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8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business



8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

I’ve been associated with enough startups and small or medium-sized enterprises in my lifetime to know what they want. What they want in terms of their employees, in terms of future growth, and in terms of the kind of capital they are willing to invest.

Through personal experience, and through talking to similar and like-minded people, I have come to understand and appreciate the unique challenges all SMEs face and must deal with. Limited resources, big ambitions. I think that’s how one can safely put it.

One of the ways most SMEs cut costs (or rather, save capital) is by allowing employees to work remotely. Maybe from home. Maybe from a cafe. Maybe even another country. Why do they do that? Mostly to avoid renting or investing in an office space. Cheap? I don’t think so. 

Given the state of the internet and given how seamlessly interconnected everything and everyone is to each other, working remotely (and thus diverting this saved capital to other, more useful resources, like acquiring top talent) just makes a whole lot of sense. 

A nifty analogy can be drawn between the driving principle behind this, and how lost cost carriers function—strip away what is extraneous and just focus on the bare minimum, ensuring that that is adequately covered.

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

The flipside of this cost efficient way of working, however, are the various issues and insecurities which come in to play as soon as the words “remote” and “working” are put together. The presence of these fears and insecurities not only hamper the freedom with which people work, but can also lead to a toxic work environment. 

In short, not really ideal for that little dynamite of an enterprise your business can be. Keeping all this in mind, I decided to draw up a list of 8 of the top work from home misconceptions I have come across in my lifetime. I have tried to cover the problem from all angles, and also give workable solutions you can put in place to ensure that your enterprise doesn’t suffer the way some of the startups I have been associated with suffered.

1. Remote Workers Will Have No Fixed Timings

Whenever I tell my friends that I can’t go on that pub crawl with them because I have to wake up early the next day to work, they give me an extremely bemused, judgmental look. They know that I work from home. Even their look knows that. To me, that look seems to be saying, “You work from home. How does it matter what time you wake up to work?”

Shockingly enough, this is a very common question all remote workers get asked. Maybe, their friends/families might be more explicit with this question. But trust me, as soon as someone hears “work from home”, it is all but implied that the person doing the working from home doesn’t really have any fixed hours. 

Wake up whenever, work whenever. Maybe even pop out for a three-hour long movie in between. Why? Because you aren’t really in an office space. You don’t really have any HR manager to be answerable to.

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

I can safely say from my experience that all this is complete and utter rot. Working from home doesn’t really imply flexible work hours. After all, as a team, I must ensure that I am online and working when the rest of my team members are online. My team members, my work, and especially my clients, all have fixed deadlines and time slots. This means that even though I’m not answerable to an HR manager, I am answerable to all these stakeholders in my work, and I have to respect their time.

This problem becomes amplified if the manager or team lead has this very same flexible work hours misgiving stuck in his/her head. Some managers, when faced with such a misgiving, can enforce suffocating and unrealistic restrictions and conditions to the remote working team. Maybe even force the top management to rent an office space just so that they can keep an eye on their respective team and ensure no one is taking liberties. Needless to say, such misgivings defeat the entire intent behind having remote workers.

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

Another way in which the flexible working hours philosophy can backfire is if the workers themselves start to take liberties and work begins to suffer. Fortunately, the solution to both these facets is the same—hire like minded, self motivated people. Be it managers, or remote workers, till the time everyone is not completely on board with the idea of working from home, and till the time everyone doesn’t respect this arrangement, no good can come out of it. No amount of monitoring of coercing from the part of top management can stem the rot once it sets in.

2. Remote Workers Will Be on Facebook All Day

I really don’t need to remind everyone about just how big a resource drain Facebook really is. I mean, there’s a reason why most big companies and multinational corporations have internet firewalls, right? Facebook, the productivity killer. Facebook, the black hole. And so on, and so forth. 

So it just makes sense to be scared about your workers just whiling away their time on social media when they’re working from home (and without Big Brother’s eye on them). Right? Right?

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

Wrong. Irrespective of where people are working, they are still going to spend the same time on Facebook and other social media. I first came across this neat little statement somewhere on the internet (I was just trying to reassure myself that I wasn’t being a bad employee when I logged on to Facebook while working from home). But honestly, that really couldn’t be right, could it? Not everything found in the vast expanses of the interwebs is right, right?

Yeah…even I had those doubts. So I decided to run a little test. I downloaded this app called RescueTime. You can also download it from rescuetime.com. Just sign up, download a tiny program for all your laptops/desktops and mobile devices, et voila! 

You can figure out exactly where your time is going. Be it your browsing history, or a history of what programs you used while on your laptop/mobile device, this nifty program captures everything. Captures everything, and organizes it into neat little reports. A very convenient dashboard lets your configure what websites/programs you find “productive” and what are a “distraction”. Thankfully, it automatically takes social media sites like Facebook, Twitter et all under a separate “Social Networking” category. Which it rates as “very distracting”.

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

So anyway. I installed this on all my devices and tracked my data. I think I began doing this way back in December 2013. The first couple of weeks, I was conscious enough to look at my reports each day, and try and correct certain behaviors (like spending too much time in front of the laptop). 

From perhaps mid-January or early February, I just started working on auto-pilot, not even looking at the weekly report summary mail I get from RescueTime. Basically, not really bothering about where my time was going or how productive I was being. What I found out was pretty much consistent with what I had read online. Through the entire spread of data, irrespective of where I was working from, on a typical work day, I was spending around 11%-15% of my time on various social networking sites. 

And funnily enough, this number was closer to 15% when I was working from office. What this neat little test proved to me was that whether working from home, or working from office, I needed me some social media entertainment as a break from mundane ole work.

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

But what about artificial restrictions one might come across in office. Like a firewall blocking all social media and video streaming websites? Well in that case, your workers are bound to take a break by doing some other things. 

Frankly, there is only so much productivity even the best managers can squeeze out from their employees. Everyone needs a break, or a distraction. If not social media, that distraction might be gossiping with a fellow worker in the office. So really, the argument that work from home employees spend more time on social media is misguided, at best.

3. Remote Workers Will Get Less Work Done

This is another of those time management arguments most micromanagers employ. Again, the belief stems from the lack of trust they display towards their coworkers. Just because they can’t see them working, means that they aren’t working

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

Terms like “productivity” are brought into the mix, without actually recognizing that such arguments might, just might, be outdated. And really, when it is productivity which is being questioned, no organization is ever going to say anything to the contrary.

Except. Except that the good people over at RSA Animate have a pretty neat video detailing, and disagreeing with this very sentiment (if you aren’t already following them, you really need to head over to YouTube and follow them right away. Their animated videos, ranging on topics as varied as economics and organizational behavior are a treat). 

Based on a talk by Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, the video details what might be possible if organizations—no matter whether SMEs, or MNCs—embrace the full and empowering potential of today’s technology to really inculcate an open, innovative and flexible work culture within their organizations.

I will really let the beautiful and insightful video do that talking for this one.

4. Remote Workers Are Never Going to Come to Office

Ok so maybe you started out from somebody’s garage. Maybe, in those days of thrift and limited space, you let people work from home or work remotely. Maybe, everything went well for you, and today you’re an organization of some scale, and many of your original employees have still stuck around with you. 

Maybe now liberated of the past resource crunch, your new HR policy makes it mandatory for employees to come to the office. But the trouble now is that your original employees don’t want to ever come to office because they’re too used to, and too comfortable in, working from home. What do you do now?

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

Firstly, the very notion that employees will never come to office is a very misleading one. Business is built around face-to-face interaction. If not all day, every single day, then at least for internal and external meetings, reviews, or a myriad of other tasks. It could be even for something as random as, perhaps, looking at, and interacting with, another human being. 

For all its supposed perks, working from home (at least in my experience) can be a pretty lonely task. And, frankly, most of your founding employees will recognize this better than most.

While crafting a new HR policy, it should also be examined what the need for change in remote working policy is. Is it so that your managers can micromanage easily? Is it because tasks are not being done and deadlines aren’t being met? If it’s these two, then the problem might be more serious. 

As detailed above, no change in work from home policy is going to squeeze out more “productivity” from an underperforming employee/team. Rather than changing the HR policy, it might be worth the effort to reprimand the team, or to replace it entirely.

If the change stems more from the joy of actually sharing the organization’s “own” space, and thus boosting morale, and trust in the company, then maybe a gradual change in policy might work better. 

Most employees, upon seeing the company grow into its own office space, would be pretty pumped to maybe explore the space. And just like that, like caged animals being released into the wild, after a period of acclimatization, they are bound to adopt the new office space as their very own. In the world of HR, ultimately, intentionality counts for a whole lot more than the rule.

5. Remote Workers Can Never Communicate and Collaborate

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

So wait. All your employees are scattered. Maybe in the same city, maybe in different cities, maybe even in different continents. How do you set about communicating with such a team? How do you ensure that everyone is on the same page, and working all guns blazing? 

In a regular brick and mortar office, it is very easy to talk to employees and see what they’re up to. It is very easy to get paperwork done. Any meeting can be scheduled at a moment’s notice, provided the conference room is free. How do you accomplish all this when your team is scattered all over the place?

Wake up, honey. You live in the digital age. Yep, it might take some extra effort, but working as a virtual team isn’t impossible anymore. All you need is a decent internet connection, and a properly defined workflow. After that, the likes of Skype, Google Drive et all can very much take care of various collaboration tasks. 

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

A project, no matter its size, can easily be managed via Basecamp. Files can be accessed off a common Google Drive. A shared Google Calendar makes it easy to schedule meetings. Virtual meetings can be had over Skype, or over Cisco’s WebEx service (for the more sophisticated).

Increasingly, software giants are recognizing the need for software tuned towards online collaboration. Hence, you have Google’s array of trendsetting online presentation, spreadsheet and word processor software. Microsoft has followed suit with its Office 365 initiative. Even Apple is making a major push towards cloud storage and cloud software. The intention behind this is the same—to make virtual collaborations easier.

6. Remote Workers Destroy (or Hamper) Company Culture

Most people tell you that an office is more than just a workplace. It is also a place where fun is had, where insightful and/or delightful chatter is heard. And, it is these interpersonal interactions which set up a company’s culture as much as the top management’s efforts, and various HR policies and initiatives. 

While it is true that culture stems from camaraderie and understanding between employees too, it is somewhat naïve to assume that such bonds can only be forged within the confines of an office space. 

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

For what it is worth, it should be noted that real bonds are formed outside of the office, over that after-work beer, while watching a game on the pub telly. Which is why company outings are considered so important. More than a means to break the monotony, they are an attempt to get employees to forge informal bonds, which can be carried into the workspace, thus enriching the company culture and enlivening the office space. An entrepreneur should have the drive, ambition, planning, and courage to actualize their dreams. For help planning business trip details utilize the help of workforce mobility solutions specailists.

In today’s world, where Facebook friends are just as close as physical friends, concerns over company culture being eroded because of remote workers seem archaic. Smart phones exist, and people are readily reachable. Throw in some alcohol, and employees are more than willing to make a reasonable trek to chill with their office buddies. 

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

In fact, by taking away the pressure cooker situation created by having a cramped office space, where tempers run high, and people are easily rubbed the wrong way, employees have a better chance of forming strong bonds with each other, and thus enriching company culture.

7. Remote Workers Can’t Brainstorm

Again, the supposition is that the best brainstorming sessions are had while sitting on the office beanbag, in the office conference room, with all your other co-workers also present there. There’s something about the setting which is supposed to fire the neurons into thinking, and come up with some worthy ideas. Surely, replicating such a setting with remote workers would be nigh on impossible, right?

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

How about, no. With the myriad virtual collaboration tools and apps I already talked about, no brainstorming session is impossible. Just.me enabled Skype session can easily replicate the face-to-face interactions of brainstorming sessions of yore. 

In fact, an argument can be made about employees being more liberated, and thus, more open, while on a virtual brainstorming session. Why? Because sitting in their own private and familiar space gives a sense of comfort no office will be able to replicate. Also, talking from personal experience, I tend to feel more liberated while talking to someone online than face-to-face. 

There is something very very liberating about the facelessness of the internet. It is only amplified in my case because of certain behavioral characteristics I have. It is not just me, however, who feels this way. Research conducted into the addictiveness of the internet also concluded that young adults tend to feel more confident online.

8. Remote Working Isn’t Safe

Let’s face it. We live in a post-cyber terrorism world. Hackers and snoopers abound. Data on the cloud isn’t really safe. The likes of Anonymous and the Syrian Electronic Army can bring you down, no matter who you are. Obama, Microsoft and BBC News have all been brought to their knees just by these two big groups. So really, how safe is working on the cloud?

No matter how hyped up these attacks are, their frequency is still pretty low. These big hacking groups only go after targets on ideological grounds. So, really, until you do something really nasty to irritate these groups (like, say, threaten Syria), they really aren’t coming after you.

8 Misconceptions About Remote Working That Are Holding Back Your Business

Also, with a couple of natty and knowing precautionary measures, you can ensure that your data is for your eyes only. Set up proper security protocols. For instance, Google requires all remote workers to go through a series of hoops, including (but not limited to) calling up an automated, centralized number for a one time password, before they are allowed to log in. 

Most likely, your SME would not require such advanced and sophisticated measures to ensure the safety of its data. In all likelihood, and speaking very practically, an in-house server to store data, and the safeguards already built into Google Drive and its ilk should be sufficient for you.

Final Thoughts

While working from home and remote working pose many challenges and risks, the benefits far outweigh the downside. All that is required for a remote working policy to succeed is a well aligned and focused management and staff. Between them, they can define enough protocols, goals and targets to ensure that the company’s two biggest objective—deadlines being honored, and bottom lines growing—are met without much hassle.

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