Remember the before-time? Pre-pandemic that is, back when many of us dutifully reported to the office day in and day out, perhaps a bit envious of those with the coveted “work-from-home” positions. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us could use a little accountability sometimes, and being in the office helped with that. Even employees with a less-than-accurate moral compass felt the ever-present eyes of their co-workers, which surely prevented theft to some degree – be it office supplies, money, or time. With so many of us working remotely now, is accountability slipping? Is that ok?
As the work-from-home (WFH) debate persists, we are presented with compelling research, albeit often ambiguous, supporting both sides of the indisputably multi-faceted and polarizing topic. The only thing all sides seem to agree on is this: there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.
Those in Tech find themselves in a unique position.
The pandemic was a catalyst that thrust many businesses scrambling into a WFH model to survive, but remote work was already common in the Tech world. According to Gallup, workers in “computer-oriented” fields represent the largest faction of remote workers, with 86% working remotely at least part of the time (hybrid), and the majority doing so exclusively.
This doesn’t come as a shock, as Tech roles with digital deliverables are by their very nature suited to be done remotely and need little more than a solid internet connection to perform. But has bringing more industries into the post-pandemic-era remote work fold exposed areas where WFH scenarios fall short? With over 3 years of statistics and surveys providing sometimes conflicting insight into how remote work impacts employers and employees, organizations across all industries are slowly enforcing a Return to Office (RTO), and the Tech industry is no exception.
Many companies are enforcing an RTO ultimatum, resulting in fewer remote roles available. This makes an especially precarious situation for the 57% of workers who report they would look for a new job if their current company no longer offered remote work. Competition for the WFH roles will intensify, and only top performers will be successful in holding these positions long-term.
What are we sacrificing in exchange for our remote work?
A staggering 98% of workers desire to work remotely at least part-time and 65% of them want to be fully remote. Citing perks including no commute, fewer distractions from co-workers, more autonomy, and a more flexible work-life balance, many employees feel more productive in a WFH environment. Statistics measuring productivity are difficult to quantify for some roles, so there’s no difficulty finding data to support or oppose WFH. But many, including Gene Marks of The Guardian, argue against fully remote work, stating:
“…the work-from-home trend is too strong to resist. That’s because there’s this illusion of more independence, flexibility, and control over one’s life…”
That “illusion of control” cannot be taken lightly. We all want to steer our own ships, but are we trading too much for that illusion? The data makes it clear that most workers prefer a WFH environment, but let’s be real about the common challenges – mental and physical. Here are some of the top complaints:
◾Isolation – Even introverts can feel a bit cut off when working remotely. Many report they don’t feel the same connection to their coworkers, even with company chats and video conferencing. Without the necessary movement for commuting to and from, and around the office, many are much less active. Some state they are much less inclined to leave the house for simple errands, leading to fewer opportunities for daily social interaction.
◾Boundaries – When your living room doubles as your office, it can be especially hard to draw the line between work and play.
◾Distractions – This goes both ways. Many feel they’re more productive at home, with fewer interruptions from co-workers and other office distractions, but home environments may have their own set of disruptions if not adequately addressed: family, pets, mail carriers, internet outages, small household chores, etc.
Dealing with distractions in any setting requires accountability. No matter the work environment, there will always be employees that don’t blink an eye at taking advantage of the trust their employer places in them. Remember the office supply hoarder or the endless bathroom break taker? Remote work faces its own set of challenges, prompting 60% of companies to use monitoring software to track remote employees.
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Time. The most precious commodity.
At what point does engaging in a non-work-related activity require an adjustment of hours? Extended bathroom breaks are just the beginning. Overemployment is a term used to describe a remote worker working 2 full-time jobs simultaneously (without their employer’s knowledge), and the trend has soared in the tech world since the pandemic. It should go without saying that this practice is deceptive and equates to theft, but that hasn’t stopped a reported 36% of remote workers from trying to juggle 2 full-time jobs at once in the last year! Are there really that many people willing to do that—and admit it!?
The implications aren’t just detrimental to the employer being defrauded out of honest pay for honest work, but also to the community at large. Every employee engaged in dual full-time employment leaves their co-workers left to make up for their shoddy work and takes away another opportunity for someone else seeking legitimate, full-time employment. Whatever justifications the overemployed are using, if two companies are expecting full-time work, then this is theft, plain and simple.
Most of us (at least presumably the other 64%) likely agree that overemployment is wrong. But what about those extended bathroom breaks or scrolling social media? How long were you zoned out, catching up on what your high school ex is up to these days, before remembering you’re on company time? Do you justify the quick game of Candy Crush as a brain break, or is it the remote workers’ equivalent of stealing post-it notes and fancy pens from the supply closet? What about throwing in a load of laundry? Doing the dishes for 10 minutes? Self-discipline and integrity are important traits for any remote employee, but without that co-worker accountability, having the ability to determine precisely where the line is drawn can be complicated. Should employers just trust their employees completely or is it better to “trust but verify?”
Taking deceptive workers out of the equation (they’ll attempt to skim off the top no matter where they land), it’s important to remember there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for remote work. Not everyone will be equally productive in a WFH environment, struggling with isolation or lack of structure, while others will excel in the flexibility and autonomy it offers. Finding the right balance and being honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses will help determine if perhaps a hybrid or on-site role may actually be optimal for your situation and offer you the setting in which you will thrive.
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