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Dispelling remote work myths: tips & best practices

Remote work gets a bad rep. But is it deserved?

When the topic of remote work comes up, it’s not uncommon for people to become immediately skeptical. Common narratives include:

“That could never work with our system.”

“In theory it sounds good, but remote people can’t come to meetings and they never have all the information.”

“Yeah, we tried that, but it didn’t really work and the remote people ended up getting fired.”

“How do you know people aren’t slacking off?”

Yikes.

All of these statements are working off of either wrong assumptions or process failures. Remote work is getting a bad name when in fact there are easily identifiable behaviors and policies that are causing the problems.

Effective remote work starts at the top. When company culture leaders correct non-remote friendly behaviors and put inclusive processes in place, the effects trickle down into a successful experience for everyone.

MYTH #1

“Remote workers are slackers”

There is a perception that if you can’t physically see someone sitting at their desk doing work, then they’re not getting anything done.

Any worker, regardless of location, can slack off if managers are not properly communicating expectations and deadlines. If someone understands what work they are responsible for (goals) and when it needs to be done (deadlines), and they work accordingly (with regular status updates), then they surely won’t warrant a “slacker” title, no matter where they’re located. Teams that reward results will attract and retain people that will be productive anywhere.

Tip: In addition to a chat tool for quick conversation, managers should also be having weekly check-ins via video call with their direct reports to answer questions and learn of any setbacks.

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Never work from bed.

When I started working 100% remotely at Buffer, I set the rule for myself that I would never work from bed, and here’s why:

  • It becomes more difficult to fall asleep because working from bed weakens the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
  • You may start to feel like you’re always at work and lose a place to come home to.
  • Your quality of sleep will decrease because using electronics before bed reduces the melatonin you need to fall asleep.

- Hailley Griffis, Future of Work Marketer, Buffer

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MYTH #2

“It is up to the remote worker to constantly prove they are working”

A lot of remote workers feel like they constantly need to be “visible” in their digital workspaces to “prove” that they are working. They feel they need to be present for every discussion in chat, or can’t let a notification go unanswered for more than a few minutes.

This pressure adds unnecessary anxiety. Instead of being able to do their deep work, they are constantly worrying about how their contributions are perceived.

Implicit in these beliefs is the concept that remote workers are “other” or somehow different than their other colleagues. If remote workers are feeling this pressure to be visible, then it likely stems from the idea that they’re not being valued at the same level as in-office workers.

Tip: These anxieties are ameliorated when remote work is normalized company-wide. These colleagues aren’t different or lacking (they may even experience fewer distractions). Everyone should indicate “deep work” times on their calendar, or use a status update in their chat tool to indicate their availability.

Remote workers are getting up and going to work every day just like everyone else, except they probably have a shorter commute!

MYTH #3

Remote work means company culture suffers

Some people are wary of remote teams because they fear a lack of team camaraderie. It’s true that there are no silly interactions in the kitchen or casual hallway “stop and chats” on remote teams, however, with effective planning, these social moments can be baked into a remote dynamic.

Tip: Seeing as up to 10,000 non-verbal cues can be exchanged in one minute of face-to-face interaction, video meeting tools are essential for building relationships with others. You can set up team-building activities over video that play into the strengths of remote work, like sharing your office view or introducing your cat to your coworker’s cat and watching the furry friendship unfold.

In fact, we’ve written an entire chapter on remote work company culture tips for this guide. Read more here.

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MYTH #4

“Remote workers are available all times of day”

It’s easy to assume that because someone is always at home that they are available to answer a quick work question at any time. This is unequivocally false.

One of the most espoused remote work best practices is to set strict working hours, just as one would if they worked in an office. Remote workers are encouraged to decide on (and communicate) available hours, take proper lunch breaks, and to physically turn off and exit their work space when they are engaging in their home life. Work-life separation is still very possible, even if your office is inside your house!

Tip: Track workday availability on a team board where other important information is housed. If it’s unclear whether someone is currently available, you can double-check the card to know for sure!

Pace yourself.

Working remotely means you get a ton of quiet, heads-down time to do deep work. But deep work is exhausting! Build 5-minute breaks into your day: walk around the block, call your mom, pet your cat. Take care of yourself so you still have gas left in the tank on Friday to enjoy your personal time.

- Sarah Goff-Dupont, Principal Writer, Atlassian, remote from Minnesota

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