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The Great Debate: Are Remote Workers Lazy?

Remote workers are becoming a regular occurrence in the workplace, feeding the fire of the great debate: Are remote workers less productive? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 percent of workers did some or all of their work at home in 2015. But even as we see remote working take its prominent place, some are reevaluating the efficiency of those who work from home.

Recently, IBM has spurred on the debate by recalling remote workers and pushing for their employees to spend more time in the office. Approximately 2,600 workers were informed in February 2017 that they could choose to work in one of six U.S. offices, or find work elsewhere. This came as somewhat of a shock to many, considering the role IBM played in leading the remote working trend decades ago.

Why the change? Business Insider reports that IBM was able to save over $100 million by allowing its employees to work from home. However, the counterargument shows that the company has also experienced 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue. A spokesperson for IBM described the need for teams to work together because marketing is no longer a “waterfall process.”

With this ballsy move from IBM, a company known for its previous support of remote workers, some are reconsidering the question: Are remote workers lazy?

Before we address this assumption, ask yourself this question: Do all entrepreneurs start businesses because they aren’t able to conform to the rules of working for someone else? Of course not. Do some? Yes, they do. The same answer can be applied to remote workers.

As Americans, we tend to think in black and white, a constant clash of extremes. Should we always practice balance? Yes. Is it okay to lie? No. In reality, the answers to these questions are often somewhere in the middle, rather than an outright affirmation or negation.

In the same way, we can approach the debate of remote workers. Many studies tout the benefits of remote working — greater employee happiness, less overhead costs, reduced attrition, an increase in productivity, among others.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to tell you, I am a full-time remote worker and I have been for the past five years. Here are a few things I have learned from my own experience:

  1. Some people are bad at working from home. Some people choose remote work because they aren’t great at the ol’ 9-5 and they can focus their efforts more fully away from the distractions of a traditional office. But let’s be honest, others opt for this route because they lack motivation. Now, this does not apply to the majority of those I have met and worked with, but to deny these people exist, would be unfair. Most remote workers I have been lucky enough to interact with are amazingly talented people who decided to take the risk of embracing a remote work life.

  2. Remote work does come with distractions, but often no more than you’d find in an office environment. I have often seen the argument that working remote is fraught with too many distractions: laundry, household chores, a favorite TV show, the general temptation to engage in anything other than work. But an office has its own set of distractions, as well: coworkers pulling you away from a task, another meeting that doesn’t involve you, being caught up in endless conversations in the hallways. These are distractions that you do not have at home.

  3. Remote working is not for everyone or for every job. Despite the often lauded benefits of working from home, some employees need the structure and collaboration that comes more naturally in an office environment. Even with my own experiences working from home, I sometimes find that certain projects are more successful when I gather with other team members and we meet face-to-face to get things rolling. Other projects don’t require much teamwork and are more easily accomplished by myself. Whether you are a remote worker or an office employee, I recommend that you are open to both options when approaching a new project.

Let me leave you with this: All jobs should not be remote and this type of employee situation is not for everyone.

There’s a but…BUT, most remote workers I have had the privilege of engaging with are hardworking, diligent, and talented and were just brave enough to take the plunge. Don’t shut yourself off to using remote workers or becoming one. I only urge you to evaluate all of the options before deciding if your job or your business needs are a good fit for remote working. And, give your remote worker some professional courtesy. It’s not as easy as it looks.

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