By many accounts, remote work looks promising.
At Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, for example, a staggering 94 percent of employers surveyed said that productivity was on par or higher when working remotely as compared to before the pandemic.
Yet while many focus on productivity as their North Star metric of remote work success, this clouds the true realities of remote work. If leaders don't recognize the paradoxes and misconceptions that are at play in remote work environments, these short-term boons in productivity are likely to become long-term busts.
Here's a look at some work-from-home myths and what you should do to correct them:
1. Productivity does not equal hours worked.
It's easy to mistake productivity for time spent working, but a minute worked is rarely a productive minute. Recent research by Asana, a company that I work at, found that in this remote work environment, a whopping 60 percent of workers' time is spent on "work about work" -- sitting in unproductive meetings, checking email, and prioritizing work, for example.
Twitter's shift to allowing most of its employees to work remotely indefinitely -- as reported by The Washington Post -- began with an "off-the-cuff email" from CEO Jack Dorsey that encouraged employees to work from home after he'd been "productive" doing so. Yet most senior executives have admins to schedule their meetings, prioritize their time, and respond to emails, as well as subordinates to search for information for them. Executives often don't realize how much time their workers spend on "work about work" -- and employees typically don't have the luxury of offloading that to others.
So, when executives look at how productive their employees have been during this past year, they often don't consider the crippling "work about work" that impedes productivity. And this can result in a disconnect between how productive execs think their employees are and how productive they actually are.
To succeed post-pandemic, leaders need to acknowledge this disconnect and commit to driving better alignment around the work that matters most. One strategy for achieving this, and one that is especially effective for remote teams, involves setting clear goals around your team's most important tasks. Dr. Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist who runs the Becoming Superhuman Lab at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, has pioneered research on setting a most important task ("MIT") each day, with each team member committing to between one and three core priorities at the start of each day.
2. Access does not equal connection.
Zoom fatigue has impacted us all this year. Most businesses have used Zoom in an attempt to replicate many in-office practices. Zooms have become surrogates for in-person meetings, quick check-ins, happy hours, and more. But it's dangerous to assume that greater access to our co-workers through services such as Zoom and Slack equates to increased connection. It doesn't.
We haven't yet found a way to meaningfully replicate the serendipitous water-cooler conversations that transpire within workplace walls. One recent study looked at the impact of those casual face-to-face interactions on performance and found that lunch meetings between two salespeople, during which they discussed sales approaches, boosted revenues for both by 24 percent. Clearly, these casual face-to-face interactions pack big punches that matter for the top line and should not be overlooked.
3. Less commute time does not necessarily equal more sleep.
One of the biggest boons associated with remote work is a shorter -- or nonexistent -- commute. Yet we can't assume that time saved commuting is time reallocated to sleep. According to the same Asana research mentioned before, more than one-quarter (26 percent) of workers gets fewer than six hours of sleep per night.
Lack of sleep often goes hand-in-hand with burnout. According to Asana's study, seven in 10 workers experienced burnout at least once in the past year. As Yousef explained to me: "Let's use a car as an analogy. If you wanted to improve your car, you might consider investing in new wheels, a better navigation system, or a new paint job. But none of that would matter if the car is on fire."
Unfortunately, many people right now are focused on small optimizations when they are not sleeping (i.e., their cars are on fire). Sleep is the foundation of all performance. It is not a luxury but a necessity that improves the quality of every waking minute the next day.
This movement is not an experiment
Many are calling this seemingly overnight shift to remote work an "experiment". But it's really not. This is real, and the changes leaders are making right now during the pandemic will leave lasting impacts on their remote work practices moving forward. Only by shining light on the common misconceptions and pitfalls of remote work, can leaders effectively assess whether remote or hybrid work can work for their businesses.