Why remote working is not all its made out to be

Employees working offsite report facing more workplace politics than their office-based colleagues.

Working remotely has become a highly sought-after job perk. Having the flexibility to live and work where one pleases, regardless of corporate headquarters, often draws people to take one job over another.

But while popular and convenient, a new study by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, authors of the bestsellers Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability, shows that not everything comes up roses when working remote.

According to the study of some 1,200 employees, communicating and working from different locations via technology is especially challenging for off-site workers. Over half of respondents in the study who work remotely feel their colleagues don't treat them equally.

Specifically, remote employees have a significantly harder time with the following workplace challenges than their office-based colleagues:

  • Colleagues don't fight for my priorities: 67% of remote employees felt this way vs. 59% of onsite employees.
  • Colleagues say bad things about me behind my back: 41% of remote employees felt this way vs. 31% of onsite employees.
  • Colleagues make changes to the project without warning me: 64% of remote employees felt this way vs. 58% of onsite employees.
  • Colleagues lobby against me with others: 35% of remote employees felt this way vs. 26% of onsite employees.

And when they experience these challenges, remote employees have a hard time resolving them. In fact, when encountering one of these issues, 84% of off-site employees said the concern dragged on for a few days or more, and 47% admitted to letting it drag on for a few weeks or more.

And these problems don't just affect relationships. Remote employees see larger and more negative impacts on results like productivity, costs, deadlines, morale, stress and retention.

But since the trends prove working remote is here to stay, Maxfield and Grenny say the solution is not to call in the troops, but to lead out with stellar communication. 

"Our research over the past three decades proves the health and success of any team is determined by the quality of communication between colleagues," says Maxfield.

"Teams that can hold candid and effective dialogue—minus the emotions and politics—experience higher morale and results like better quality, shorter time-to-market, better decision making, etc."

Grenny adds that managers play a particularly important role when it comes to communication. "When managers model stellar communication, the rest of the team follows suit," he says.

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