationships: a company needs to put in the effort to support and connect their remote employees just as much as remote employees need to put in the effort to communicate and connect with the larger ecosystem. At least if there are both people in the office and people working remotely.
Whether your team is entirely remote or you have a mix, there are definitely things that you can do to build and maintain a great company culture. One thing that a lot of companies do is a weekly remote gathering over video solely for social purposes. This is an excellent way for both in-office and remote employees to talk, get to know each other and build friendships outside of their regular work roles. Creating camaraderie like that can be extremely beneficial for inter-team dynamics.
Another thing that a lot of companies do is annual or bi-annual retreats. Even companies that do not have any remote employees do this, but for those that do have remote employees having retreats is a hugely impactful way to bring people together, create meaningful memories and re-instill company culture and values if they’ve started to fade from people’s memories.
People who are remote are just as capable at being managers as people in the office — especially if their team includes other remote workers. Given the progression of modern technology, all of the things that managers do in an office can be done over the computer as well. If a manager needs to provide constructive insights, they can do so over video chat, if they need to ask a quick question they can do so via company chat. There is nothing within a manager’s role description that should mean they are unable to work remotely.
Similarly to the above: it used to be that the technology didn’t exist to allow training to be done other than in-person. People needed to be able to sit face-to-face and go through information together to be sure that someone got it. Now, though, there’s so much out there that enables the ability to work remote, or even for people to learn asynchronously if they’re in another timezone.
Documentation as a resource is an evergreen tool that all employees can use to be better trained and reference later on during their work. Video calls have made it so that managers can train people and read their facial responses in order to better prepare and present. While it’s always good to start off with some in-person time, training remotely is far from impossible and can actually be a really helpful offer for candidates that are unavailable to work any other way due to unforeseen circumstances.
The conception that people who work from home all sit in the same pajamas for weeks at a time is a strong one. There are tons of comics about it, and memes travel around about it regularly. While it is true that remote employees, just like everyone, can cultivate bad habits, they are not any more prone to it than anyone else.
For people just looking to get into remote work, it is important to set boundaries and reminders for yourself for self-care. Without the normal social cues of, for example, everyone getting up to go to lunch, it can be easy to forget to do things that are important. Many remote workers will set alarms to take a midday break or will work from coworking spaces or cafes in order to get a change of scenery away from their home office.
A quick poll in our #random channel at Chatra showed that many of us need to move more during our remote work day. To compensate for our desk job, team members have developed the following healthy habits:
This is like saying that all introverts don’t know how to talk to people. While it can be easy to paint everyone of a certain group in one wide swath, usually those types of generalizations are not true. They can even be harmful!
It’s true that remote workers spend a lot of their time in isolation but, just like most other people, they need to talk to people for their job. Just because someone doesn’t see people in person every day doesn’t mean they don’t talk to them or that their social skills have atrophied. In fact, it’s usually because of the fact that remote people infrequently get the opportunity to work with people in person that they are so jovial and buoyant when they get the opportunity to.
The last, and perhaps most harmful, misconception around remote work is that remote employees are completely disconnected from their companies and actually have no impact on what’s happening. This is mostly applicable to companies that have both remote and co-located employees. Creating a dynamic that places office-based employees over remote ones is problematic and should be avoided at all costs.
Hiring remote actually opens up the candidate pool to extremely skilled individuals who would otherwise be unavailable — it really allows a company to hire the cream of the crop. So, to say that the people hired have no impact just isn’t true, unless the company does a poor job of integrating remote employee’s perspectives and work.