We won’t discuss the Coronavirus, we all know it’s spreading and both containment and quarantine aids with reducing the spread. Rather we will discuss how, even in the face of a pandemic, so many companies are still resisting the implementation of remote work.

Earlier this week Microsoft recommended all of its Seattle-area employees who are capable of doing their jobs from home, do so for the next three weeks (March 25th, 2020). Additionally, Amazon has now asked all Seattle employees to work from home if possible until the end of March. Companies and organizations with an honest concern for their staff and the public at large, have implemented remote work in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Those companies include but are not limited to Apple, JPMorgan (12,500 employees), Square, Twitter, HSBC, Facebook, Google, Salesforce (including Tableau), Hitachi, Chevron, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Nordstrom, and Indeed. This is a list of companies identified with ten-minutes of cursory research, imagine the number of companies we would identify with a deeper look.

Portrait of young angy frustrated office worker

So much of the workforce is now more than able to perform their duties at home, more specifically, just about anywhere with an Internet connection and a computer.  The age of desks, cubicles, huddle-rooms, and endless meetings is over. Still don’t believe it? “…one 2015 study based in a Chinese travel agency found that when call-center employees were shifted to working from home, their productivity increased by an average of 13%, apparently due to a reduction in break time and sick days combined with a more comfortable work environment.” Okay, not everyone works a call-center, Harvard Business School states: “While working remotely, productivity increased among all examiners and continued to rise with each step toward the full work-from-anywhere policy, the researchers found. Productivity increased 4.4 percent when employees moved from working at home on a limited basis to the location of their choice.”

The question then remains why?  Why are we still in the offices?  Why are our teams still in cubicles?  Why is videoconferencing taking so long to grow in older established companies?  Let’s explore why your employer is resisting remote work even in the face of a potential global pandemic.

Some companies fear multi-tasking.  They fear employees will multi-task and will use time committed to their employer for other things.  We will save debunking multi-tasking to NPR and focus more on the multi-tasking claim.  A great number of employees working remotely are salaried employees.  With salaried employees, where the employer isn’t paying an hourly rate, shouldn’t the management be focused on the deliverable, not the man-hours?  How does managing the number of hours a person works benefit the company if a project never finishes?  So many poorly performing managers conclude that someone at their desk =  working employee.  This is not always so – it’s simply someone sitting at a desk.

Another fear is broken communications.  Email and instant-messaging tools like Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and Slack dominate how employees communicate.  Speculating that loss of face-to-face communication will impact corporate productivity is laughable.  Two days ago Microsoft and Google began offering their platforms for free for six-months to ensure business continuity and ability to communicate as a team.  Moreover, so many meetings lack agendas, focus, minutes, or even action items.  So many are time soaks and not useful at all.

Another inaccuracy is the fear of demotivation and lost collaboration.  Yes, it is important for a company to build culture, however, believing “company culture” will help them hire and retain the best talent isn’t always the case.  To the contrary, “…engagement surveys and analyses by Gallup and Ernst & Young find that workers who have the option to telecommute one to two days a week have higher levels of employee engagement than colleagues who hoof it to the office every day,” says an article from CNN Money. “  This data is in direct contradiction to the fear.  They go on to say “That option can provide an optimal mix of social contact and collaboration with colleagues while preserving time to get individual work done and still meet family obligations.”  How can this be a bad thing?

The data presented here, at Harvard (“Why Remote Workers are more Engaged“), and so many other places make it clear the war against remote workers is the management, not the employee. “Proximity breeds complacency, absence makes people try harder to connect, leaders of virtual teams make better use of tools, and leaders of far-flung teams maximize the time their teams spend together”.

A great employee won’t suddenly become a bad employee simply because they aren’t in the office.  A good employee isn’t asking for flex or remote (even with a potential pandemic, I know that’s hard to believe) simply so they can “moonlight” or work from the beach.  Outstanding talent historically continues being outstanding talent.  Managers must trust their team.  Moreover, accountability is key and management must define goals, work, and objectives if they want to achieve success and productivity both in the office and outside the office.

Prithwiraj, Choudhury, R., Larson, B. Z., & Foroughi, C. (2019, August 14). Is It Time to Let Employees Work from Anywhere? Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2019/08/is-it-time-to-let-employees-work-from-anywhere

How Companies Benefit When Employees Work Remotely. (2019, July 29). Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/how-companies-benefit-when-employees-work-remotely

Kratz, G. (2019, April 11). Fears Your Boss Might Have About Remote Work. Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/fears-boss-might-have-remote-work/

Edinger, S. (2014, August 7). Why Remote Workers Are More (Yes, More) Engaged. Retrieved March 5, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2012/08/are-you-taking-your-people-for