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Myths about remote work

Common excuses companies use to avoid working remotely

Created by Will Ceolin
Created on Mar 31, 20 - Updated on Jun 18, 20

Traditional companies are always trying to find excuses for not allowing their employees to work remotely. Let's see some of those myths:

Lack of innovation

There's a common belief in the corporate world that innovation only happens when a group of people gathers around face-to-face to brainstorm ideas. Remote companies such as GitLab, Basecamp, and Buffer are proving that belief is just a myth. It's usually an excuse traditional companies use to keep controlling and micromanaging their employees.


People won't work

Bad managers think their employees will only work if they're being watched. It's a common excuse for not adopting remote work that usually shows deeper issues a company has with poor management. It usually shows a lack of trust.

As Jason Fried and DHH say on "Remote: Office Not Required":

If people really want to play video games or surf the web all day, they’re perfectly capable of doing so from their desks at the office. In fact, lots of studies have shown that many people do exactly that. For example, at clothing retailer J.C. Penney’s headquarters, 4,800 workers spend 30 percent of the company’s Internet bandwidth watching YouTube videos. * So, coming into the office just means that people have to put on pants. There’s no guarantee of productivity.

As they also say: "if you can’t let your employees work from home out of fear they’ll slack off without your supervision, you’re a babysitter, not a manager."

Billionaire Richard Branson also has a similar philosophy:

To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other. A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision.

Security

Security shouldn't be an excuse nowadays. There are plenty of solutions out there. Here's a checklist from the book "Remote: Office not required":

  • All computers must use hard drive encryption (e.g. FileVault on Macs)
  • Require a password to login into your computer
  • Turn on encryption for all sites you visit
  • Make sure smartphones use lock codes and can be wiped remotely
  • Use unique, strong passwords (a password manager makes it easier to do)
  • Turn on two-factor authentication for the services you use

Others would get jealous

This excuse is more common than one would think. When a company cannot have everyone working remotely (e.g. a logistic business), you might hear an executive saying you cannot work remotely because other people would get jealous. However, as Jason Fried and DHH point out:

Why force everyone in the organization to work the same way? The guy sending packages from the warehouse already has a different job from the girl running the books in accounting. Different jobs, different requirements. People get that.

If you have a boss like that, remember them that everyone should have the best environment to do their best work. For someone taking care of inventory, that might be the office. But for you or your team, the ideal conditions might be working remotely. Freedom is key here.


Culture

Building culture is a challenge. That's why we have created a whole chapter about it. However, that's not an impossible task. Some managers might mistake building culture by offering a ping-pong table or having beers on Friday. Culture is more than that, it's about the actions your company is taking and how able you're to develop a culture of caring and empathy. You don't need an office for that.


Collaboration

"It's hard to collaborate without a physical office." This myth usually comes from people who have an "ASAP" mentality: they need everything right away, nothing can wait. When you start working asynchronously, you realize most questions aren't so urgent as you think. If there's a real crisis happening, you always the option to use the telephone.

Most people struggle to get rid of the "ASAP" behavior. So, don't feel bad if you see yourself calling your colleagues all the time in the beginning. With time, you'll realize that most stuff can wait and you can just keep working on something else in the meantime. When you do realize it, you'll collaboration actually becomes easier because people have fewer interruptions, hence more time being productive.


We're different

"This is very nice but it doesn't work for us." If you're trying to push for remote work on your company, you'll hear that. Executives pay thousands of dollars to training programs just to come back to the company and tell others what wonderful things other people doing but, unfortunately, "that would never work for us."

This excuse is the easiest one to prevent any change from happening because change is hard and executives don't like that. Today, there are companies from multiple industries (and sizes) that do remote work (either fully or partially). We have even surgeons and sports broadcasters working remotely.

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