Myth: Everyone Has To Be Remote

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Updated March 23, 2023

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Today, only 30% of remote-friendly companies are all-remote.* Despite a degree of punditry on this topic, especially from early-stage startups, remote-first or all-remote companies aren’t guaranteed to be “doing remote” better. Remote is very rarely all or nothing. Almost every company is a hybrid and each person or team is on a continuum of on-site to fully remote.

The vast majority of companies are going to have to ease into supporting remote work and intentionally design the right culture, processes, and systems to support it. What matters is that they consciously examine what will work for them, and plan to revisit that as their company grows and plans change. There are a few common pitfalls to look out for as this happens.

cautionWhen no one in management or a leadership position is remote—as often happens in many hybrid remote companies—you’re more likely to be missing key pain points or cultural problems for remote workers. You’re also more likely, (although not guaranteed) to have a system where decisions are made centrally and remote employees feel they are “out of sight, out of mind,” and left out of what’s happening in the office.

cautionThe corollary pitfall when everyone isn’t remote is treating remote work as a privilege. Remote work is sometimes offered as a perk or gift to more highly valued or tenured employees, and not offered equally for everyone. It is important not to treat remote work as a privilege, but instead to understand that it is a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship that both sides continually invest in.

It’s worth noting that plenty of people simply prefer to work in an office. They may thrive on social connection, and be more energized working face-to-face with their colleagues. They may appreciate an emphasis on collaboration over autonomy, or freewheeling discussion over planned agenda meetings. Whether or not someone prefers an office environment or a remote one is often couched in terms of extroverts vs. introverts, but it’s more complicated than that. In reality, the likelihood of a person’s success in and happiness with one environment or another is influenced by a variety of personality and work style factors. For example, those who prefer not to work remotely can express concerns about isolation, distractions at home, or a dislike or discomfort with video conferencing.

importantHow sophisticated a company’s remote policies are can influence whether someone who considers themselves an extrovert would actually thrive in a remote setting. But remote work is not for everyone, and no amount of evangelizing can change someone’s mind when they just want to be around other people.

cautionAn ironic corollary to the myth that you can hire people anywhere is that if you don’t have a hybrid model with an office people can work from, you might also be missing out on talented employees who much prefer an office environment over working from home.

Not everyone is compatible with remote and that’s okay. We’ve had numerous people over the years quit HashiCorp saying ‘loved the work, loved the people, but I just need in-person social interaction.’ That’s totally normal.Mitchell Hashimoto, co-founder and CTO, HashiCorp*

Myth: Companies Won’t Know What Remote Employees Are Doing

When companies or managers say this, what they really mean is, “When people are in the office, I think I know when they’re working.” But presence doesn’t guarantee productivity, and it certainly doesn’t mean employees have clarity about what they should be working on. As we discuss in Key Channels and Tools for Remote Communication, the practices of clearly setting team goals and establishing more asynchronous channels of communication allow remote teams to thrive without constant managerial oversight.

cautionInstalling monitoring software will not help your company know for sure if people are working instead of slacking off. In fact, it will erode trust, which is the backbone of a healthy remote team.* A properly aligned remote team with clear goals and autonomy won’t require tracking. (See more in Managing Distributed Teams and Remote Company Culture.)

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