2020 has been a life-changing and game-changing year for us all. Between a global pandemic, an economic crisis and an extended lockdown, the way we live and work has changed dramatically.
One of the trends that has steadily picked up momentum in 2020 is remote work. So much so that analysts can see it extending well into 2021 and beyond.
However, when most companies are forced into this transition and it doesn’t occur organically (as it should), rejection of remote work or a deep misunderstanding of it will occur. And there are many reasons for it:
Why do companies reject remote work?
#1 Old habits die hard
Not all sectors were made to prosper in a remote setting – restaurants, production, cinemas come to mind. Same for essentially every job that involves using fixed equipment or operating machinery. Even fields like marketing often require cross-department collaboration. It is way harder to coordinate design, SEO, communications and product testing via a Zoom call.
Although freelancers who chose to work remotely in marketing have prospered, even flourished in 2020 because they managed to keep their clients happy and didn’t depend on anyone but themselves to deliver results, marketing teams and leaders may still have some growing pains, through no fault of their own.
Creative fields such as marketing and advertising are only one part of the equation. Alongside IT, they can eventually transition to a fully remote business model through the use of collaborative tools like Asana, Slack and Trello if their leaders are open to it. Even museums have managed to switch to virtual tours when no one gave them a chance after forced closures.
However, for any of the above to happen at a large scale, leaders need to allow old habits to die and think outside the box.
And it will be a steep learning curve for all fields, even the most nonconventional ones, an experiment that may prove to be a raging success in the future for some industries whilst bringing the downfall of the others...or maybe erasing them out of existence altogether….if digitalization, automation and robotics don’t do it first.
According to McKinsey.com, the potential for remote work is exponentially higher in industries that require highly skilled workers. This bears the question whether or not remote work can truly be implemented at a large social scale or it’ll only be the reality of the select few in the next years.
#2 Lack of trust and micromanagement
Trust is the fundamental building block of any successful workplace relationship. If this foundation is fragile, chaos ensues. If in an office situation, companies can have direct, face-to-face contact with their teams, find ways to boost morale or address pressing issues as they come, in a remote work scenario, the lines of privacy, personal boundaries and control can get blurry.
We have all read about remote work and employer surveillance, it is a hot topic right now that brings about ethical and privacy concerns – and for good reason.
Employees deserve to have autonomy and asking someone to have their camera and/or microphone on 24/7 is surely born out of mistrust and the need for control.
Management issues that existed in offices before the pandemic have only been exacerbated in 2020, as toxic managers in particular found it harder to justify their existence and iron fist management style when there’s nothing but a camera separating them from their team. The pandemic has only managed to discern true, empathetic leaders from toxic, controlling impostors.
Much to the chagrin of the latter, remote work is not going anywhere. According to businessinsider.com, more than 50% of employees want to continue working remotely even after things go back to normal. It is a staggering percentage that companies cannot ignore, especially if they don’t want to miss out on valuable talent spread across all parts of the globe.
#3 “Person in chair means they are working” mentality
This highly reductive train of thought wreaks havoc in organizations everywhere. And you can often see it translate into job ads that market themselves as “remote” when they really mean…
- Remote but the candidate must be based in a certain location (or don’t bother to apply!)
- Remote but only if the candidate is from countries X, Y or Z
- Remote but only on certain days of the week
- Remote but only if we can monitor you 24/7 via your mic/camera because we believe you're a child and, if we don't supervise you, you won't do anything
Worst of all is that companies don’t shy at all from mentioning all of the above in their job posts, openly excluding valuable talent from their recruitment efforts because they refuse to adapt to a change that is glaringly obvious – employees seek freedom, autonomy and flexibility.
After such a chaotic year, now, more than ever, employees ALSO seek meaningful work and stability.
And statements such as those above ultimately defeat the purpose of remote work in the first place, which should translate into "do your work from anywhere as long as you deliver results because we trust you."
Instead, for employers, it often translates into “yeah, we’ll let you do it, but only on our terms, because we are insecure.”
No human resources textbook that I know of has ever invented a term for companies excluding potential talent based on location and not even shying away from mentioning it in their job ads. I would go as far as to call it recruitment bias or even discrimination.
And it all stems from a fear of remote work in the first place, which exposes office spaces being unjustifiably costly and challenges endless in-person team meetings that accomplish nothing, almost rendering them both obsolete.
Remote work threatens mindless consumerism and wasted time in traffic jams, daring to foster true productivity away from office distractions.
Although not without its downsides, 2020 has proven that those companies which allowed remote work have survived, companies that understood employees want more than foosball tables and free coffee – they want autonomy.
We need a conscious switch from “person in chair means they are working” mentality to “pay for results” mentality. If this happens, companies will soon realize a good candidate will be a top performer from literally anywhere in the world.
Then and only then will they realize they don’t pay for location, they pay for talent, expertise, output and, most importantly, results. And these go far beyond language, culture and geographic boundaries.
#4 Companies fear team cohesion and mental health will suffer
Statistics have shown us that a few major disadvantages of remote work are isolation, presenteeism, fatigue and social disconnect. These have been reported by both team leaders and workers across various sectors.
In fact, employees have often worked more in the quarantine then they would have in the office, with so many of them reporting a lack of work-life balance due to getting e-mails late into the night and their employers expecting them to be constantly present, including on holidays.
In turn, individual mental health can and does affect team productivity and morale over the long-term.
However, if companies have strong leaders who make the effort to keep their team strong and united via the use of technology when face-to-face meetings are impossible and allow their employees to clock out and disconnect just as they would have at the office, they can help alleviate a lot of these negative effects.
#5 Companies see remote workers as “lesser workers”
We have all seen the memes, haven’t we? People dressing up nicely only from the top up before going into a virtual meeting, wearing pajama pants from the waist down.
This stereotype, no matter how funny it is, has managed to make many companies assume remote workers are “lesser workers” or underperformers compared to their office counterpart.
The assumption that someone who works remotely is lazy, wakes up whenever they want and does the bare minimum couldn’t be more false. In fact, as statistics have repeatedly shown us, productivity has not only not been deterred by the covid-imposed lockdown, in some cases, it has even skyrocketed.
Despite those encouraging statistics, some companies’ negative view of remote work remained intact – for example, Deutsche Bank recently proposed taxing remote workers…for working remotely. Yes, you’ve read that correctly.
Moreover, other companies believe people who don’t come to the office should accept a 20% paycut, completely disregarding the fact that remote work comes with additional costs such as utilities, coffee, lunch, heating, turning a room into an office space with all hardware and furniture needed etc.
Such discriminatory initiatives do sound ludicrous, considering that companies have also saved tremendous amounts of money by not paying for expensive office space. Making the employee pay even more out of pocket for working remotely sounds deeply unfair.
However, in the eyes of these companies, it is not - because they believe remote workers are lesser workers.
That flawed reasoning still stubbornly exists, despite the writing on the wall – that remote workers can actually help companies significantly cut down costs. In fact, according to lucidhart.com, businesses can save up to $11 000 per employee annually if they allow them to work remotely.
#6 Companies don’t want to give up on the outdated 9 to 5 model
A final justification for small and large organizations alike still being wary of remote work is a very obvious one – they STILL believe in the power of the outdated 9 to 5 model.
They still reject the idea that some people are biologically night owls, while others are early birds. They refuse to adapt to the notion of flexible work, even if that could potentially boost their profits since the members of their team would be clocking in and clocking out at their best possible hours, hours of peak productivity.
I believe a part of this rejection has to do with old procedures put in place, but also some degree of reluctance to change. In essence, I believe some managers simply ask themselves “Why fix it if it’s not broken?”
The problem is, the better question they should be asking is “Even if it does work, how can I make it work even better?”
Can a hybrid model be the answer?
Many sociologists and workforce specialists believe that the best of both worlds could save the day – the so-called hybrid model where we all work from home AND from the office.
This would hypothetically reap the benefits of remote work whilst also avoiding some limitations of it (loneliness, finding it hard to disconnect, overtime, technology-induced burn-out etc.).
However, research is suggesting once again that this model can only work for highly skilled individuals and only in certain industries and parts of the world. Moreover, we should consider the less talked about side of the coin that dictates whether remote work is the solution long-term or not – personality.
Remote work is bound to fit introverted personalities way better than extroverted ones, for the simple reason that the former category will flourish in a quiet environment with less social interaction and more focus on tasks without distractions, as opposed to a large, open-space office where introverts are likely not to feel at the top of their game.
Remote work can also help introverts shine by results instead of being passed on for promotions simply for not interacting enough or being seen as anti-social. It can also cut some social inequalities because everyone is judged solely by their results, not based on what they wear, how nice they are to the boss, how many good jokes they tell over lunch etc.
Extroverts, on the other hand, will feel the downsides of remote work even more, since they take their creativity and inspiration from day to day social interactions and bouncing of ideas in a team environment.
The bottom line
Although some companies still struggle to accept the reality and ever-growing popularity of remote work, it is very clear that it is here to stay and the future labor market will look so much different from now.
Digitalization and automation will make low wage jobs disappear and self-service industries and restaurants will be the first to feel it – self-check-out will replace cashiers and delivery will replace traditional dining. This will make some jobs either obsolete or forced to reinvent themselves to fit into the digital landscape of tomorrow.
This trend was in the works for many years now but 2020 has accelerated it to an unprecedented level.
I believe 2021 will be the year we see remote work and digital nomads becoming a reality instead of a deviation from the office norm.
However, it is on the path to getting there, with remote jobs being added daily from an array of different industries, industries we thought, not too long ago, were only fit for an office environment.
This will enable companies to have access to a larger talent pool, if only they’ll be willing to cast a larger net in the future.
Only time will tell.