Cat in remote office

The value of a remote workforce has historically been a polarizing topic. In most cases, people are either adamantly for or against it, rarely lukewarm about the notion of a work-from-home operation. And then came 2020 — the year that changed everything about the way we do business, education, healthcare, and life in general.

Those who fight the idea of a remote office will typically argue the risk of employee laziness, a lack of accountability or managerial oversight, or a strain on inter-office communications; meanwhile, Team WFG (work-from-home) folks will point out the opportunities for improved company-wide communication and improved productivity and team morale that comes from the added flexibility of a remote office. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle. As the events of 2020 usher more and more of us into the remote world, let’s get into some of the expectations versus realities of the WFH life.

“Working From Home Means Working in Pajamas”

This is a fallacy I believe the majority of Americans fell prey to at the start of the COVID-19 shutdown. Sure, rolling out of bed at 8:45, shuffling your slippers over to the coffee pot on the way to your computer, and logging in for a 9 a.m. call, bed head and all, may sound glorious at first. But after a few weeks of round-the-clock PJ wearing and a less-than-regular shower schedule, you’re likely to miss your morning routine.

Little tasks, such as washing your face and changing into work attire, send signals to your brain that it’s time to transition into a specific portion of your day. The same rules apply to end-of-day activities such as packing up your briefcase and getting in the car to drive home. Without these easily overlooked cues in place, the human wellbeing suffers. One of the simplest secrets to success when working form home is to wake up at the same time every day and get ready for work. You may not have the same dress code, but go through the steps as you would normally when traveling into an office.

“You Should Do Everything You Did In The Office”

If you’re trying to replicate your in-office operations as daily remote routines, you’re trying to fail. Remote workplaces are different animals, and that’s okay.

Take the opportunity to explore different ways to work and try new tools for success. You may find some processes or ceremonies that were beneficial in the physical office location aren’t feasible or even necessary in a distributed setting. Meanwhile, you will need to go out of your way to add some practices and daily details. Utilizing video chat more often is a must for communication and morale, and some companies suggest creating group channels exclusively for office water cooler talk. Add and subtract office behaviors until you find a work-from-home environment that works for your business model and, more importantly, your individual team members.

“There’s Zero Accountability and Nothing Gets Done”

False! Studies show remote workers put in more hours. Managers should be more concerned by the risk of employee burn-out and over-exhaustion than the potential for staff laziness and underproductivity. Wise leaders will choose to invest in and trust in their team — giving them permission to go offline when needed and not micromanaging with excessive time-tracking and monitoring tooling. Those services have their place in the world, but they should not be used place of communicative mentoring and team building that fosters accountability and trust. Give clear instructions, and then walk away and trust!

It’s Not the Reality We Expected, But It Works

While the coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdown was not on anyone’s to-do list for this year or ever, one consequence will prove beneficial in years to come. The societal shift from a polarizing debate over remote work cultures to reluctant acceptance followed by full-blown embrace is a victory. Organizations large and small will benefit from the reduced overhead costs and increased employee happiness. We’re all learning to communicate more effectively, and that’s a win for humankind. It’s not the reality we expected, but it’s working for us. So, thank you, COVID-19, you did one thing right.