Five Common Fears About Remote Work in the Minds of Business Owners

With the pandemic quieting down, people wonder what the future of the post-pandemic workplace will look like.


According to the International Labour Organization (2020), during the second quarter of 2020, 557 million workers worked from home, accounting for 17.4 percent of the world's employment.


Even though many workers would prefer to work remotely even when the coronavirus outbreak is over, many employers worry that allowing it may negatively impact their business.


What are some of the most common fears business owners have regarding remote work, and how reasonable are these fears?


Retention

Now when the post-pandemic world is finally on the horizon, companies are slowly calling their employees back to the office. Many employers worry that their workers may quit if not allowed to continue working from home.


How Reasonable Is This Fear

Recent data show that the fear of losing people for insisting they return to the office is very reasonable. According to beqom’s 2021 Compensation and Culture Report, 77% of employees report they would switch jobs if another company offers them the ability to work remotely post COVID-19. 76% said they would leave their current employer if another company offered more flexibility in working hours.

The data from the Recruiter Index Report show that 53% of recruiters said candidates were "moderately" to "very" open to new opportunities. When asked what these candidates are looking for, 39% of recruiters reported that remote work is the key concern (Kosinski, 2021).

What Can Be Done About It

Remote working doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Many employees would agree to a hybrid schedule. The HBS study (2021) showed that 61% of surveyed workers who have been working from home since March 2020 said they would like a hybrid work schedule where they go to the office two or three days a week.

Where it is possible, the employers could consider what positions are key for business and require for the worker to be at the office every day, and which job positions could be adjusted so the employee could have a hybrid schedule or even work fully remotely.

Loss of Productivity

One of the main concerns when it comes to remote work is that the employees won't be as productive as if they worked in the office. In a survey done by Parker, K. et al. (2020), 38% of managers surveyed agreed that remote workers usually perform worse than those working in an office, while 22% were unsure.


How Reasonable Is This Fear

Numerous studies done during the pandemic showed that the fears of productivity loss weren't realized. Various studies showed that the productivity rates are higher now than they were in the traditional working setting.


Surveying 30,000 Americans over multiple waves, Barrero et al. (2021, p.31) showed that the “data on employer plans and relative productivity imply a 5 percent productivity boost in the post-pandemic economy due to re-optimized working arrangements.”


According to Lister (2021), research has consistently shown that remote work substantially reduces time and energy drains that come with working in an office and increases productivity. For example, respondents said they lost 35 minutes a day less due to interruptions at home versus the office. Furthermore, employees reported they voluntarily worked on average 47% of the time they would have otherwise spent commuting.


Using their Remote Work Savings Calculator, Global Workplace Analytics calculated that a 15% increase in productivity due to remote work would be equivalent to getting 74 new employees at no cost (Lister, 2021).


What Can Be Done About It

Most conventional productivity measures don't capture the time savings from less commuting; therefore, only one-fifth of this productivity gain that comes with remote work will show up when measured in a conventional way (Barrero et al., 2020). Employers should adjust their productivity measures, so they are relevant and provide more reliable results.


It would be best to start by identifying the KPIs for all remote positions. Lulla (2021) suggests including self-discipline and communication effectiveness as two of the most important KPIs for remote workers. Project management software can be used to track progress and create visibility. One of the most important things to keep in mind is to value the result over the hours of work put in. Many prefer working from home because they can work at their own pace. To ensure that the work is still getting done in an appropriate amount of time, it is good to set and communicate the goals frequently, define milestones, and estimate the time needed to complete tasks. It is also helpful to develop a reporting structure and determine when and how an employee should report their progress and completed tasks. Frequent communication and feedback are crucial.


Loss of Control

Many business owners still believe they can and must control their employees. This command-and-control mindset is one of the key parts of their identity, and many are afraid or don't know how to let it go. But this archaic approach to leadership is slowly being left behind as the leaders realize that the empowerment of others to maximize their potential and success is what makes a leader great.


How Reasonable Is This Fear

The attitudes towards work and work/life balance are shifting. As Gallup's analysis showed years before the pandemic (2017, p.5), "Most workers, many of whom are millennials, approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose."

The modern workforce wants to find a job that fits their life. They value learning and developing their skills and wish to use their talents to do their best. They know what they want and are ready to "keep looking for the organization that's mission and culture reflect and reinforce their values" (Gallup, 2017, p.5).

Remote work is not what should be avoided to keep the organization successful and retain the employees. Instead, employers and managers should work on their need for excessive control.


What Can Be Done About It

As mentioned above, the approach to work is changing, and the workers want their work to be meaningful and to reflect their values. All executive levels in an organization should move towards coaching the employees instead of commanding and controlling them. The organization should replace "a culture of 'paycheck' with a culture of 'purpose.'" (Gallup, 2017, p.3)

In today’s world, especially with the younger workforce, an organization that wants to thrive and retain the best talent “needs to switch from a culture of “employee satisfaction” — which only measures things like how much workers like their perks and benefits — to a “coaching culture.” (Gallup, 2017, p.3).


Loss of Culture

A strong organizational culture is vital in attracting the best talent and retaining the most valuable employees. Engaged employees are more likely to stay with their employer, have lower absenteeism rates, are more productive, have more commitment to quality and safety, and care more about customer relationships. Naturally, all of this leads to increased profitability. Many employers fear that it isn't possible to have a strong culture if the employees aren't sharing the same working space.


How Reasonable Is This Fear

A growing number of analyses show that employees have higher engagement when they spend at least some of their time working remotely. Gallup’s analysis showed that all employees who work remotely some of the time (but not all) have higher engagement than those who don’t ever work remotely. The optimal engagement occurs when employees work off-site 60% to 80% (three to four days) of their time.


“Remote working has the greatest returns on engagement when employees maintain some degree of balance: working remotely most of the time but still getting face time with managers and coworkers.” (Gallup, 2017, p.153)


What Can Be Done About It

To create and grow a positive culture with employees who work from home or remotely in any way, the company's culture should be reassessed constantly and, together with its mission and values, frequently communicated.

Open, two-way communication and feedback should be encouraged. Managers should prioritize regularly checking how the employees are doing and if they are having any concerns or issues.

The trend of remote working is spreading rapidly, and with it, new technological solutions are created to facilitate communication. Informal discussions should be encouraged to create an environment that promotes connection and interaction unrelated to work topics. One way to do it is to create a channel for informal communication on the app used for team communication. Strategic meetings or get-togethers can be organized to create more opportunities for all employees to connect. If not possible to do it in person, it can be done virtually.

Communication is vital here, as in many other cases. Through frequent and effective communication, organizational culture can be successfully conveyed even if some workers work remotely.


Information Security

Data security is always an issue when people access systems from their home, or different locations, using their personal computers or phones to work. Naturally, many business owners worry about the security of the company's information and intellectual property.


How Reasonable Is This Fear

With the development of technology, data security will always be an ongoing issue.

When working from home, employees rely on their home networks and, in some cases, their personal devices to complete tasks, which significantly increases the risk of sensitive information being compromised. The fact that most work is done online makes the cybersecurity risk levels higher (Irwin, 2021).


What Can Be Done About It

Whenever possible, all work should be done using a corporate laptop subject to remote access security controls. That way, the IT team can monitor malicious activities (Irwin, 2021).


Softwares, such as VPNs can be used to provide secure internet access and enable protected network communication. Antivirus software can keep PCs safe from viruses. Employees could use software to create strong passwords, and get used to using two-factor authentication. It is advisable to train the employees to teach them how to act responsibly with the important information and what they can do to prevent accidental breaches.


Companies should make it a priority to take the necessary measures to keep their data secure.


What Does It All Mean?

Even though remote work comes with specific challenges, many of the concerns related to it could be minimized with a careful selection that maximizes the chances of having employees who could work remotely with high efficiency.

Remote work doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Employees could be offered a hybrid work schedule. It is shown that this style of working is something many employees would gladly accept and be satisfied with.


The pandemic taught us that employees are capable of working effectively from home. Moreover, a growing number of studies show that they could be even more productive working off-site. The old command-and-control approach to work is slowly being abandoned by all who pay attention to changes in the traditional workplace and care to make their company an attractive place for talented job seekers.


When their needs are considered, and the employer trusts them, employees are more likely to stay with their employer and have higher levels of engagement.

Modern organizations will look significantly different from what we are used to, and only those ready to adapt will survive and thrive in this fast-changing environment.

References

Barrero, J. M., Bloom, N., & Davis, S. J. (2021, April 21). Why working from home will stick [Working Paper]. file:///C:/Users/Sanela/Downloads/SSRN-id3741644%20(1).pdf

beqom. (2021). 2021 Compensation and culture report. beqom.com. https://www.beqom.com/hubfs/E-Guides%20And%20Reports/2021-Compensation-And-Culture-Report.pdf


Gallup, Inc. (2017). State of the american workplace report. file:///C:/Users/Sanela/Downloads/Gallup_State_of_the_American_Workplace_Report.pdf


International Labour Organization (2021, March). From potential to practice: Preliminary findings on the numbers of workers working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---travail/documents/briefingnote/wcms_777896.pdf


Irwin, L. (2021, May 5). The cyber security risks of working from home. IT Governance. https://www.itgovernance.co.uk/blog/the-cyber-security-risks-of-working-from-home


Kosinski, M. (2021, March 15). Worried about employee retention in the post-pandemic era? You really should be. Recruiter.com. https://www.recruiter.com/i/covid-employee-retention/


Lister, K. (2021). The business case for remote work. [White Paper]. Global Workplace Analytics and Design Public Group. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/whitepapers


Lulla, A. (2021, January 11). The new employee KPIs: How to measure productivity and performance when working remotely. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbeshumanresourcescouncil/2021/01/11/the-new-employee-kpis-how-to-measure-productivity-and-performance-when-working-remotely/?sh=3d7dc4cd4cea


Parker, K., Menasce Horowitz, J., & Minkin, R. (2020, December 9). How the coronavirus outbreak has – and hasn’t – changed the way Americans work. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/12/09/how-the-coronavirus-outbreak-has-and-hasnt-changed-the-way-americans-work/