Thanks to the modern conveniences of hyper-connectivity, remote work is no longer the new-fangled, unknowable trend it once was. A 2018 survey by WorkplaceTrends.com and Virgin Pulse found that the number of remote workers has increased by a whopping 115% globally in the last 10 years.
Singapore is no exception to the rule: according to the recent IWG Flexible Working Survey, more than 60% of Singaporean employees work remotely on a weekly basis. Despite how commonplace a practice it’s become, there are still many misconceptions about remote work and flexible work arrangements out there.
For managers, in particular, it’s vital to understand the nuances between these challenges that remote workers face. To begin with, the two most common challenges that remote workers face tend to be highly misunderstood: here’s why.
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The most enduring caricature of remote workers is one that’s been debated since the possibility of remote work first surfaced: that they just don’t get anything done. Studies by Ohio University economics professor Glenn Dutcher, for instance, found that people still think that remote workers get less done at home compared to if they came into the office.
The perception itself stems from a largely baseless stereotype, though. In Singapore’s context specifically, Business Insider reported that Singapore companies have benefited from an 82% rise in productivity thanks to the introduction of flexible work arrangements over the past few years.
Similarly, Forbes reported that accroding to recent surveys of American workers, 91% of employees felt more productive when they worked from home as compared to the office. What’s more, it’s also been shown that remote workers take fewer sick days and less vacation time than their office counterparts.
What’s more damaging than the actual productivity of remote workers, though, is whether their colleagues thought they were getting enough work done or not.
According to Glenn Dutcher, economics professor at Ohio University, teams that consisted of both office and remote workers were far less productive when the office workers perceived that their remote counterparts were working less. Simply put, if they thought their remote co-workers were working less, they’d work less as well.
Following the “unproductive remote worker” stereotype, people often think that remote workers don’t really encounter problems with work-life balance. After all, if you work from home, you probably have more time to yourself, including spending time with your loved ones and (for women especially) taking care of the children.
The reality, though, is that the pursuit of work-life balance can be just as challenging for remote workers as it is for office workers. For one thing, office workers have regular working hours and office buildings, both of which help to delineate “work” and “life” clearly, even if they may be bringing work stress home and home stress to work.
In contrast, remote workers often find it very difficult to separate work and life so clearly, which is understandable since they tend to work from home.
When you’re your own boss, in that sense, you’re the only one who decides how long you work, how many projects you take on, what time you end work, and so on. Without learning to draw the appropriate boundaries (just as office workers do), remote workers can find themselves slipping easily into being overworked, overstressed, and burnt out.