Why Successful Remote Work has No Place for Bias
Remote work is undeniably on the upswing, though ingrained organizational biases keep many of its benefits away. Employers and employees must act to make it a success.
Remote work is no more a remote possibility but an irrefutable reality of the world of work today! A report by Global Workforce Analytics suggested that between 2005 and 2017, there was a 159% increase in remote work. The number of Americans working remotely is estimated to have risen by 115% over the past decade! However, it appears the bias against remote workers too is huge: 78% of non-remote-working employees resent remote work, and communication and career prospects could also suffer!
Let us look at some more numbers. A recent survey by Korn Ferry on the number of times employees said they work remotely, showed that 38% worked remotely full time, 12% three to four days a week, 33% one to two days a week, and 17% rarely.
What also has led to an uptick in remote work is the fact that there is no demonstrated correlation between office-based work and great workplace cultures. The biggest benefit for employees is flexibility, which allows more attention to all aspects of life, including meaningful experiences. They can better juggle between work, hobbies, and time with friends, leading to a positive work-life balance. There is more happiness, productivity, engagement with work; healthier eating; lower stress; and higher employee retention.
It is not all about the workers, as businesses stand to gain from remote work as well:
- Easier to employ great talent reluctant to move from an established location
- Reduced “back office” footprint
- More recordable, indexable, and searchable artifacts of meetings
- Elimination of risk of data access through physically breaching the premises
That, though, has not stopped a negative bias about remote work from creeping in. The unfavorably skewed view is something like this: put in 40-50 hours a week physically in the office, and you are a dedicated and highly productive employee, putting a premium on hard work. The poor telecommuter who works away from the office space is, however, seen to be less dependable and labeled as someone who does not take the job seriously.
Communication often becomes the scapegoat. It is why employees who have the option of working from home choose not to, fearing the lack of communication and collaboration between them and onsite workers. It is, though, solved easily enough. Just bring in some of the modern communication tools and collaboration software for the workplace, and boom – you are sorted!
This location bias also takes away other possible positive outcomes. A company that does not engage actively with remote workers loses out on the power of diversity. Many smart and dedicated workers stay hours – if not cities – away from potential employers. They are rarely a part of the hiring pool of organizations that do not look beyond busy metro cities, even though they could thrive and deliver great value.
For the remote employees who manage to get hired, the unwelcoming atmosphere leads to other toxicities, such as:
- The fear of penalization if you decline over time, take the vacation time you are entitled to, or even leave on time… and hence, you overwork yourselves
- Work eating into time for family and friends
How, then, do you overcome the bias?
Not surprisingly, the action must start at the top! Zapier, a provider of web integration applications, started with three founders working remotely in the same city, and now has over 200 employees in more than 20 countries – all working remotely.
Automattic, the company behind WordPress, is one proof of a fully remote team with over 1,100 employees across 70 countries around the world. The company uses the P2-themed Wordpress blogs, a two-column blog theme with team chat features, allowing remote communication and collaboration on projects.
Other steps organizations can take include the following:
- Respect for the time of employees, and avoiding constant check-ins
- Regularly-scheduled meetings
- Including video links to meetings, as these also give a sense of when someone has a point to add
- Keeping remote workers informed about and connected with the big picture, the meaning behind the work being done
Do not wait for your employer to make it easier, though, if you are a remote worker. Proactivity can save the day, and you would do well:
- Share personal and professional wins with the team, though not boastfully
- Log your successes, as these will be handy come promotion time
- Find a mentor for quality coaching and guidance
- Ask your manager for meetings over video conferencing
- Ask for a promotion if you deserve it and can back up your claim!
Employers must remember that at the end of the day, people are the lifeblood of the company and not just the ones who are seen every day. Thus, products and people both require investment, and the right culture is beyond ping-pong tables and karaoke nights – it is about how well all types of employees engage with one another.