The Problem with Working Remotely

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@stokpic

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@stokpic

Update: Since I wrote this post, new experiences have changed my thinking. Read my article series on what happened and how to change my mind about remote work and distributed workforces.

Technology has made it possible for us to work from anywhere.

And sometimes, working away from the office makes more sense than working in the office—and not only when business requires travel. The ability to work from home when waiting for a repairman, to escape to a library or coffee shop when you need to get away to focus, to move outside to jog the creative brain, and to attend family emergencies while still accomplishing critical business objectives has increased productivity and flexibility.

Yet working remotely too often causes significant problems:

  • Learning: When people work remotely, they can’t exchange hard or soft skills through natural association. As guiding someone who works remotely takes extra time, energy, and thought in an era when everyone works quickly, your coworkers won’t enlist your help on an effort unless you already have direct experience with the work. Further, people working remotely can’t learn through experiencing how others handle issues. Once, an employee told me that watching and hearing me interact with clients gave her some of her most valued early-career lessons.

  • Training: Most formal and informal training on hard skills happens during the workday, in the office. Although your employer may not require you to undergo it, do you really want to lose the opportunity to pick up new and needed expertise?

  • Teambuilding: Can you create teams and feel part of teams when you never see or work alongside your teammates? When never at the office, can you fully experience the buzz and collective energy of a group working toward a common goal? Perhaps sometimes—but only with conscious effort that you could better expend elsewhere.

  • Culture: Often, companies offer a number of perks for employees—lunches, treats, games, surprises—that people working remotely won’t experience. Further, working remotely thwarts your role in creating and experiencing the corporate culture. Corporate culture draws employees. If your company can’t attract great new staff, you’ll hurt your own chances for career expansion by hampering the company’s growth—and you’ll never get effective help with your expanding to-do list.

  • Out of Sight, out of Mind: As I said in my article on Melissa Mayer’s move to stop telecommuting at Yahoo!, if no one regularly sees and speaks with you, no one will think to give you the sweet assignments. Good for your career? Nope.

If your company allows flexibility in your work locale, take advantage of the perk—but don’t limit yourself through working remotely more often than necessary. Pay attention to when and how the benefits of working remotely outweigh the negatives for your career and personal growth.

Finding the right balance for you—which differs between industries, companies, and roles—proves the trick and the challenge.

For your career, what constitutes the right remote work−office work balance?

Update: Since I wrote this post, new experiences have changed my thinking. Read my article series on what happened and how to change my mind about remote work and distributed workforces.