Remote workers are all “lazy gits” who are “watching golf and tennis on television while they are supposed to be working.” How’s that for a hot take?
At least that’s the view of British business magnate Lord Alan Sugar, who tweeted that remote workers should return to the office or be fired. Similarly, Elon Musk announced to Tesla employees recently that remote work is “no longer acceptable” and that anyone who didn’t show up to the office 40 hours a week would be terminated.
While Musk and Sugar reject the idea of having remote work policies, other successful CEOs take a very different view. Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is known to spend large amounts of time working in Hawaii, and his company is forging ahead with plans to allow most of its employees to work from anywhere. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, who allows workers to come in as little as one day a week, commented recently that the office is an “outdated notion.”
As a business owner, whose lead should you follow?
For technology or professional services businesses where remote work is feasible, the evidence is mixed. A 2022 study of 60,000 Microsoft workers published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour found that remote work enhanced short-term projects but had a more deleterious impact on longer-term collaboration.
In other words, working from home helps when you need to buckle down and bang out a session of concentrated work. This makes more sense for certain jobs than others. In 2015, Stanford researchers found that remote workers at one Chinese travel agency were 13% more productive.
However, for workers in roles where innovation is critical, remote work is not conducive to success. Twenty years ago, researchers at Carnegie Mellon wrote that “collaboration at a distance remains substantially harder to accomplish than collaboration when members of a work group are collocated.”
Since then, however, advancements in top business phone systems, such Nextiva and RingCentral, and highly rated business video conferencing services, such as Zoom and GoToMeeting, have helped with that problem. The word “Zoom” itself has morphed into a verb, underscoring video conferencing’s explosion into mainstream use. Yet more recent research still points to the importance of physical proximity for technological collaboration.
So what about Sugar’s assertion that remote workers are spending all day goofing off and watching TV?
Judging by the anecdotal evidence, certainly there are some lazy gits among us. One Reddit user confessed to spending most of the day binging Netflix, writing that his boss “has never monitored my work.”
On the other hand, there’s evidence that many remote workers spend more time working than in-office workers do. The aforementioned Nature Human Behaviour study also found that remote employees stay logged in 10% longer than in-office workers do, which is the equivalent of four additional weekly hours for someone working 40 hours a week.
What separates the businesses that get more out of their employees from those that are essentially paying people to watch Netflix or play video games?
Some businesses have installed top-rated employee monitoring software that allows managers to measure employee productivity, enable content filters and screen capture, and track the apps and websites that employees visit on company time. In our review of InterGuard, we found that the software can also track geolocation and help prevent theft of sensitive company data.
Ultimately, a lot of the difference between businesses that succeed with WFH and those that struggle comes down to strategies to make employees feel more connected. In some instances, technology can help facilitate more communication. Instant messaging apps such as Slack can substitute for email, and Zoom calls can make work feel more personal. Holding in-person get-togethers and company retreats can also foster more personal relationships among employees who normally work apart.
As with most nuanced issues, there isn’t a simple answer to whether remote workers are more or less productive than in-office workers. For some jobs and projects, working at home can enhance productivity; in others, it can detract from long-term performance. Likewise, some employees work even longer hours at home, while others spend their hours becoming experts on Netflix’s content library.
Based on what we know about the pros and cons of remote work, it seems inevitable that many companies will settle on a hybrid solution. In that case, it pays for businesses to make sure they have the right tools in place to facilitate this arrangement.
Lazy gits? Maybe, but that probably means you’re doing it wrong.