Certainly there’s an allure to working outside the office—at least for someremote workers. Freedom seems to be the primarybenefit cited. But as the workforce moves ever more towardoffice-less workers, a growing number are finding there are moredrawbacks than benefits to being able to work in your bathrobe.

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The Harvard Business Review recently published a study that quizzed more than 1,100 workers, 600 ofwhom spend part or all of their workday at a remote location, abouttheir experience with this model.

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“Overall, remote employees may enjoy the freedom to live andwork where they please, but working through and with others becomesmore challenging,” said co-authors David Maxfield and Joseph Genny,both of whom have written extensively on business performanceissues. “They report that workplace politics are more pervasive anddifficult, and when conflicts arise they have a harder timeresolving them. When remote members of a team encountered common workplace challenges, 84 percent saidthe concern dragged on for a few days or more, while 47 percentadmitted to letting it drag on for weeks or more.”

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Remote working be a drag in more ways than one. Remote employeesare more likely than office workers to believe that:

  • Colleagues do not fight for their priorities

  • Colleagues stab them in the back

  • Co-workers make project changes that affect them without tellingthem

  • Other workers lobby against their interests with eachother

One might expect the authors to recommend putting an end toremote working. Far from it. First, plenty of studies confirm thatthe trend toward more remote and freelance workers is too strong tofight. Second, there’s value in the model.

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“While managers may be tempted to respond to these findings byending remote work programs and bringing everyone back to theoffice, we don’t recommend that. Instead, they should encouragehabits that lead to feeling of trust, connection, and sharedpurpose,” the authors conclude.

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The survey asked respondents to identify best practices managerscan adopt to improve relations with and the productivity of remoteworkers. In a nutshell, they are:

  • More frequent check-ins with remote workers

  • Use existing technology to create face-to-face andvoice-to-voice discussion opportunities

  • Communicate very clearly with remote workers, includingimproving listening skills

  • Communicate expectations even more clearly

  • Be available to communicate with the remote worker on her or hisschedule

  • Work harder to develop strong relationships with remoteworkers

  • Prioritize relationships

"Our research shows that a lack of close contact with peopleinhibits the formation of trust, connection, and mutual purpose —three ingredients of a healthy social system," the authorw wrote."However, managers who practice these seven types of intentionalbehaviors can increase the likelihood that 'out of sight' does notlead to being left out."

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Dan Cook

Dan Cook is a journalist and communications consultant based in Portland, OR. During his journalism career he has been a reporter and editor for a variety of media companies, including American Lawyer Media, BusinessWeek, Newhouse Newspapers, Knight-Ridder, Time Inc., and Reuters. He specializes in health care and insurance related coverage for BenefitsPRO.