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  • Jesse

Three remote-working myths that could be harming your team’s productivity

I’ve been a remote worker for a little over five years. Though these days it’s become very commonplace, when I first started it was a novelty. People would regularly ask me very insightful questions like, “do you wear pants at work?” (Yes, I do. I’m very pro-pants). 

Another common question I got was “how do you get anything done?” The assertion being that household chores, or other distractions, would surely get in the way of my ability to complete any sort of meaningful work. It may seem that’s an obvious truth–that remote workers are less productive–however, the converse is actually true. Remote workers tend to be more productive than their in-office counterparts. 

Even with the data clearly showing there’s no need to rush back to the office, it still seems to be on a lot of employers minds. And I can’t help but wonder if that’s due to some other myths about remote work floating around. At the very least, it does seem some remote-working myths are informing how people are managing their remote teams. Sometimes to their detriment. 

To help quell some fears, and improve your team’s overall productivity, I’ve put together a list of three common remote-working myths and show how they could be harming your team. I also cover how you can overcome any issues and move toward a more fruitful future. 

Myth #1: Video-on calls improve participation

Communication always seems to be a topic of discussion for remote teams. It makes sense. In order to do our best work, we do need to be able to talk to others. Though we have more communication tools–email, Slack, Zoom, etc.–open to now than we probably ever have, communication still tends to be an obstacle.

For remote teams video conferencing is really as close to in-person interaction as there is. Though it’s close in some aspects, in others, it’s very different. One of the main ways it differs is even though you can see others on a video call, you’re not able to pick up on the same non-verbal cues as you do in person. 

The net effect being people actually talk less with video on because it’s hard to know when it’s alright to interject, or offer your thoughts. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows you’re probably better served going audio-only for task-focused team discussions. It increases the equality of speaking-time, which in-turn means you get the most value out of the team discussion.

Myth #2: You need to be in constant contact

When I got my first remote position my then boss joked that they wanted to install a camera in my home-office to make sure I was actually working. It wasn’t meant to be disparaging to me, it was just something new for them, and they didn’t know how it would go. 

Since that isn’t particularly legal, or advisable for so many reasons, what ended up happening was I got messages all day long making sure I was working. Again, their intention was good but the net effect was I would start working on something, then have to stop to reassure them that I was on-task. It was a constant cycle of restarting that made it really difficult to focus. 

According to the research mentioned above, the most successful teams actually communicate in real-time bursts. Basically, what that means is there are short periods where team members interact in real-time and then have long periods of relative silence. 

It not only allows people to get much needed answers to questions they have quickly, but it also ensures time where team members can focus without distractions. Being able to do so allows them to engage in deep work and get more out of their day

To help facilitate this type of interaction, consider setting up “office hours” where team members are expected to be available for real-time communication. It can be tough to set up initially, but will pay off in the long run. 

Myth #3: Work-life balance is easier for remote workers

Have you ever heard the term coupling? It has a few different definitions, but in psychology it’s the idea that environment and behavior are linked. Basically, depending on where you are (your physical environment) your behavior changes. Place affects behavior, mood, and a number of other things. 

And if you think about it, you’ll probably find it to be true (If you really want to test the theory out, walk the halls of your old highschool). With remote working though it’s nice to avoid a commute of sorts, what that means is where you work, and where you escape from work are the same place. Which can make it very difficult to decompress. 

I remember early on in my remote-working career I almost never turned my computer off. Since it was close by, I’d routinely check email after working hours, or do things on the weekend. Nothing big, but eventually all those little things added up. By the time I realized it, I was burnt out

In order to stop your team from experiencing a similar issue, I have a few suggestions. First, make it known that the expectation is at the end of the day they leave work and don’t look at it again until the next day begins. Second, if possible, offer a discretionary budget for team members to create a dedicated workspace. Last, encourage time-off regularly.  And research shows regular time-off actually improves overall productivity. Everyone needs a break sometimes. Even if their commute is just from bed to desk. 

A more productive future

Though remote-working isn’t as novel as it once was, there are still some old myths floating around that could be negatively affecting your team. Things like communication, and work-life balance will always be worth optimizing. So, even if something seems to follow conventional wisdom, it’s better to stay curious and be open to change. 

At the end of the day, it really comes down to taking care of your people. Being mindful of practices that could be less-than-optimal is one of the best ways you can do just that. Remember, it’s the teams that are the happiest and healthiest that perform the best. Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.

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