The debate around wide-scale remote work is still relatively new, but it’s bringing up a lot of outdated assumptions and misunderstandings:
- It’s only for tech workers.
- It’s less productive.
- Only executives want to return to the office.
- Remote work is just a flash-in-the-pan concept.
- People who love remote work are usually antisocial or nomadic.
I get it. I’ve experienced both sides of the workplace, from being in an office full-time to being fully remote (and answering calls from a tuktuk in Thailand to a camel in Morocco—but those are different stories). It’s easy to make quick judgments about new work styles, but these assumptions will prevent businesses from succeeding in today’s hybrid work reality. I’ve learned this firsthand in conversations with our more than 2,000 employees, most of whom are hybrid or remote. It’s also been echoed by the more than 200,000 small and medium-sized business owners Gusto works with.
A recent McKinsey study found that 58% of Americans—roughly 98 million people—can work from home at least part of the time. These people work across industries, from technology and healthcare to education and food service. Remote work hasn’t decreased as COVID-19 mandates expired. In fact, the number of fully remote workers has increased 240% since 2021. Flexibility is now the number-one decision factor for job candidates. To stay competitive, business leaders need to stop tolerating remote work and begin embracing it.
Your employees are going to have a workplace experience whether or not you design it. As leaders, we must approach remote and hybrid work like human beings, which means considering how life has changed, accounting for the many nuances, and being open to feedback. No single experience defines remote work or the people who choose it. To truly embrace flexibility and create equitable, engaging experiences for employees, leaders must drop the myths associated with remote work, starting with these four.
Myth 1: Executives are pushing for a return to full-time, in-office work
The remote work conversation can easily fall into an “us versus them” narrative that doesn’t serve anyone. It is simply not true that all executives want to return to the “good old days” of in-office work while their teams want to work remotely.
Priorities have changed, including for executives. Gusto cofounder Edward Kim was once a remote work skeptic, but has since seen the valuable impact it’s had on himself and his team. I went through a similar shift. I’m a mom who at one point was a devoted office-goer. But now that I’ve spent two years working productively from home with my daughter down the hall, I can’t imagine returning to the office full time. Fortunately, business needs don’t have to come with a personal cost. They can coexist.
At Gusto, a third of our executive team now works remotely. We’ve found it crucial to have leadership who understand the varied experiences and challenges of remote work to help avoid unintentional proximity bias. Little moments of inclusion can make a big difference, and remote leaders are often more likely to think of and then create those moments. For example, our head of design, who works remotely from Canada, made sure all employee geographies were included in a recent map of our team population and has done a great job voicing the perspective of remote employees in decision-making discussions.
Myth 2: Remote workers are antisocial or nomadic
The truth is that many types of people can benefit from remote work, and many remote employees care deeply about forging meaningful connections with colleagues. In a recent internal study, 80% of our remote employees surveyed said they wanted to connect with people at work via common interests, while 73% said they wanted to connect with people who live near them.
When we launched a Slack channel for remote employees, the first thing people did was match locations, share information about existing mini-channels based on geography, and plan in-person meetups. Eighteen of our employees living in Austin met up for the first time recently, including Sahin Boydas, CEO of RemoteTeam, a company that Gusto acquired remotely. Until then, Sahin hadn’t met any of Gusto’s leaders or his colleagues in person.
Make sure geography-based Slack channels and other internal communities are easy to find so people can choose to opt in, especially during onboarding, and decide how they want to participate. A clever Slack channel name might be confusing or difficult to find for a new employee.
Myth 3: Virtual relationships are superficial
An extension of the antisocial myth is that the connections employees forge virtually lack depth. I’ve seen the opposite happen. The pandemic forced people to reevaluate their priorities and how they spend their time. Many surface-level relationships dwindled during the pandemic—the people we saw every day at the coffee shop or at a fitness class. What I’m seeing and experiencing is that people are hungry for deeper relationships, and those connections are often being made virtually.
One colleague told me about being in a virtual meeting with an executive when the executive’s young child walked in and announced she’d lost her tooth. Such a unique shared moment, which they couldn’t have had in the office, deepened their relationship.
The lines between work and home have blurred. More people are bringing their full selves to work, which results in deeper bonds. We’ve gotten to see our colleagues’ children, their pets, their plants, their homes. That is just as meaningful, if not more so, than small talk at the water cooler because those things are vulnerable extensions of ourselves.
Myth 4: People are less productive at home
One of my first goals as head of Remote Experience at Gusto was to get feedback from our employees, about half of which work remotely. I’ve heard again and again that people get an energy boost from the office but are more productive at home.
The data reflect this: research has shown that productivity improves over time with remote work. A study conducted by Gusto found that 34% of companies with remote and hybrid workplaces said the skills and experience of new hires has improved, and 27% reported that productivity increased as a result of remote work.
Productivity has changed, and as leaders our expectations around it need to evolve as well. The myth that remote work is less productive comes from an even older myth that people have to be glued to their desks from 9 to 5. Allow employees to choose when in their day they get their work done while creating systems that enable accountability and trust in one another. When people feel free to do things like take personal breaks to change laundry during traditional work hours, at the end of the day they can actually unplug, recharge, and be more productive the next day.
As much as I believe that figuring out how to work remotely is a big advantage for our company, I’ve also learned that not everyone thrives in a remote work environment. Help your employees identify that in themselves. Develop ways to help your teams figure out where and how they do their best work. Letting go of outdated perspectives will help you build the best experience for employees, no matter where they choose to work from.
Liberty Planck is head of Remote Experiences at Gusto.