Are Remote Employees Preventing Themselves from Doing Great Work?

remote employees preventing themselves from doing great workThere are an endless number of studies that indicate that remote workers are more productive and happier working from home – some reporting rates as high as 94% of those surveyed claiming to “as productive” or “more productive” than working in the office. Furthermore, data shows that they also work more hours and have higher job satisfaction. Erin Nelson summarizes this perspective when she says, “Remote workers demonstrated a productivity boost because they eliminated distractions like commuting into the office, changing their work hours to fit their schedules, and worrying about being late. Remote workers found it easier to concentrate at home.”

And while that’s (apparently) the majority opinion, we’ve seen firsthand how very untrue that is for a large segment of remote workers – workers with children who are at home with them. Just ask Aaron Blank. His recent article “Dear Working America, Please be Kind to Working Parents Right Now” sheds some light on how the rest of the workforce is struggling right now.

But children are not the only distractions at home – there’s also pets, partners, laundry, and ourselves.

The Struggle is Real

With society’s strong emphasis on adapting and overcoming right now, it seems like no one really wants to talk about what isn’t working. But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, employees these days are struggling with:

  • Missing recognition and appreciation from management
  • A disconnect with the company’s mission
  • Isolation from other team members
  • Lack of motivation to do great work
  • Concerns about the future of their job or the company

These challenges are combining to create a mental health crisis among many workers that’s affecting their work.

So, while employees think they’re doing great work at home, this perception may not be reality.

We are Our Own Barriers

Conversations with some of our friends and colleagues have indicated that both individual contributors and management have observed efficiency losses and a decline in the quality of work being performed.

There are many possible causes. Issues on teams can arise when too many employees have shifted their schedules to take care of children who are learning virtually. Team members who have decided to travel long-term may now find themselves in time zones that are not conducive to collaborating with colleagues at home. And then there’s what I’ll refer to as “College Freshman Syndrome” – the temptation to run wild with your freedom (and perhaps your standards slide) when the boss isn’t a few cubicles away.

Employees Gone Wild

Our curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to anonymously poll our friends and colleagues about how they’ve been working. We wanted to know, what are people doing that’s stymieing doing their best work? We could have created a lengthy questionnaire, but instead we simply asked, “What’s the worst thing you’ve done while working remotely?”

And this is what we found out. The people we surveyed admitted to doing the following things at least once while working from home over the last year (ranked in order by number of responses):

  1. Worked while sitting on the toilet
  2. Consumed alcohol while in a virtual meeting
  3. Pretended to have a meeting to avoid other people in their household
  4. Watched TV while working (sometimes while in meetings)
  5. Muted a virtual meeting to say something inappropriate
  6. Logged into a conference call and then left the room to do something else
  7. Lied about having a non-work obligation
  8. Was late to an important meeting
  9. Worked from bed (and not always alone!)
  10. Spent significant time gossiping about coworkers over chat
  11. Fell victim to a cyber fraud scheme

A Business Reaction

These responses were really eye opening to us, and they should be to HR departments and managers as well because they highlight how decision-making has changed with work being done remotely. For instance, the people who are drinking on Zoom calls right now would probably never even consider strolling past their boss’s desk with a beer in hand, but the distance has made inappropriate behavior seem less offensive.

In the same way that an employee might fib on a timecard because it feels less like stealing that swiping a box of office supplies, poor decision-making feels more like unabashed autonomy than limiting your company’s potential. However, that’s exactly what it is.

Employees that feel underappreciated or lonely or worried about their job security may find themselves lacking the focus and motivation needed to do their best work, creating a vicious cycle that can bring down even the most profitable businesses. Companies should look for red flags that indicate employees are struggling and have a response plan in place to help them succeed in their new environment. Curbing these kinds of actions not only improves the outlook of the business financially, but also preserves the company culture that so many firms have worked so hard to foster over the years.

Acting now to course correct where needed can create a stronger company that is better poised for success once employees start coming back together again, no matter when or how that plays out in the coming year(s).

About the Author


Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing. Her areas of expertise include Search Engine Optimization, Business Blogging, and Copywriting. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and two children and enjoys cooking, watching sports, and spending time together as a family.

Like a true digital marketing geek, she loves talking about current marketing trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Topics: Profitability Leadership Management Business Culture Professional Development Collaboration Personal Development Change Management