The Dangers of A Remote Workforce for Your Employees and Your Business

The Dangers of Remote Work for Your Business

Per a survey by the Harvard Business Review, 89% of office worker respondents said their general workplace wellbeing has declined during the pandemic while working from home. Here are the dangers of remote work:

  1. Burnout:  Per the Harvard Business Review, the vast majority of remote workers have experienced work from home burnout (1). According to another survey of 1000 employees at companies with at least 500 people, 72% reported they were experiencing burnout, up from 42% prior to the pandemic (10).
  2. Isolation:  Also per the Harvard Business Review, employees in remote work have experienced a loss of connections with co-workers (1). Per a McKinsey survey, feelings of isolation ranked the highest as the leading factor that worsened during mandatory work from home (2,3).
  3. Lack of work-life separation and balance:  Per both Harvard and McKinsey,respondents reported that they worked longer hours either due to a lack of setting time boundaries by themselves or by their superiors. This led to more stress and mental health issues (1,2,5).
  4. Reduction of desire to socialize with friends and family via telephone:  Zoom or telephone calls meant for social conversations are seen as chores after having so many calls for work (1).
  5. Zoom fatigue:  People experienced exhaustion after multiple video calls. It turns out that millisecond delays in virtual verbal responses negatively affect our interpersonal perceptions, even without any internet or technical issues. MRI data reveals that live, face-to-face interactions, compared to viewing recordings, are associated with greater activation in the same brain regions involved in reward (i.e., ACC, ventral striatum, amygdala). So more active social connection is associated with more perceived reward, which in turn affects the very neurological pathways modulating alertness versus fatigue (11). Sanford University research also suggest zoom fatigue can drain you after a work day and takes more of a toll on your brain and body than regular office work.  Researchers explain zoom fatigue results from the excessive and intense eye contact, constantly watching video of yourself, the limited mobility of being stuck at your desk, and more energy spent identifying social cues you’d otherwise pick up on intuitively in person (26).
  6. Can cause lower productivity and back/neck problems from inadequate home work conditions:  Per McKinsey, 41% of workers globally are not satisfied with their home/work situation due to working conditions or other occupants. In these cases, engagement and productivity drops more significantly when work-from-home frequency increases (2,3). Workers have also experienced an increase in back and neck problems due to improper ergonomic furniture used in remote working (18).
  7. Can lower the speed of decision making; clarity of responsibilities suffers as people work from home (4).
  8. Reduction in collaboration:  You can’t replace walking into someone’s office to brainstorm (10).  Both research and development and sales teams are struggling to maintain dynamic collaboration and brainstorming (14). “Coming together in person to collaborate and build community is core to Google’s culture, and it will continue to be an important part of our future,” CEO Sundar Pichai said in an blog post Thursday. He went on to say, “…we continue to make significant investments in our offices around the country…” (20). 
  9. Failure to benefit from agglomeration economies:  When workers and firms in similar industries are located near one another, it is easier to find specialists, capital providers, and vendors.  Knowledge tends to spill over from one employee to the other (6).
  10. A reduction of serendipitous innovation:  To encourage serendipitous innovation, Steve Jobs once conceived of a single, centrally located bank of bathrooms. The pandemic has stifled such creativity; Boston Consulting Group found that companies’ spirit of innovation has declined precipitously as their workforces got dispersed this year. (5, 6, 10, 15).
  11. Less social enjoyment by employees:  This decline has been caused by a reduction of benefits from the collision of urban work, culture, and art. It is the difference between being at a party and being on Facebook (6). Based on C&W’s European young employees survey of more than 1,200 respondents, 60% of students and young professionals want their workplace to be in a busy and lively part of the city that provides access to local amenities such as shopping, dining, and recreational activities (14).
  12. Difficulty in mentoring employees:  Studies of call workers who have been working from home show those workers were much less likely to be promoted because they failed to gain the skills needed to handle hard calls (9, 14). Such skills were better gained in face to face training (19). 
  13. Reduction in employee engagement:  Steelcase found that engagement declined 14% during the pandemic (4).  social interaction is strongly correlated with workplace engagement and satisfaction. A Gallup study surveying more than 15 million employees indicated that those with a “best” work buddy are “seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, [and] have higher well-being,” compared to those without 25.
  14. Harder to identify improper behavior (7).
  15. Risk to confidentiality and client privacy (7).  Client information and trade secrets are less secure when exposed to either other household members or visitors.
  16. Harder to install corporate culture (7,9,24).
  17.  Internet connectivity to server can be less reliable than in office connectivity. Research reveals four-fifths of home workers experiencing unreliable internet connection while working from home, with nearly half having slow and or unreliable internet connections (12). 
  18. Difficulty attracting young tech workers:  Most younger tech workers prefer to work in an office (13). This is where they can find mentoring and exposure, as well as enjoy the cultural advantages of the urban work environment. Cushman reported that 70% of Gen Z and 69% of Millennials report challenges in working from home (14).
  19. Greater difficulty onboarding remotely:  Despite the resilience of tech companies during COVID, new hires are down over 40% (9). Pre-existing relationships can coast along but the tech industry is struggling to find new workers (19). 
  20. Any productivity gains and success from remote work may dissipate when the pandemic ends:  For many remote employees during the start of the pandemic, there was little else to do but focus on work. As COVID progressed, however (and likely in a non-pandemic world), this has not remained the case. According to the latest ONS surveys, more businesses are reporting that remote workers’ productivity has decreased as the pandemic has persisted (17).
  21. Less likely to be promoted and be involved in significant decisions:  “Many important decisions must be made quickly—how to handle an accident at a plant, a product recall or an immediate need from a client, say—and people who are on the spot naturally get more of a say. In a study conducted in two large tech firms, employees found that they got less respect when they began working remotely and ended up being less involved in significant decisions.”  “Remote workers also miss the chance to stay up-to-date about company norms or recent events, things that come from observing others and networking in real life. When we hear the boss mutter something under her breath after reading the latest requirement from human resources, we learn not to make it a priority (21).
  22. Home networks are more likely to be hacked. “In a 2018 survey by Wi-Fi security company IPass, 57% of CIOs reported they suspect their mobile workers had been hacked or were the cause of security problems. Only 46% percent could be “confident” their remote employees used virtual private networks (VPNs) to increase security when connecting to company networks” (22).  “Per a sample of 41,000 US based organizations, home networks were 3.5 time more likely than corporate networks to have at least one family of malware and 7.5X more likely to have at least five distinct families of malware.  More than 25% of all devices have one or more service exposed on the internet.  The corporate network is much more exposed to threats as the number of work from home users increase” (23) .
  23. Remote Work will Lead to Higher Employee Turnover:  Gallop Poll shows that for those individual with a preference for working in person, remote work can be as serious as a 24% higher turnover (24).

References:

  1.  What Covid-19 Has Done to Our Well-Being, Camppbell and Gavett, Harvard Business Review,  Feb 10, 2021. https://hbr.org/2021/02/what-covid-19-has-done-to-our-well-being-in-12-charts
  2. Reimagining the office and work Life after Covid, Boland, Emmet, Palter, Mckinsey & Company, June 8 2020 https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/reimagining-the-office-and-work-life-after-covid-19
  3. Work Better, Steelcase, https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/work-better/work-better/
  4. Global Report, Changing Expectations and the Future of Work, Steelcase,   https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/work-better/changing-expectations-future-work/, Working From Home Around the World, https://www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/work-better/working-home-around-world/
  5. How Small Cities are Trying to Plug America’s Brain Drain, Daneil Oberhaus,Wired Magazine. https://www.wired.com/story/how-smaller-cities-trying-plug-brain-drain/
  6. Not Even a  pandemic can break rich cities grip on the US economy, Shaban, Oct 15,2020, Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/road-to-recovery/2020/10/15/wealthy-cities-bounce-back-from-coronavirus/
  7. FMSB published Spotlight Review on Examining Remove working risks in FICC markets,  July 27,2020,FMSB.  https://fmsb.com/fmsb-publishes-spotlight-review-on-examining-remote-working-risks-in-ficc-markets/
  8. The New World of Work,  DealBook Debrief, July 27, 2020, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/27/business/dealbook/remote-work-risks.html
  9. Remote work 1 year later:  The Pandemic sent tech workers home—when and how will they return, Kurt Schlosser, March 4, 2021, Geek Wire.  https://www.geekwire.com/2021/remote-work-1-year-later-pandemic-sent-tech-workers-home-will-return/
  10. If Work is Going Remote, Why is Big Tech Still Building, Gregory Barber, Wired Magazine, https://www.wired.com/story/work-going-remote-why-big-tech-building/
  11. A Neuropsychological Exploration of Zoom Fatigue, Jena Lee, November 17,2020 Psychiatric Times.  https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/view/psychological-exploration-zoom-fatigue
  12. Poor connectivity sees home workers lose over half an hour work day,Joe O Halloran, August 20, 2020, Computer Weekly.  https://www.computerweekly.com/news/252487354/Poor-connectivity-sees-home-workers-lose-over-half-an-hour-of-work-a-day
  13. Cities and Startups are Poised for a great Reboot, Anna Meyer, https://www.inc.com/anna-meyer/arnobio-morelix-covid-pandemic-recovery-cities-startups-tech.html
  14. Cushman and Wakefield, Future of the Workplace 2021, https://www.cushmanwakefield.com/en/insights/covid-19/the-future-of-workplace
  15. Work From Home Fallout:  Productivity Up, Innovation Down, Joe McKendrick, Oct 18, 2020, Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/sites/joemckendrick/2020/10/18/work-from-home-fallout-productivity-up-innovation-down/?sh=1da331fa668d
  16. The Future of Work After Covid-19, McKinsey & Company,  Lund, et al.  https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/the-future-of-work-after-covid-19
  17. Why Remote Working in the Pandemic Has Been A Drag on Productivity, Jeeger Kakkad, March 8, 2021, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, March 8, 2021. https://institute.global/policy/why-remote-working-pandemic-has-been-drag-productivity
  18. Work From Home in Taking a Toll On Our Backs and Necks, Aaron  Zitner, May 13, 2020, Wall Street Journal, https://www.wsj.com/articles/working-from-home-is-taking-a-toll-on-our-backs-and-necks-11589398420
  19.  Edward Glaeser, video interview on Return to Office, USC Lusk Center for Real Estate Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/luskcenter/videos/468863324464113/
  20. Google to spend $7 billion on data centers and office space in 2021, Jennifer Elias, March 18, 2021 , https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/18/google-to-spend-7-billion-in-data-centers-and-office-space-in-2021.html?__source=sharebar|email&par=sharebar.
  21. “Aftter Covid, Should you Keep Working From Home?  Here’s How to Decide, Cappelli and Bonet, March 19, 2021.  https://www.wsj.com/articles/after-covid-should-you-keep-working-from-home-heres-how-to-decide-11616176802
  22. Security Challenges of Remote Workforce, Identity Management Institute, https://www.identitymanagementinstitute.org/security-challenges-of-remote-workforce/
  23.  Identifying Unique Risks of Work from Home Remote Office Networks, Dahlberg, April 14, 2020, Bitsight, https://www.bitsight.com/blog/identifying-unique-risks-of-work-from-home-remote-office-networks
  24. Remote Work:  Is it a Virtual Threat to Your Culture, Herway and Hickman, Workplace, August 25,2020 https://www.gallup.com/workplace/317753/remote-work-virtual-threat-culture.aspx
  25. The Negative Effects of Working From Home on Company Culture, March 14,2019, Coworking Resources https://www.coworkingresources.org/blog/the-negative-effects-of-working-from-home-on-company-culture
  26. Zoom fatigue is apparently a real  thing, and there are 4 main culprits, Dale Smith, March 6, 2021, CNET Health and Wellness  https://www.cnet.com/health/zoom-fatigue-is-apparently-real-stanford-researchers-know-what-causes-it-4-main-culprits/

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