The Five Myths of Remote Work, and the Reality Behind Them

The virtual frontier is rife with opportunity for overhaul, innovation, and redesign. In order to take full advantage of the opportunity to rebuild your business, the Future Forum launched a new quarterly report they call the Remote Employee Experience Index (REEI). The goal of this novel endeavor is to provide businesses with the data and analysis they need in order to successfully manage remote teams

In order to do this, the Future Forum gathered data from nearly 5,000 remote workers across the globe, measuring what they considered to be elements of work experience. The top five results became the study’s means of assessing employee experience: productivity, work-life balance, stress and anxiety management, sense of belonging, and satisfaction with working arrangement. Participants were asked to answer questions on a five-point scale, with a highest possible index score of +100, indicating that they felt “much better” about the elements of their remote working, a lowest possible index score of -100, indicating a feeling of “much worse,” and a median index score of 0, indicating no net change in their feelings. 

In this article, we won’t be covering the full report, we will instead be dispelling some of the more common myths around remote work, as outlined by Future Forum Vice President, Brian Elliot.

Workers Crave the 9-5 Routine of Working in the Office

An age-old myth that has been disseminated through workforces across the world. It is a crux in the argument for having physical office space in the first place. Many companies have continued to follow the 9-5 routine even after going virtual, but the index indicates that this routine is damaging towards the employee experience. “The Index shows that one of the single biggest factors that influences a positive remote experience is the ability to break free of the 9-to-5.” This benefit is reflected by the numbers, where the most impacted element of remote work showed a positive impact on work-life balance (+23.0). It affects more elements though, as shown by the contrast between flexible-schedule workers and 9-5’ers (+13.1 and +7.1, respectively). 

Keeping Employees Aligned Depends on Regular Meetings

Running meetings is an inevitable function of any well oiled business. While meetings are necessary and constructive, encumbering your remote employee with a meeting-heavy schedule will have negative consequences. The Index shows that employees who were made to attend weekly status meetings ended up feeling less of a sense of belonging (-2.7) than workers who received  status updates asynchronously (+5.8). This has been correlated to a business’ ability to grant their employees access to modern tools, which allows the employee to more effectively garner a sense of belonging. One way to reduce the amount of weekly meetings is to condense them into emails that can be sent out en masse, allowing your employees to register that information on their own time. Nonetheless, interaction between individuals is important, with the Index indicating that organizations need to build in social interactions more explicitly, rather than frequently, citing activities such as team celebrations to recognize achievements, scheduled team-building activities, or group social activities like games.

Remote Workers with Children All Face the Same Challenge

The reality of the matter is that mothers in the U.S. are disproportionately affected in their ability to balance work and child care (+7.4), rating beneath women with children outside of the U.S. (+12.3), and almost half that of U.S. men with children (+14.3). The Future Forum points towards underfunded public healthcare as a primary example of how U.S. women with children lack strong social safety nets.  The Index also discovered that for work-life balance, mothers outside the U.S. score 60% higher than U.S. moms (+20.4 to +12.8), in productivity, non-U.S. mothers scored nearly twice as high as U.S. mothers  (+12.0 to +6.6), and for satisfaction with working arrangement, moms outside of the U.S. scored 95% higher than U.S. mothers (+17.8 and +9.1). The article makes a point of stating that government intervention is unlikely, leaving the onus on Corporate America to step up and commit to more socially responsible policies that support working mothers. 

The Remote Work Experience is Worse for Underrepresented Groups

One of the more surprising findings of the Index was that historically underrepresented groups scored higher overall Index scores than their white coworkers, with Asian scoring the highest at +16.6, and white scoring the lowest at +8.9. A series of interesting questions were raised in the article concerning what factors might’ve gone into creating this difference, with Elliot asking, “Why is remote work helping level the experience? Have white employees always felt more of a sense of community in majority-white workplaces? Do members of minority groups feel a better sense of community because they are at home?” The most dramatic difference in Index scores came from the sense of belonging category, which revealed that among Blacks (+8.4), Asians (+7.6), and Hispanics (+5.2), whites were the only ones to rank in the negative (-1.3). 

The Index was also useful for drawing light upon systemic workplace issues. When asked whether they agree with the statement, “My manager is supportive when I need help,” 65% of white knowledge workers agreed, while only 46% of Black knowledge workers agreed. We currently work in a time of radical change; while businesses are adapting to the digital world, it is the perfect opportunity to rebuild your business with social and civil responsibility in mind. The Index put specific emphasis on this point: “It will take time and deliberate effort to get this right, but the opportunity for remote work to be a great equalizing force is clear and unmistakable.”

Managers Have an Easier Time Adapting to Remote Working

This couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality, managers have seen a paradigm shift in their roles, “from gatekeeper to coach and social connector.” The change has presented managers with some of the most difficult challenges in shifting to remote work. As for a sense of belonging, managers scored -7.0 compared to individual employee’s -0.6, both considerably low. Managers and individual employees scored most closely together in the managing stress and anxiety category (+12.8 and +17.7, respectively). One category that saw a large difference in Index score was productivity, with managers feeling far less productive than individual workers (-9.4 compared to +14.8). As indicated by the Index, a digital-first business model places increased stress on managers, largely because it has become more difficult to build and maintain social ties in the workplace. It may come as no surprise that managers have a lower overall index score (+10.5, compared to +15.2). The Future Forum used these figures to reinforce the recurring theme that now is an opportunity for businesses to step up, to provide managers with the necessary time, tools, and resources for their success.

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