Sad remote worker

With all the headlines about the wonders of remote work, and how everyone will be happier and more productive if we let them work wherever they want, it’s important to offer this little reminder: Virtual teams are not right for every company or every worker. There, I said it.

This came to mind because an article in HR Today magazine had the scary title “Why are Companies Ending Remote Work?”  It’s a great question. It’s also a tad misleading. Yes, some companies are requesting their people spend more time in the office. Furthermore, reducing remote work may actually be the right answer for some teams. Moreover (and don’t tell the cool kids that I hang out with) remote work is NOT right for every company.

What matters is that every worker and organization has to decide for themselves what will work and what won’t. The trick is to make sure you’re making the right decision for the right reasons.

Remote Work May Not Be Right If:

Your company culture demands frequent, high-quality collaboration.

The most famous example of this is when teams of trouble-shooting IBM engineers found they weren’t collaborating as effectively when they worked apart from each other.  In this case, they found that reverting to co-located teams improved their outcomes. That’s a good reason.

Your company uses remote work as a perk, without creating productivity-based metrics and systems that measure the right outputs.

For many organizations, remote work is treated as a reward or a perk. People like it, it doesn’t cost anything, and so it’s an easy thing to grant. The problem is that when there are no processes or metrics, the results may be uneven and it’s harder to help people be accountable for the quality of their work. Yahoo is a high-profile example of a company that woke up one morning and realized there was too much chaos and not enough quality work getting done, so they brought everyone back to the mothership.

You don’t have a plan to engage people with their work and each other.

There is an assumption that telework is most effective when people have highly individualized, task-based work. On the surface, that makes perfect sense. But without constant effort, it is hard to engage people who don’t take an interest in the company that employs them. Disengaged solo workers are easily recruited elsewhere, since there’s no emotional attachment to the employer or their teammates. They also tend to work on things they’ll be immediately rewarded for (like task completion) rather than work that will have a broader impact on the team. That creates an over-emphasis on urgent, rather than important, work.

Your company culture is highly social, and people believe it to be a key to your success.

Peter Drucker once famously said that “Culture beats strategy every time.” Building a company culture that is supportive, positive and where relationships are valued is easier when everyone sees each other all the time.

We could just as easily include a list of times when remote work might be right for you and yours, but it comes with the same warning:  For every company that decides it won’t work, there’s another company that makes telework succeed. The important factor is that you identify what you want to have happen, how you can ensure (or at least increase the odds) that people will have the opportunity to be successful, and that leaders make that part of their daily practice, and not as an afterthought. Success in business is rarely an accident, and that’s especially true when it comes to remote working.

So, is remote work right for your company? If you say no, what are you basing that assumption on? If you say yes, what are some potential challenges to success that you should be identifying and planning to address right now?

Learn more about why some virtual teams fail in this free report.



Wayne Turmel--The Remote Leadership Institute

Wayne Turmel
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager

Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in

Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.

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