Remote working hampered by the trust gap

2012

Do you think you're more productive when you work somewhere other than the office? Do you think your boss would agree? That difference in perception is just one of the interesting findings in a recent report from Canada, and it raises some trouble issues for remote teams and their managers.

Microsoft Canada just completed its Flexible Workplaces report, and the findings were a bit surprising (although I'm not sure anything surprises me any more, one of the hazards of living in the corporate world for long enough to develop calluses on my soul).

For example, a quarter of managers think their employees are more productive when working remotely. This might seem like a small number, but when more than half (55%) of workers think they're more productive, there's clearly a big disconnect. But most ironically, six out of 10 bosses also think they are more productive when working remotely.

Now, unless bosses and supervisors are inherently better people (pause for harrumphing and hysterical laughter) there is a serious perception problem here. Why don't our managers trust us to work remotely?

The survey sheds some light on why. Managers' major concerns with remote workers were:

  • Almost 50% cited the inability to meet face-to-face as a challenge
  • 26% felt remote workers were less focused than those in the office
  • 22% were concerned about a lack of accountability
  • 22% believed that remote workers just did less work than those in the office

The implications for teams and individuals working in different locations are pretty startling. If we want to eliminate these concerns we need to set up the work with a couple of key metrics in mind. First, we need to measure the amount of output that is created. This is a very different metric from "looking busy".

And what is it about working face to face that makes people feel more comfortable? Odds are it's because you're getting more input-visual as well as vocal and verbal cues that give you a better understanding of what's really going on. Understanding what technology can help, and how to use it appropriately will help.

Unless we can convince our bosses that we're as productive as they are, it's going to be a long frustrating fight. Maybe they're just better people than we are. Yeah, right.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.