“Just like we couldn’t imagine a cell phone smaller than a toaster in the 1970s, some companies still believe that they can’t get great performance from their employees unless they show up at an office.”
― Pamela Slim
Why do some employers object to remote work? Are all these employers stupid? No. Are they old-fashioned? Maybe. Are the naysayers right? That’s the question.
Now, of course, not every job can be 100% remote. My plumber has a hard time unclogging my toilet remote. When I call the paramedics, I prefer them to show up on-site. The United States Marines didn’t fight at Guadalcanal over Zoom.
Ridiculous examples out of the way, we can now go through objections for the cases where remote work is possible.
Objection: Remote work is not productive.
Answer: Meaningful work requires quality stretches of uninterrupted focus. That’s hard to find in an office. When you control your environment, you gain more control over your outcomes. Remote workers can work where they’re most focused and productive. The data backs this up too.
Objection: There are too many distractions at home.
Answer: In the office, they need to worry about impromptu meetings, interrupting coworkers and bosses, unscheduled introductions, and more. There are distractions at home, but remote workers have more control over their environment and can adjust. That’s a big part of the productivity boost most remote employees experience.
Objection: Remote work is isolating.
Answer: Office jobs can be isolating. Employees often spend most of their time working alone in cubicles. They’re typically surrounded by negativity in the form of office gossip or complaining. For many people, especially those with disabilities, introverts, or people with a different cultural background, working in an office pushes them to the outside.
Objection: Remote work is tough to manage.
Answer: Human beings are tough to manage. The reality is people watch YouTube videos or scroll through Twitter or play games for hours in the office. How do you manage that? I start by trusting my people to act like responsible adults and quit babysitting them. If you can’t trust an employee, you have a different problem.
Objection: There’s no accountability for remote workers.
Answer: Is there accountability for office workers? If accountability means more than attendance and means results, then everyone is held to the same standard. In fact, remote work can increase accountability as it forces employees to take ownership of their work.
Objection: Remote work is not fair to in-office workers.
Answer: The easy answer is to let everyone work from anywhere if and when possible. Otherwise, it’s like saying that allowing the quarterback to throw the ball is unfair to the other players. On a team, everyone has a role, and as a leader, your job is to put each of them in the best place for success. That’s fair.
Objection: Remote work is not secure.
Answer: Are you dealing with nuclear secrets? If not, you already have the tools and technology to stay secure. Enforce some best practices like auto-locking, whole-disk encryption, and two-factor authentication, and you’ll be okay. Besides, if you’ve ever allowed an employee to take their laptop to an out-of-town conference, you likely exposed your data to much greater risk.
Objection: People communicate better in an office.
Answer: We have the technology to communicate through video conferencing, audio calls, and chat. Most communication isn’t urgent and can be written as an email or, even better, posted to a corporate wiki. In an office, quick chats become significant disruptions. Remote teams are naturally encouraged to be thoughtful and deliberate when they communicate.
Objection: You can’t have a strong company culture with remote employees.
Answer: A strong company culture starts with shared values and goals. You don’t need to be in the same place to achieve that, but you do need to give people trust and autonomy. Good company cultures are built by good teams.
Objection: People don’t mind working in an office environment.
Answer: Some people don’t mind some of the time. Most people just mind the commute, the lack of flexibility, the repetitiveness, the distractions, the poor work-life balance, the lack of autonomy, the boredom, the unhealthy environment, and the poor management.